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Election 2020: The first major test for Ghanaian fact-checkers and what to expect

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Ghana heads to the polls for its eighth democratic elections in the 4th Republic on December 7, 2020. 

Over 17 million eligible voters are expected to participate in this exercise in 33,367 polling stations across the country. 

Unlike previous elections, many have been awakened to the dangers of false information especially from the political class on the country’s democracy.  

Previous elections have witnessed a number of false information including vile propaganda, malicious claims, and wild rumours, many of which spread so fast and likely influenced the polls. 

With fact-checking steadily gaining roots in Ghana’s democratic space, there are great expectations that false information will be aggressively tackled during the electioneering period. 

Dubawa Ghana has already formed important partnerships with the Coalition of Election Observers (CODEO), and the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE) to police public discourse and ensure that the elections are conducted in a manner devoid of falsehoods, exaggerations and concocted stories. 

Other fact-checkers, like Dubawa Ghana, have already produced many fact checks that have revealed the truth behind several public claims made by political actors. 

This development must be highly appreciated as a necessity for the media in a growing democracy such as Ghana’s. 

That notwithstanding, the work of fact-checkers will be put to serious test during the upcoming polls which, based on past experiences, will be characterized by a number of incidents that could make false information thrive. 

This is a test because rigorous fact-checking is less than barely fours years old in Ghana and this is the first electioneering period being keenly followed by independent fact-checkers.     

Considering some of the common incidents that have characterized election days in Ghana in the past, below are some of the common claims fact-checkers may have to deal with on December 7. 

  • The ballot box that got snatched: The thought of a ballot box being snatched at a polling station will not be strange to the ears of any Ghanaian political watcher. It is among the common incidents claimed to have happened during the country’s major elections. Due to high levels of mistrust for political opponents, such reports are easily believed by people who will not suffer themselves to verify, perhaps because it is very possible. Fact-checkers will be needed to look into such claims.
  • Violent clashes near or at a polling station: Ghana’s security agencies have identified some  6,178 communities as flashpoints for violence for this election. This was based on crime trends and incidents during previous elections. It, therefore, wouldn’t be hard to take in that violent clashes have occurred at a polling station within the identified areas. The fact that an area is noted for violence does not necessarily mean any claim of violence there is true. 
  • Discovery of hidden ballot papers: Often you’ll hear of claims about the discovery some thumb-printed ballot papers hidden somewhere. This may come up in making allegations of election fraud and has the potential discrediting the country’s polls. Fact-checkers can help to bring out the truth. Indeed, through the work of fact-checkers on such issues, followers could be better informed about relevant context, if any, and if the claim is even accurate or exaggerated.
  • ‘Unofficial’ results: As the world becomes more sophisticated, it has become easy to fake documents to prove anything. One can easily fall for this if due diligence, as done in the case by fact-checkers is not prioritized. People with malicious intents can manipulate photos of voter result sheets, known as pink sheets to give wrong results. 
  • The ‘recycled’ throwbacks: One of the common claims that will likely be seen will be the use of old images or videos and materials from other countries to make a case for something that is alleged to have happened at a polling station in real-time during the elections. Adding visual materials whether unrelated or old makes claims believable but not necessarily true. Fact-checkers again will help prove true or false such multimedia claims.  

There are many other potential claims fact-checkers will encounter in covering the upcoming polls and they will need to diligently work their way to get the truth to an expectant audience.

In the end, fact-checkers will greatly help to make the 2020 polls more credible and also further solidify their place in helping to instil truth in public discourse. 

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