Digital Threats Loom over a Busy Year for Elections

A packed electoral calendar in 2024 will be threatened by digital repression, but voters worldwide can still be meaningfully protected.

Women stand in line to cast their ballots for the Indian general election.

Women stand in line to cast their ballots for the Indian general election.  (Goutam Roy/ Al Jazeera English)


The year 2024 will offer an abundance of elections, with polls due in India, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, the United States, and over 30 other countries. Indeed, 41 percent of the world’s population will take part in national elections next year. Freedom House’s research has shown again and again that electoral periods are a flashpoint for digital repression. Freedom on the Net 2023: The Repressive Power of Artificial Intelligence found that incumbent governments often imposed digital controls to constrain online discourse ahead of, during, and after elections.

Freedom House has analyzed the growing trend of digital election interference for years through Election Watch in the Digital Age, which examines the interplay between digital platforms and electoral integrity. Governments utilize an array of tactics to exert control online ahead of elections. They may launch cyberattacks on independent news sites, block access to those sites, arrest users for political speech, pass laws that restrict digital organizing, disseminate disinformation, or cut off telecommunications services entirely. Governments also use legislation and regulation to draw technology companies into their censorship regimes, sometimes compelling platforms and service providers to restrict access to election-related information and threatening to push them out of the market for noncompliance.

Technology companies have dedicated resources to monitor and address challenges ahead of some of next year’s elections. But not all of 2024’s contests are receiving enough attention. Freedom House will keep an especially close eye on countries where digital interference could profoundly shape electoral outcomes—and where incumbents have already worked to tilt the playing field in their favor.

Partisan arrests silence critics in Bangladesh

Bangladesh’s ruling Awami League and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina have consolidated power by harassing the media, opposition parties, and government critics. As the January 2024 elections approach, voters may also face politically motivated violence and the aftereffects of the Digital Security Act (DSA), which the government has used against opposition members, activists, and ordinary internet users. The DSA was repealed in August 2023, only for the government to replace it with another harsh law. People who are already charged with violating the DSA—the vast majority of them affiliated with the opposition—will still face trial.

A stringent system of censorship in India

An opposition coalition will challenge the Bharatiya Janata Party, which has ruled India for over a decade, when voters select a new parliament in May 2024. Through legislation and regulation, the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has limited the availability of independent reporting and online commentary. Under the country’s IT Rules, for example, large social media platforms must limit access to broadly defined types of content, including speech that authorities think could undermine public order, decency, or morality. In January 2023, authorities used the rules to restrict online commentary on a documentary that examined Modi’s role in communal violence in the early 2000s. The already onerous IT Rules were amended in April 2023, giving the government more control over the information space ahead of the vote.

Disinformation discredits opposition leaders and electoral authority in Mexico

Voters in Mexico will select a new president in June 2024, as the country faces a faltering economy, corruption, and criminal violence. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who is term-limited, has used his office to amplify false and misleading information against the opposition, with an eye to bolstering the ruling National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) and candidate Claudia Sheinbaum. Online disinformation has already made a considerable mark on Mexican politics: Inauthentic accounts linked to López Obrador and MORENA targeted the country’s electoral authority with a disinformation campaign in 2022, for example. Progovernment narratives will likely spread faster and farther as the elections draw near.

Generative artificial intelligence amplifies digital threats to elections

These tactics are not new, and the risks to election integrity will become even more potent with the increasing use of generative artificial intelligence (AI). Generative AI has already been used to distort information around electoral campaigns. In February 2023, the Nigerian press reported on an inauthentic, AI-generated audio clip of a presidential candidate who was purportedly discussing vote rigging. Days before the September elections in Slovakia, pro-Kremlin social media accounts shared a deepfake of a journalist and a politician who allegedly discussed election interference.

There is no easy solution to these profound challenges, but strategies for fighting these trends already exist. Platforms would do well to reinvest in internal expertise on these issues, and they can also partner with civil society groups and media outlets with experience resisting digital repression. Such steps will help ensure that platforms can more effectively respond to election-time disinformation and interference.

To meaningfully participate in the process of choosing their government, voters must be able to express their views without fear of arrest and have access to information without censorship or distortion. Incumbents’ digital controls have made this more difficult, but preparation from companies and support from civil society can bolster efforts for freer and fairer elections in the new year.

Freedom House - Election Watch for the Digital Age

Election Watch for the Digital Age

Freedom House’s Election Watch project offers in-depth analysis ahead of key elections around the world, including those in Partly Free and Not Free countries. Each assessment informs technology companies, policymakers, and civil society organizations about the risks of human rights violations and digital interference ahead of an election.