8 February – Paris – UNESCO Headquarters 

The GNI-UNESCO colloquium was attended by UNESCO member states, experts and practitioners from academia, intergovernmental organizations, civil society, Internet and telecommunications companies, and national communications regulators, along with election lawyers and observers, to explore the impact of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), including the Internet, on political communication and the integrity of electoral processes.

Two key messages emerged concerning the interface between election integrity and online expression: 

• the Internet needs to remain accessible, and digital infrastructure needs to be kept secure;  and
• the quality of online information needs to be enhanced, and users should be empowered to critically and constructively engage with it.

In the first session, “Network availability, security and integrity around elections,” panelists outlined the exponential increase in politically motivated demands for network disruptions, including in election periods. They also discussed the risks for governments, beyond economic costs, and recommended improved transparency on disruption demands that are often unjustifiable under international law. 

For the second session, “Enhancing quality of information and elections,” speakers identified the limits in using the term “fake news,” which can be abused by leaders to stifle dissenting viewpoints, and the need to better define the concept. Participants discussed the strengths, weaknesses, and rights risks of both possible government responses and companies’ own self-regulatory mechanisms for limiting misinformation and disinformation.

To read the remarks from GNI Executive Director Judith Lichtenberg, visit the UNESCO website. Also see the event reportaudio sessions, and program.