Posts in News

Running a Democracy in the COVID-19 World

27/03/2020 Posted by News, Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “Running a Democracy in the COVID-19 World”

It has been another extraordinary week with lockdown measures intensifying across the world. As we all start to acclimatise to a reality that would have been unimaginable only weeks ago, the conversation has started to shift to the political and social impact of this pandemic.

In this time of crisis, we face two particularly important choices. The first is between totalitarian surveillance and citizen empowerment. The second is between nationalist isolation and global solidarity.”

That was Yuval Noah Harrari’s take in a particularly prescient article for the Financial Times that you can read here.

One thing that has received scant attention, however, is the practical question of how a democracy can continue to function during a crisis that shuts people in their homes and could last up to 18 months with the possibility of more disruption beyond that.

It is now impossible to imagine many core components of our democracy – from demonstrations and voting to Parliamentary debates and select committees – continuing as they did before.

That is why Fair Vote UK is turning its attention towards addressing this fundamentally important question.

From Estonia’s long established system of e-voting to the EU Parliament’s recent decision to move to email voting, there are many examples from across the world of how to make remote democracy work in a practical and easy way.

This is the time to think outside the box!

Fair Vote UK are looking forward to engaging with our supporters on this issue. Stay tuned for the opening of our consultation period, when we would love to hear any ideas you have.

Law Commissions Publish Their Report Into Electoral Reform

20/03/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Law Commissions Publish Their Report Into Electoral Reform”

It has been an extraordinary week with measures to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic significantly ramping up and impacting all of our lives.

Perhaps understandably, the publication on Tuesday of a new report into the UK’s electoral law by the Law Commission and the Scottish Law Commission did not receive a great deal of attention. The report calls for a raft of significant and necessary reforms to our democracy, many of which are at the heart of Fair Vote UK’s mission.

The report (which you can read here) described the UK’s electoral laws as, ‘out-dated, confusing and no longer fit for purpose’.

Nicholas Paines QC, Public Law Commissioner, has warned that if the laws are left as they are, ‘there is a very real risk of the electoral process losing credibility which could be catastrophic’.

Some of the report’s key recommendations include: 

  • Codifying current laws (which are currently spread across 50+ statutes and regulations!) into a single legislative framework.
  • A timely call, made before the current crisis led to the suspension of May’s elections, for reform over the conditions required for suspending polls.
  • The introduction of digital imprints for online campaign material, including for social media advertisements. This would include who has paid for the advert, as is the case for leaflets and traditional advertisements.
  • Improving how election results can be challenged. This would include modernising and simplifying the system; allowing returning officers to bring challenges and giving the court the power to weed out ill-founded claims that waste court time.

 

These are common sense, necessary reforms and are wholeheartedly endorsed by Fair Vote UK.

In a time of crisis like this it is especially important that our system of government remains fair, robust and fit for purpose.

Civil Society is Ready to Tackle Election Safeguarding Reform

13/03/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Civil Society is Ready to Tackle Election Safeguarding Reform”

The campaign to electoral safeguarding reform that is fit for the digital age takes many forms. Fair Vote UK is working with UK, Scottish and Welsh governments to ensure the right legislation is passed and structural reforms are put in place so that our elections are not vulnerable to dark money, disinformation and electoral misdemeanours. Civil society is a vital aspect of this campaign. 

 

We’re delighted to say that we will be working with groups such as the Electoral Reform Society, Open Rights Group, Privacy International, Transparency International, Global Witness, Digital Action and experts from Bangor University. The inaugural meeting of the civil society coalition, which took place on 4th March, was a step to ensuring that this issue remains at the top of the decision maker’s agenda. Moving forward member organisations will be working in concert with each other to complement each other’s policy priorities and to de-conflict campaigning work to avoid duplication. 

 

We will be working together with these organisations to make sure the UK, Scottish and Welsh governments act now to safeguard elections. We will keep you updated as the coalition progresses.

Defending our Democracy in the Digital Age Determines Debate

05/03/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Defending our Democracy in the Digital Age Determines Debate”

Earlier this week, on Wednesday 3rd March, the Electoral Commission gave oral evidence to the House of Lord’s Democracy and Digital Technologies Committee. The discussion was wide ranging and what was most noticeable was how many of the topics raised were issues from APPG on Electoral Campaigning Transparency’s recently published report. If you’d like to see the evidence session, you can find a video link here. Both the questions from the Peers and answers from officials at the Electoral Commission covered the 20 recommendations of Defending our Democracy in the Digital Age.

 

Two lines of questioning were particularly striking. Firstly, there was no clarity as to why regulation on offline campaigning was significantly stronger than campaigning online. Secondly, laws need to catch up to the realities of digital technologies to allow the Electoral Commission to do its job. The current legal framework simply does not allow the Commission to properly regulate. Amongst other issues relevant to the report, they also discussed plans for better education campaigns at the primary and secondary level, better and more granular use of ad libraries and raising the sanction limit.

 

It’s great to see that the terms of debate are now set and Defending our Democracy in the Digital Age offers evidenced policy solutions. Most importantly we clearly need to change the law to ensure that our elections are properly safeguarded in the future. Regulators know this, experts know this, the public know this and politicians know this. It’s time for action.

Disinformation, Coronavirus and Twitter Tests New Tool

25/02/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Disinformation, Coronavirus and Twitter Tests New Tool”

Disinformation isn’t just a political phenomenon that rears it ugly head during elections. Lies and conspiracy theories are peddled every day on social media, often funded and fuelled by state actors. US State Department officials tasked with combating Russian disinformation have recently confirmed that thousands of Russian-linked social media accounts have launched a coordinated effort to spread alarm about the new coronavirus, disrupting global efforts to fight the epidemic. This campaign has focused efforts on peddling conspiracy theories that the US government is responsible for the current Coronavirus outbreak.

 

“Russia’s intent is to sow discord and undermine US institutions and alliances from within, including through covert and coercive malign influence campaigns,” said Philip Reeker, the acting Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia. 

 

Existing policy on social media companies allow this harmful activity to happen. Though social media companies have acknowledged these threats, as recently as October last year, Facebook stated that it will not be monitoring the truth of statements made on its platform. Some companies are, however, being more proactive. Last week, NBC News reported that Twitter is experimenting with adding brightly coloured labels directly beneath lies and misinformation posted by politicians and other public figures. In this version, disinformation or misleading information posted by public figures would be corrected directly beneath a tweet by fact-checkers and journalists who are verified on the platform and possibly by other users who would participate in a new “community reports” feature, which the demo claims is “like Wikipedia.”

 

This is an encouraging development. We will have to wait and see what the impact is of this new policy if – and when – it is rolled out across the platform. It remains to be seen if it will be used to target all disinformation, not just that of an overtly political nature. What we do know is that if tools like this are to be useful, they can’t just focus on one piece of the puzzle. Lies on social media platforms that are sown to stoke distrust can be equally damaging during and outside of elections.

 

It’s great to see Twitter wants to tackle this. It’s now on Facebook to follow suit. Having shown no intent to do so, governments must now make such requirements statutory.

It’s not what it says. It’s what it doesn’t say.

18/02/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “It’s not what it says. It’s what it doesn’t say.”

Last week the Government published its Online Harms White Paper – the first announcement from the Government since its consultation into “online harms”, which ran from April to the end of June 2019. Kyle Taylor, founder of Fair Vote UK, has published a piece in the Byline Times responding to the announcement. Shockingly, on the crucial issue of disinformation, fake news and online harms to democracy the government’s response is conspicuously silent. Given the role that technology played in the wrongdoings during and since the EU Referendum, this omission is glaring. Fair Vote UK and the APPG on Electoral Campaigning Transparency have 20 recommendations that the Government could implement now that would protect our democracy in the digital age. No more consulting, it’s time for action.

 

You can find a link to the article here.

The Hard Work Begins

07/02/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “The Hard Work Begins”

Fair Vote UK and the APPG on Electoral Campaigning Transparency published Defending Our Democracy in the Digital Age on Monday 20th January. Described by the Observer as a ‘landmark report’, it sets out 20 recommendations on how to protect UK elections and referenda from malfeasance and misbehaviour. You can download a copy of the report and annexes here.

 

It is the most comprehensive answer to the problems in our democratic system exposed by the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

 

The hard work of implementing these 20 recommendations is now upon us. Fair Vote UK, in conjunction with APPG Chair Stephen Kinnock MP and Vice-chairs Caroline Lucas MP and Deidre Brock MP will be meeting with the new government to make the case for change. The cross-party coalition will be working hard to make sure that the government listens and makes the right change to safeguard our democracy.

 

Real reform will only happen if new laws are brought in to respond to the threats our democracies face.

 

To make real change we need your help. Fair Vote UK is a small organisation that packs a punch. Since its inception it has changed the conversation on the impact of new technologies in democracies. To continue our important work we will need new support from generous donors. 

 

To support us to take this important work to the next stage, click here.

Our Day In Court – Mississippi Hearing

31/01/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Our Day In Court – Mississippi Hearing”

While it has been quite some time, we finally have some exciting news on the Mississippi Court Case. In October last year we instructed the Carson Law Group in Mississippi to pursue further legal action against Arron Banks and his companies. The work with Carson Law Group to get a preservation order to secure voter data that is allegedly held in Mississippi by Eldon Insurance and/or Big Data Dolphins has now reached the courts.

In its ongoing effort to help determine whether UK citizen’s data was off-shored by some of Arron Banks’ companies, yesterday Fair Vote UK had a hearing in court in Mississippi in pursuit of a preservation and production order. Our original lawsuit – backed by the ICO – was dismissed on purely procedural grounds. Having now satisfied all the requirements of the court, with still no documents produced by Arron Banks’ companies, we are optimistic about our chances for success.

As you’ll be aware, important legal challenges like this one are time-consuming and expensive but we refuse to let the powerful get away if they’ve committed wrongs. Please consider supporting our ongoing work now. As a team of near all volunteers, we greatly appreciate it. Click here to donate.

CCHQ Checked out of the Truth

21/11/2019 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “CCHQ Checked out of the Truth”

It’s not just special interest groups and non-party organisations that enjoy misleading the public, but political parties too. On Tuesday evening, while Britain was tuning in to the first General Election debate of 2019, an official Conservative party Twitter account rebranded itself to make it look like it was providing a fact-checking service. David Lammy, prominent Labour MP, remarked that it showed “what disdain this party and this government has for the truth”. Following complaints from Full Fact, the charity that provides a non-partisan fact checking service, and others, Twitter said it would take “decisive corrective action” if a similar action was attempted again. But, in such a fast moving political environment, the damage is done.

This stunt exposes a few things that need urgent addressing. The first is that guidelines on what political activities are prohibited on social media platforms are not yet effective. When reporting tweets, you can now mark that a tweet is “misleading about voting”. That’s a welcome change. But it clearly isn’t enough. This tweet also shows us that established political parties aren’t above the fray. They’re more than happy to openly mislead the public in order to grab votes.

There are things we can do to make a hostile environment for this misbehaviour. We can call such action out publicly. We can contact our local elected officials and demand that they change their conduct. We can vote. And we can change election law. Our politics will continue to deteriorate if we don’t do what’s right and fight for our British values, the truth and fair play. The next government will have the power to enact legislation that safeguards our elections. It’s time we made sure that those in power put democracy, truth and fair play before their party.

#EyesOnElection

14/11/2019 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “#EyesOnElection”

Earlier this week, we at Fair Vote UK launched  ‘Eyes on Election’, an Election Vulnerabilities Monitoring Project. This project, that will run the course of the General Election to 12th December, will keep the public informed about what misbehaviour there might be. It will play a vital public role in calling out threats to the election as they emerge – from blatant lies to more insidious disinformation, dodgy money and foreign interference. Disinformation and meddling can come from any side of the political aisle and so this will be non-partisan. It will call out attempts by parties and activists from all political groups of all persuasions.

There is already evidence of disinformation and there will be much more up until polling day because politicians have done nothing to protect elections in the digital age. This issue is urgent. By the end of the year, two elections will have been fought since our electoral system was demonstrated to be vulnerable in the 2016 EU Referendum. Lack of lasting structural change to the electoral system and the legislation that governs it will mean our elections remain vulnerable. Projects like Eyes on Election should not need to exist. There should be laws in place that protect our elections from threats on social media. Fair Vote UK will continue to fight for election safeguarding and expose the evidence for its urgency. It will build the evidence base necessary to force legislators to act on day 1 of the new Parliament – whoever is in power.

If you see something nefarious or suspect say something by sharing it on Twitter with #EyesOnElection.

We’ll also be posting some advice on how to identify such malfeasance on the web. Here’s a few pointers on how to recognise social media “bots”:

How to Identify a Bot

  • They post a lot. the Oxford Internet Institute’s Computational Propaganda team views an average of more than 50 posts a day as suspicious.
  • Their profile is “sparse”. There’s often no header photo and the profile pic looks generic. The less personal information on the profile, the more likely it is to be a bot.
  • Their ratio of followers to following is off balance. If they’re following 500+ people but only have 3 followers, be suspicious.