Election interference on the rise – Research reveals: This is often how the interference is

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According to experts, many factors influence election interference, such as the polarization of society and uncertainty.

Election harassment on the rise – Research reveals: This is how harassment often is

There has been a lot of election harassment against candidates recently. OUTI JÄRVINEnriika.tauriainen@iltalehti.fiYesterday at 21:02

  • Election interference can be done, for example, by another state or a private person.
  • In this spring's elections, the harassment seems to be aimed more at an individual candidate than at a party.
  • According to the research, the perpetrators of online harassment are often men who actively spend time on the internet.

Now, during the parliamentary elections, many candidates have experienced election harassment. For example, the harassment could have happened physically during the campaign holidays or it has been hate speech on social media.

The issue came up especially when Ben Zyskowicz(kok) was abused last Saturday in Itäkeskus.

Harassment has also been encountered in other parties. For example, from the beginning of the week, Tom Packalén (ps) was pushed in connection with campaigning in Malmi. According to the party secretary of the Left Alliance Anna Mäkipään, the party's candidates have been shouted at aggressively during outdoor campaigning. Mäkipää says that especially women and minorities have faced harassment.

Where does the anger come from?

Threats in different channels

University of Helsinki doctoral researcher Veikko Isotalo has studied the topic in the 2019 parliamentary elections with political researcher Hanna Wassi.

< p class="paragraph">According to Isotalo, the investigation of election interference is a relatively new field of research in Finland, so it is therefore difficult to assess whether there is more interference than before. However, it happens a lot, especially in social media.

– British research has mapped out different channels where election interference occurs. The first place is social media, then comes harassment by e-mail and telephone, Isotalo says.

According to the research, there are several common methods of election harassment.

– After the last parliamentary elections, we asked the candidates what forms of election harassment they observed. The candidates most noticed the spread of incorrect information, smear campaigns aimed at the candidates, and harassment of websites and social media accounts. In the survey, more than 50 percent of the candidates had observed these forms of harassment.

Another state can also be behind it

A state actor can also commit election interference and thus try to influence the voting result of another state. Petteri Paalasmaa

Election interference can be done, for example, by another state or a private person. Harassment can also be system-level harassment.

– System-level harassment can be aimed at questioning the voting result and it does not necessarily have to be aimed at one candidate, Isotalo says.

– The harassment can be what you could think of as government the actors do. For example, trolls from a foreign country could spread rumors online about a fraudulent election result, Isotalo says.

– The background of election interference may be a state actor. Someone who wants to confuse the pack and make the situation look like the parties are arguing with each other within the country.

According to Isotalo, comprehensive information about the harassment that occurred in this spring's elections will only be available through surveys after the elections.

In several studies, women have faced more harassment. Well-known candidates are also harassed more than others.

– Harassment can have negative effects in terms of candidates' campaigns. Harassment affects how you campaign. It actually weakens the campaigning potential, because campaigning can be limited for the sake of one's own safety. It's a bad thing, because candidates should feel safe when campaigning, Isotalo says.

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Expert: Attacking or threatening a candidate doing election work is a danger to democracy

Net hate the perpetrators are often men

Tampere University's social psychology professor Atte Oksanen has studied online harassment. In the latest research, material was collected from researchers, municipal politicians and journalists.

According to Oksanen, online harassment and hate speech are a common problem that affects all genders, but there are differences in the forms of harassment.

However, the perpetrators are mostly men.

– If we talk about troublemakers, it must be understood that there is a smaller group that uses social media as a megaphone. The atmosphere of hatred and harassment weakens social trust, says Oksanen.

According to Oksanen, previous studies have shown that the perpetrators of online hatred have common features.

– They are mostly men and active internet users who have found their own peer group online, says Oksanen.

– They may have somewhat weaker relationships with loved ones and may be impulsive. But this does not apply to everyone, because there is also much more ideological and deliberate harassment.

“Uncertainty in society fuels an angry atmosphere”

Polarization is also visible during elections in hate speech and harassment. Petteri Paalasmaa

Finnish society has been living in exceptional times for a long time. The corona epidemic, the war of aggression started by Russia in Ukraine and economic uncertainty have brought uncertainty to living.

– If there is a lot of uncertainty in society, it feeds an angry atmosphere. Seeing hate online has a direct impact on how one perceives the social situation or security, says Oksanen.

– Uncertain social situations are unfortunately reflected in the fact that group divisions arise and common trust begins to decay.

According to Oksanen, a traditional asset in Nordic society has been high trust in political institutions.

– This is an asset, and that atmosphere should be nurtured. Of course, you can be critical and have a political discussion, but you shouldn't incite hatred against others. It's not in the interests of professional politicians either, Oksanen commented.

– In any case, society should take care that inequality does not increase. Although social media has brought about a change in the discussion culture, there is also other social malaise and concern in the background.

Polarization on the rise in Finland

All established parties have condemned election interference . According to Oksanen, there is not as blatant an atmosphere in politics in Finland as in some other countries. Dissertation researcher Isotalo is also on the same lines.

– At the end of the day, there has been quite a bit of affective, i.e. emotional, polarization in Finland compared to international ones. But it has reached us as well and it is growing.

According to Isotalo, there are so many phenomena in society at the same time that it is difficult to say what is the reason for the increase in harassment.

– For example, with the appearance of basic Finns in the party field, polarization has occurred. Basic Finns don't like many parties and these parties don't like basic Finns.

According to Isotalo, it's hard to say how different political movements have grown, but at least social media has made them louder.

– Social media has its own twists and turns, and possibly that has an effect, Isotalo sums up.

Even death threats are not always reported to the police

In Oksanen's study, up to two-thirds of municipal politicians sometimes encountered online hate. The situation is made difficult by the fact that social media is an important campaign tool for politicians.

– The phenomenon of online harassment is unfortunately common. The culture of social media has developed in such a way that the behavior there is quite aggressive and it spills over in the context of election campaigns.

Oksanen mentions that, for example, Zyskowicz's case is very unfortunate and worrying, but unfortunately not surprising. .

Oksanen also highlights the concern that hate speech is not necessarily addressed even in the most serious cases.

– In the long development process of social media culture, users become frustrated and numb to hate speech. It's worrying. Let's get through even the worst threats. We think that there is no need to report them to the police, says Oksanen.

– According to the research, a lot of things happen online that don't always end up being investigated. In our study, even those who received death threats answered that the acts were not serious enough to have reported them to the police. What happens when even the most serious cases, such as death threats, which meet the hallmarks of a crime, are not addressed? Society does not protect the victims very well.

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