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The behavior of the media and journalists on Facebook in the presidential elections: favoring some candidates, criticizing others, the diaspora, and the Komsomol

10 December 2020
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The first round of the presidential elections was a topic widely discussed on social media by both media outlets and their journalists, according to a study launched by the Independent Journalism Center, which analyzed the pages of 5 media outlets and 15 journalists between October 29 and November 4. According to the data, more than half of all posts analyzed had electoral themes.

The research shows that the largest number of posts during the monitored period was distributed by the television station Primul în Moldova (487), followed by Agora.md (456), the Primele Știri page (441) of the Prime TV station, Ziarul de Gardă (324) and, finally, Komsomolskaya Pravda v Moldove (185).

Of the total number of posts distributed by Primul în Moldova, more than half (57%) had an electoral nature and were favorable to the candidate Igor Dodon. The outlet promoted the good organization of the presidential elections, attributing this merit to the Government and public authorities. Likewise, the editorial office projected on Facebook the competition between Igor Dodon and Maia Sandu, as well as the scenarios for the development of the country in case of the victory of the two presidential candidates.

Igor Dodon was promoted in a large amount of posts on Facebook as the president for all, who maintains diplomatic relations with both Eastern and Western partners, ensures stability and economic development of the country, higher pensions and salaries, and so on. On the other hand, Maia Sandu was attacked by a considerable number of posts in which she is presented as a candidate who lacks human values, who will close schools and mayor’s offices in small localities, who supports the LGBT community and participates in its marches, and so on.

Komsomolskaya Pravda v Moldove used a similar rhetoric in its posts. More than half of all distributions (52%) were of electoral nature and favored the candidate Igor Dodon. The outlet also promoted Russia’s anti-US narrative, which points to the US interest in right-wing forces winning in Moldova to more easily control the situation in the region.

Agora.md and Ziarul de Gardă had a similar behavior on Facebook around the elections, although Agora.md published several posts of non-electoral nature. Both outlets urged their readers to send photos from polling stations in the country and abroad on election day, showing their predisposition to citizen journalism. A common element in the coverage of the elections by Agora.md and Ziarul de Gardă concerns the events in the diaspora: organization, mobilization, and atmosphere at the polling stations. Both media outlets offered space to all presidential candidates, presenting the candidacy of Maia Sandu in a neutral to positive tone and Igor Dodon in neutral to negative.

The Facebook page of Primele știri had the smallest number of posts on electoral topics during the monitored period. The main competitors, Maia Sandu and Igor Dodon, were offered much more space for promotion than the other candidates, but the numerical proportion was kept equal for each of the two.

Regarding the behavior of journalists on Facebook, the most active on social networks were those from Ziarul de Gardă, being followed by those from Agora.md, Primele Știri, and Komsomolskaya Pravda v Moldove, while the journalists from Primul în Moldova did not distribute any posts around the first round of the presidential elections.

Journalists from Agora.md and Ziarul de Gardă distributed articles from the official pages of media outlets, mostly related to the elections; expressed their opinions about the candidates registered in the electoral race, emphasizing the negative attitude towards Igor Dodon and neutral to positive towards Maia Sandu; expressed their admiration for the diaspora, through the massive presence of people at the polling stations. The journalists of Primele Știri promoted the work behind the scenes and the election results, and those from Komsomolskaya Pravda v Moldove made posts critical of the candidate Maia Sandu, presented election data, and discussed the Komsomol.

As there is currently no detailed guide in Moldova on the use of social networks by media professionals, which would complete the Journalist’s Code of Ethics, the research recommends civil society organizations to reconceptualize the status of social networks in the Journalist’s Code of Ethics, taking into account the opportunities and dangers of the online environment. In turn, journalists and media outlets are encouraged to follow the rules of ethics in the coverage of elections, including on social networks. Furthermore, more attention must be paid to the development of critical thinking of Internet users, to help them distinguish between manipulation and disinformation, including trolling.
 
This report has been produced as part of the “Monitoring of social networks in the elections” project, implemented by the Independent Journalism Center (IJC) and funded by the United States Department of State.  The opinions, findings and conclusions stated herein are those of the IJC and do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Department of State.