Freedom of Expression: Artificial Intelligence and Elections

Special Report By Dalhat Hamid Bello

The Knight Centre for Journalism in the Americas, in collaboration with UNESCO, UNDP,and with support of the Electoral Assistance Division (EAD) of the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA) has organized an online course for journalists, corporate media managers, communication experts, and other critical stake holders in electoral management from around the world to appreciate and cfritically examine the impact and role of deploying Artificial Intellingence to contribute in mitigating the harmful effects of disinformation, misinformation, malinformation and general hate speeches in the processes of election management in a democratic setting, in line with freedom of expression.

The online course reccorded participation of 7,500 professionals, academics and executive officers of organizations from across continents for a 30-day intellectual discussions, learning processes, exchange of ideas and professional networking under the guidance of experienced and highly resourceful facilitators, led by Albertina Peterbarg, Lead Instructor at UNESCO.

At the students’ discussion forum, participants shared the general idea that freedom of expression is essential for fair elections, and when citizens have the freedom to critique policies and hold leaders accountable, it leads to healthy debates on the direction of a country. Without this freedom, elections become meaningless formalities that lack the transparency and critical discourse necessary for a functioning democracy.

Further discussion of wide view among the participants was also about the importance of rule of law and the respect of freedom of expression and other human rights as essential for democratic processes., while concerned was expressed about the difficulty in assessing whether news in audio, video or text have been generated by AI or not. This situation, according to the discisssions, can spread misinformation and disinformation and, even worse, lead to people making decisions based on false information. Moreover, AI can inherit biases from the manufacturer of its framework, which can further worsen the problem of disinformation.

One of the participants, Allison Hannaford, associate producer at CTV News in Canada, highlighted that while “we have the right to express ourselves, we must be mindful of our words’ impact on others, especially when it comes to inciting hate or abuse on others. It’s crucial to avoid hate speech.” She also pointed out that “spreading disinformation or misinformation can impact electoral processes, so we should carefully exercise our right to free expression and think before sharing dubious content, especially during election campaigns. This will foster an environment of respect and prevent misleading the public

Thus agreeing with this point, another participant from Rwanda, Carine Kayitesi adds an important perspective that,  “while we must be cautious in how we express ourselves to avoid hateful language, we should also be open to criticism and different viewpoints. Political communication that promotes tolerance is challenging yet necessary for productive debate. During election times, it’s essential to have a fair, open-minded environment where people can freely express their opinions through speech and writing. This allows individuals to access information, engage in constructive criticism, and support the candidates of their choice, enabling informed decision-making.”

Many Nigerian citizens participated in the four-week massive open online course, including staff of the Radio LYB Online, based in Bauchi, Bauchi state, Nigeria.

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