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X Ibero-American Conference: Threats and challenges of social networks for electoral justice

The X Ibero-American Conference on Electoral Justice took place in Panama City, from 6-8 August 2018, with the theme “Social networks: threats and challenges for electoral justice.” The conference was organized by the Electoral Tribunal of Panama in collaboration with International IDEA.

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The meeting, which has since 2009 brought together the highest leadership of electoral tribunals from the Ibero-American countries, is organized with the main objective to strengthen the capacities of the representatives of the electoral bodies, through the exchange of knowledge and experiences in matters of electoral justice. The Conference is endorsed as the only inter-institutional space in the Ibero-American region, dedicated exclusively to this important topic. The tenth edition of the conference was attended by representatives of 15 countries in the region, including Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Spain, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, and Uruguay. In addition, regional experts on matters of electoral justice and social networks also participated in the conference.

During the inauguration ceremony, the President of the Electoral Tribunal of Panama, Heriberto Araúz Sánchez, in his welcome speech, indicated that the representatives of the electoral courts of the region would discuss for two days the rise of social networks in the electoral campaigns electoral, its legal framework, transparency, access to political-electoral information, freedom of information and its impact on democracy, among other issues.

During his speech, Dr Daniel Zovatto, Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean of International IDEA, highlighted that “social networks have a great impact on politics because they allow direct and two-way communication with political actors, which has produced a radical change in the way in which political parties communicate their messages and interact with their followers.” He stressed that, “there is no doubt that social networks and new technologies improve the right to information and freedom of expression of citizens. But at the same time, they pose a significant challenge for the electoral authorities, because precisely because of the freedom they provide, their regulation becomes very difficult, especially with the objective of maintaining the fairness of the electoral processes.”

During the opening ceremony, three justices of the Electoral Tribunal of Panama conferred on Dr Zovatto, the Ernesto de la Guardia Jr. Order, “for his permanent and significant contributions to the Electoral Tribunal and the improvement of Panamanian democracy”. The Plenary Agreement of 30 July 2018, in particular, highlights: “the continuous and unconditional support provided by Dr Daniel Zovatto to the Electoral Tribunal, since its reorganization in 1990 when he served as Director of IIHR Capel and through all these years as regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean of the International IDEA.”

The conference was held over two days and was composed of an inaugural panel on “Social networks and Ibero-American electoral campaigns”, participated by Dr Miguel Ángel Lara Otaola, head of the International IDEA´s sub-regional office for Mexico and Central America, based in Mexico, and four panels on the topics of Transparency, access to electoral political information, freedom of information and social networks; Protection of political rights and the use of social networks; Social networks, legal framework for regulating their use in the electoral process; and Social networks and equity in the electoral contest. The opening keynote address on the theme “Social networks and their threats and challenges for electoral justice” was given by Dr Alejandro Cárdenas López. Similarly, the closing keynote address on the topic “Latin American super-electoral cycle 2017- 2019 ” was given by Dr Zovatto.

The Conference concluded with the signing of the final declaration of the X Conference on Electoral Justice, Panama 2018. Some of the highlights of this declaration include the reaffirmation of the commitment of the electoral justice bodies of the region to promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies, based on Rule of Law, with independent and professional institutions. The electoral bodies also agreed to increase efforts to improve the integrity of the electoral processes, in addition to promoting the use of social networks with transparency and with criteria of accountability of the actors of the electoral contest. On the other hand, it was decided to establish a permanent exchange of dialogue between Ibero-American countries to generate a regulatory framework that allows for the identification of solutions and presenting proposals to solve common challenges. The electoral justices of fifteen countries of the region agreed to continue their work to prevent social networks from becoming mechanisms to misinform and to taint electoral campaigns.

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