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Democracy and Information

Democracy and Information

There is no democracy without a source of information in which a strong majority can have confidence. Here are two stories from this week that illustrate the point.


Just hours ago, Emmerson Mnangagwa of the governing Zanu-PF party was declared the winner of Monday’s hotly disputed presidential election in Zimbabwe. Trouble began early in the week when opposition leader Nelson Chamisa, confident the vote was rigged against him, took to Twitter to declare victory. His words triggered street celebrations that were met with force by police.

Social media accounts, many of them fake, have added to the confusion with competing claims about what’s happening. Vote counts for parliamentary elections favored the ruling ZANU-PF, provoking outrage from its critics. But results of Monday’s presidential election were delayed until the very early hours of Friday morning, raising doubts about the credibility of the entire process. African and Western election observers have disagreed about the scale of irregularities and the extent of unfair treatment of the opposition. Chamisa vows to challenge the results in court.

In a situation like this, how can voters have confidence in the information they hear? The ruling party has stolen elections many times before. The opposition claimed victory without hard evidence to back the claim. It’s impossible to separate fact from fiction online, and outsiders can’t agree on what to say.

Meanwhile, Facebook is back in the news this week, with an announcement it discovered 32 false pages and profiles that were created as part of a sophisticated disinformation campaign ahead of US midterm elections in November. Posts and ads centered on topics like race, feminism and fascism. In this case, the content was reportedly created to generate anger toward President Trump.

Facebook says there is already information linking the campaign to the Internet Research Agency, a Kremlin-backed organization that sowed confusion on its platform before the 2016 US presidential election. The real concern according to Facebook is that those responsible have gotten much better over the past two years at camouflaging themselves.

That raises two big questions: If this is what Facebook has found, what hasn’t it found? And what about Twitter, Google, and others?

The bottom line: Access to reliable information is now a critical issue in democracies of all shapes and sizes.

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It almost didn't happen — but here we are again. President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden face off tonight in the final presidential debate of the 2020 US election campaign.

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Back in 2016, presidential candidate Donald Trump presented his vision for an "America First" foreign policy, which symbolized a radical departure from the US' longtime approach to international politics and diplomacy.

In electing Donald Trump, a political outsider, to the top job, American voters essentially gave him a mandate to follow through on these promises. So, has he?

Trade

"A continuing rape of our country."

On the 2016 campaign trail, candidate Trump said that the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) — a 12 country trade deal pushed by the Obama administration — would "rape" America's economy by imperiling the manufacturing sector, closing factories, and taking more jobs overseas.

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In an op-ed titled "Iran Arms Embargo Reckoning," the Wall Street Journal editorial board argues that ending the UN arms embargo on Iran was a major flaw of the 2015 nuclear deal and questions whether Biden could do anything to contain Iran at this point. Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group's Henry Rome take out the Red Pen to explain why this discussion misrepresents the importance of the embargo and the consequences for its expiration.

So, the US presidential election is now just days away, and today's selection is focusing on a specific aspect of foreign policy that will certainly change depending on who wins in the presidential contest—namely America's approach to Iran.

You've heard me talk before about the many similarities between Trump and Biden on some international policies, like on China or on Afghanistan. But Iran is definitely not one of those. Trump hated the JCPOA, the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, put together under the Obama administration, and he walked away from it unilaterally. Joe Biden, if he were to become president, would try to bring it back.

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Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, US President George W. Bush demanded that Afghanistan's Taliban government surrender Osama bin Laden and end support for al-Qaeda. The Taliban refused.

On October 7, US bombs began falling on Taliban forces. NATO allies quickly pledged support for the US, and US boots hit the ground in Afghanistan two weeks later.

Thus began a war, now the longest in US history, that has killed more than 3,500 coalition soldiers and 110,000 Afghans. It has cost the American taxpayer nearly $3 trillion. US allies have also made human and material sacrifices.

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