Government plans voter education campaign ahead of election

Campaign will focus on voting rights, as well as potential interference in the democratic process.

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File picture of vote being cast in Finnish election / Credit: Vaalit.fi

The Finnish government is planning to roll out a new voter education campaign ahead of the general election on 14th April.

It comes as Justice Minister Antti Häkkänen (NCP) used a speech this week to warn of the potential of troll factories using social media to influence campaigns and amplify divisive messages.

The new campaign will be launched at the end of next February, and be spread across television, radio, newspapers and social media sites. Experts say that they want to use all possible communications channels, to make sure as many people as possible hear the message.

“We are reminding people to use their right to vote” says Chief Communications Specialist Jussi Toivanen from the Prime Minister’s Office.

“Our election systems are very reliable, and every single vote is counted by hand, but the only thing that has changed is the information environment. We want to remind people that they need to be critical. It’s not just about the election, it’s about the future as well, we want to remind people to vote because it is supporting democracy” he tells News Now Finland.

Suspicious activity online

There have been previous examples of suspicious social media activity seemingly targeting candidates.

At the beginning of January 2018 during the presidential election campaign, researchers identified hundreds of suspicious Twitter accounts belonging to Pekka Haavisto (Green) and Sauli Niinistö (Ind).

A month before, Haavisto’s campaign had noticed a sudden spike in the number of Twitter followers to the candidate’s account, and alerted Finland’s Security Police SUPO.

Minister warns of online threats

Earlier this week the Ministry of Justice held a seminar to discuss potential threats to the country’s election process.

Minister Häkkänen said that few people in Finland question the integrity of the election process, but that the influence of social media was “particularly challenging”.

“The foreign so-called troll factories may try to influence the social media debate about a particular theme, aiming to direct public opinion in the direction desired by the troll factory” said Häkkänen.

He cited examples of election interference in the 2016 US presidential election, and questioned whether companies like Google and Facebook should have their information-gathering powers regulated.

“Although no actual electoral impact measures have been detected so far in Finland, new threats can clearly be seen” he said.

Häkkänen said that one recent example was detected when ministries ran an online vote about the options of changing Finland’s clocks from summer time to winter time, which were spammed by bots.