PRISTINA, KOSOVO – SEPT 13, 2021 – As Kosovans get set to vote in local elections, the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD) has expanded its global efforts to reduce online misinformation and hate speech by securing declarations of good social media conduct by political parties, civil society groups and media outlets during the campaign.
In fostering the first social media code of conduct in the Balkans, HD and its partner Democracy for Development (D4D) held a series of roundtables and drafting workshops with Kosovo’s Central Election Commission and the various groups to win broad commitment to a clean and fair campaign. With HD’s technical support, D4D is running a monitoring mechanism to track adherence to the pledges.
After parliamentary elections were held in February 2021, voters in Kosovo will choose their mayors and municipal assemblies in mid-October. The small, multi-ethnic country is relatively young with 41% of its people under the age of 25.
“Limiting toxic and destructive online rhetoric is important during any election but these declarations from a wide range of Kosovo society are an especially big step in a country where social media is a major source of news and political information for young people,” HD Special Advisor Mark Baskin said. “Promoting dialogue and cooperation is vital to strengthening the political process and building resilient communities.”
Kosovo is very much online – with the number of mobile connections and internet users roughly equal to its population of about 2 million people, according to a study this year by We Are Social and Hootsuite. More than half of Kosovans are active social media users.
To the signatories, the process underpins efforts to strengthen media coverage of campaigns and to map how social media is used politically in Kosovo.
“It will identify who the chief actors are and what kind of messaging they employ and could even help lower the level of hostile rhetoric in the campaign,” social media entrepreneur Valon Cenhasi said. “Down the road, it will provide lessons in how to advance peaceful, democratic practices in social media that are relevant in Kosovo and beyond.”
A group of monitors will follow the campaign and report on violations of the declarations. The parties themselves can report suspected violations to D4D and the Elections Complaint Appeal Panel in Kosovo. D4D’s report at the end of the campaign will be given to election officials in Kosovo and monitors from the European Union and other diplomatic missions.
“The signing of this statement shows the willingness to cooperate for a fair campaign by conveying messages that do not have negative content such as hate speech, false news, misinformation and defamatory language,” said D4D Executive Director Rezarta Krasniqi.
Muhamet Hajrullahu, editor in chief of the news portal Telegrafi, welcomed the efforts to “encourage ethical reporting and monitoring for all media”.
HD’s digital conflict programme is part of the Swiss-based independent organisation’s private diplomacy, mediation and peacemaking initiatives in more than 50 conflict areas around the world. This is the third agreement of its kind that HD has facilitated after successful pilots in Nigeria in July 2021 and Indonesia in late 2020.
[Edited on Sept 14 to correct Glauk Tahiri’s name, add link to the code of conduct and specify the Kosovo body responsible for election complaints]
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