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Conflict, Stability, and Security Fund Bolsters Carter Center’s Digital Threats Program

Featured November 2020

Through its support of The Carter Center, the Conflict, Stability, and Security Fund helps the Center in its global efforts to advance democracy and electoral integrity during the 2021 Ethiopian general elections.

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The Carter Center was founded under the principle of enhancing freedom and democracy on a global scale. The Center’s growing Digital Threats Monitoring Program applies this tenet to the realm of social media and the digital world. With help from partners like the Conflict, Stability, and Security Fund, the Center is developing tools and methodologies to identify and mitigate abuses of social media that pose threats to genuine democratic elections.

The Carter Center and Digital Threats to Election Integrity
As part of its global efforts to advance democracy and electoral integrity through election observation, The Carter Center focuses on digital threats to democracy and electoral integrity, including social media activities that disseminate misinformation, manipulate public opinion, suppress political participation, or incite hatred or violence. The Center partners with credible, nonpartisan, domestic citizen groups to monitor social media, analyze content, and produce public reports with findings and recommendations to help partners and electoral stakeholders moderate or prevent harmful effects. The Center’s Digital Threats Monitoring team also organizes third-party fact-checking efforts by professional media outlets and nonpartisan media monitoring organizations. Where possible and appropriate, staff coordinate with relevant stakeholders, such as election management bodies, whose mandate includes countering election-related misinformation on social media platforms and security officials responsible for addressing imminent security threats.

  • In 2005, upon the invitation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, The Carter Center observed Ethiopia's national and regional parliamentary elections. (Photo: The Carter Center)

Ethiopia’s 2021 General Elections
Ethiopia’s general elections, initially scheduled for August and recently postponed due to the coronavirus, will be the first since reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took power in April 2018, promising to emphasize democratic reform. During his service term, Abiy ushered in a period of political liberalization and pro-democratic reforms, but these developments also opened the door to a revival of ethnic grievances and nationalist claims. Among the Prime Minister’s key political initiatives is the transformation of the ruling party. When Abiy came to power, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), a coalition of ethnic-based parties that has ruled the country for nearly 30 years, had been experiencing increasing sectarian and regional conflicts among the coalition parties. The coalition was finally transformed into the new, nationally oriented Progressive Party in December 2019.

Against this backdrop, the upcoming elections are expected to be the most competitive since 2005, but there are growing concerns about ethnic divisions and increased potential for conflict around the elections. Abiy’s moves have fractured the ruling party power base, creating more space for opposition parties to contest the 2021 elections following recent liberalization. As a result, the past year has introduced a shift in the balance of power among ethnic communities, a destabilization of the political order, and several large outbreaks of violence. The upcoming general elections will be a critical test for Ethiopia regarding whether it can maintain progress toward a genuinely democratic system in the face of rising risks of ethnic violence and opposition to reforms.

Combating Digital Misinformation and Voter Suppression
In July 2019, The Carter Center conducted a pre-election assessment mission where stakeholders expressed concerns about social media as a potential catalyst for misinformation and violence ahead of the elections. These fears have grown as citizens have drastically increased their use of social media. Historically, Ethiopia has been criticized for restrictive policies toward digital freedoms and free speech on the internet. In advance of the upcoming elections, the Digital Threats Monitoring team will support the efforts of Ethiopian groups to identify and mitigate digital threats on social media, leading to a safer and more equitable experience for all Ethiopian voters.

With the dedicated support of the Conflict, Stability, and Security Fund, the Center’s Digital Threats Monitoring team is contributing to a better understanding of the social media landscape and digital ecosystem around the Ethiopian election and electoral processes. The Carter Center is honored to receive funding from the Conflict, Stability, and Security Fund in this global effort to advance democracy and electoral integrity.

 

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