Post-election recapitulation of the first two election cycles

Autor: Maja Kočiš, HUOJ
event 26.06.2024.

The recapitulation of the results shows a worrying and devastating trend.

The modern world is characterized as the digital age marked by the development of new technologies, two-way communication through social networks and the rapid flow of information. However, the digital age also has many disadvantages and potential challenges for humanity, such as information disorder, sensationalism, fake news, misinformation and disinformation. The abundance of readily available information can lead to a state of information overload and infodemic and information disorder, which which complicates the identification of false and misleading information from true, credible and verified information. Identification and combating disinformation, is one of the key challenges for an informed citizenshio and democratic processes, and it remains one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century. Social networks and various unreliable internet browsers and unverified domains are becoming the main sources of news and information, while trust in media, governmental, and public institutions continues to decline.

“Improving the culture of fact-checking” is the name of the project that the Croatian Association for Public Relations (HUOJ) in cooperation with media professionals from Lider Media and experts from the Faculty of Economics of the University of Zagreb funded by the European Union. The project is aimed at promoting a favorable environment for quality journalism and strengthening society’s resistance to disinformation. It involves fact-checking information related to current topics of general public interest, specifically monitoring the election cycles in 2024 and 2025.

At this moment, two cycles of fact-checking have been completed, with two more to go. In the first fact-checing cycle, the websites of media organizations, as well as the official websites and social networks of political parties, featured a large number of statements. On average, three news stories were published daily on the websites of media institutions about the elections for the Croatian Parliament, as well as statements from political candidates running for it. Compared to the second cycle, the number of statements and appearances significantly decreased. The official political campaign for the European Parliament lasted longer than that for the Croatian Parliament; however, the number of statements did not reflect this. At the beginning of the official campaign for the European Parliament elections, the number of statements was very limited, with the focus being more on the formation of the Parliament than on the upcoming European elections. After the Croatian Parliament was constituted, the number of statements and media appearances increased noticeably. The first fact-checking cycle concluded that political options were mostly driven by truth in their speeches. The results of the second election cycle fact-checking show a different trend than the results of the parliamentary election statements, specifically a shift from a positive to a negative trend. The post-election recapitulation shows that the majority of statements in the second cycle were marked as inaccurate and untrue. This comparison of conclusions indicates a worrying and devastating trend.

The results show that the majority of statements can be observed on the social networks of political options and in debates or presentations of parties on internet domains. The public is less inclined to believe that the statements and content read and shared on social networks are accurate and true, but still partially trust the content they find there. Furthermore, the amount of content on social networks exceeds the content on other forms of internet sites and domains.

Media and news organizations face a significant challenge in keeping up with the new trend of rapid content production, reproduction, and dissemination.

In previous years, editorial offices independently checked received and available facts before publication as part of their work. However, in the modern age, content production and sharing occur at such a high speed that media organizations are unable to verify all incoming information and content. Rapid content production, copy-paste content production, and the lack of fact-checking have led society to numerous challenges, complicating public information and eroding trust in media institutions, public, and state institutions, as well as researchers and scientists. This situation has prompted various media organizations and independent news producers to refocus their work on producing, creating, and publishing only verified statements and articles by preparing and shaping special fact-checking departments. The number of organizations and departments verifying statements from various domains is on the rise. However, human trust is very fragile, and once damaged, it is difficult to restore. Nevertheless, creating better and higher quality verified content and different modules and education on information and media literacy is a good path.

Our observations are also confirmed by the relevant statistical data of renowned experts listed in the Study Strengthening society’s resistance to misinformation: Analysis of the situation into guidelines for action (Marijana Grbeša, Ph.D., Iva Nenadić, Ph.D.). The study states that trust in the media in Croatia is among the lowest in the European Union, with a worrying and miserable 28% in 2021. Furthermore, the results show that trust in traditional media is below the EU average, while trust in social networks is above the EU average. Trust in institutions in Croatia is eroded, whether they are media, state, or public institutions, as shown by relevant data from the Eurobarometer 2021/2022 survey, according to which 80% of Croatian respondents believe they often encounter news that distorts or inadequately represents reality, while 90% of citizens believe that such information poses a threat to democracy.