Nigerian elections – a test case ahead of the biggest election cycle in a century

By Alexandra Pardal, Digital Action Director of Campaigns

This Saturday, Nigerians will be taking to the polls and voting in their new President. It’s one of several major elections happening around the world in 2023, and even more will be happening in 2024. In fact, around 70 national elections will take place, from Argentina to India. It’s the biggest global election cycle this century, threatened to be influenced and disrupted by social media. This week I was invited to talk about this threat, and what we can do about it, at an event hosted by the African Internet Rights Alliance ahead of the Nigerian elections. I was joined on the panel by KICTANet’s John Wabulengo , Khadijah El-Usman from Lagos based Paradigm and Irene Mwendwa from Uganda’s Pollicy.

We heard from the panel that Nigeria has a population of around 200 million, and at least 50% of Nigerians have internet access. That means about 100 million people are able to access and engage with online platforms, which means they deserve to be fully aware of what online platforms provide them and how these platforms protect them.

So far, Tiktok has shared community guidelines to assist Nigerians partaking in elections. Meta has also improved in terms of language and community guidelines. But is it enough? I shared our findings – ultimately, Big Tech companies are not investing enough to tackle information and disinformation. Ad tech companies have been negligent in recognising and addressing digital harms in global majority nations. And there has been scarce investment in harm assessments outside the US and English language context.

Indeed leaked data shows that 87% of Meta’s global budget on classifying false or misleading info, was targeted in the USA. This left limited safeguards for 90% of users situated elsewhere. Earlier this month, Meta made an announcement about having a global team working on security and safety. But there are no details about how many staff members are in Africa or Nigeria.

Meanwhile, social media platforms like Twitter, have closed their Human Rights department and regional offices in Africa, a worrying development. How can platforms be trusted to safeguard African countries, or those on any continent, during elections when it underinvests in protections, staff expertise and wider resources in the region?

At Digital Action, we believe we are in a crisis of global equity in platform investment and safeguards against online harms and their real world consequences. That’s why we are building a coalition and campaign around this. We know there is a divide between corporate power and platform operations. 2024 will be a vital year for elections, and every election will be a test on whether companies will protect civic rights, electoral integrity in every nation.

Big Tech wield massive influence on our ecosystems and elections which is why we need to hold them accountable. The Nigerian election will be a test case on how platforms will perform in response to more tech-driven elections.

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