Defending the Vote: Estonia Creates a Network to Combat Disinformation, 2016–2020

Abstract 

Troubled by reports of disinformation and fake news in the United States and with regard to the United Kingdom’s Brexit referendum vote, Estonia’s State Electoral Office in 2016 created an interagency task force to combat the influence of false messaging on its democratic process. To guide its work, the small staff of the State Electoral Office adopted a network approach by engaging partners from other government agencies, intergovernmental organizations, civil society, social media companies, and the press to identify and monitor disinformation and to work with the press to correct false statements. It also developed a curriculum that would help high school students improve their ability to separate fact from fiction. The collaboration largely succeeded in checking foreign interference. However, considerations involving free speech and censorship hobbled the task force’s efforts to restrain disinformation spread by domestic political parties and their supporters. This case illuminates how an electoral management body with limited staff capacity and a restricted mandate addressed a societywide disinformation challenge.

 

Tyler McBrien drafted this case study based on interviews conducted in September and October 2020. Case published December 2020.

Keywords 
elections
electoral management body
Estonia
disinformation
strategic communications
social media
interagency task force
Russia
internet voting
Focus Area(s): 
Elections
Critical Tasks: 
Election security
Inter-ministerial coordination
Legal framework
Voter education
Core Challenge: 
Capacity (capability traps)
Coordination
Country of Reform: 
Estonia
Type: 
Case Studies
Author: 
Tyler McBrien