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Pilot Study // The activity of 5 media outlets and 15 journalists on Facebook during the campaign for the new parliamentary elections in Hincesti

27 April 2020
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Media outlets and journalists use Facebook during the electoral campaign in order to disseminate their own materials, but also to promote or criticize certain candidates. These are the conclusions of a pilot study of the Independent Journalism Center (IJC), which analyzed, for the first time, the posts made by media outlets and journalists during the electoral campaign for the new parliamentary elections in Electoral District 38, Hincesti.
According to the study conducted between March 9 and 22, 2020, the Facebook activity of media outlets (Jurnal TV, TV8, Sputnik, NTV Moldova, and Publika) and of 15 journalists from their teams had the following dynamics: the number of posts increased after some critical events, such as the exclusion of the Shor Party candidate from the electoral race, the protests that followed, or electoral debates, and reached the maximum on the day of elections, after which it decreased.
The study data showed that during the electoral campaign the television stations TV8 and Jurnal TV had extensive activity on social networks, which they used to promote their own materials. In addition, they used personal accounts to share their own news stories or those of their teammates. Sputnik, Publika, and NTV Moldova posted information about the elections sporadically.
The COVID-19 pandemic permeated the entire course of the new parliamentary elections in Hincesti. TV8 and Jurnal TV promoted messages to postpone the elections, while NTV Moldova, Sputnik, and Publika adopted the silence tactic. Journalists acted in the same way as the media outlet that they represent.
The analysis of posts made by media outlets reveals a neutral attitude towards right-wing candidates, while the left-wing candidate was mostly criticized. The same tendency was noticed in journalists’ posts. However, their attitude towards left-wing candidates was much more critical, and Jurnal TV journalists had a negative attitude towards right-wing candidates, too.
Media outlets in their posts usually complied with Article 1.8 of the Moldovan Journalist’s Code of Ethics regarding non-admission of political partisanship. An exception was NTV Moldova, which clearly favored the PSRM candidate. None of the monitored journalists used their personal Facebook accounts to show open support for a candidate or political entity.
Furthermore, the study data showed that traditional methods of disinformation and manipulation are used simultaneously with those characteristic of new media, such as Facebook. Trolling activities through fake accounts with political affiliation or hidden identity confirm that elections are events of interest, and social networks, in this case Facebook, can be a suitable environment for conducting disinformation campaigns.
The authors of the study recommend journalists and media outlets to comply with the standards of professional ethics in their coverage of elections on social networks, and civil society organizations are recommended to re-conceptualize the status of social networks in the Journalist’s Code of Ethics, taking into consideration the opportunities and dangers of the online environment. Researchers also recommend developing the critical thinking of users of social networks so that they could identify manipulation and disinformation techniques, including trolling.
The study aimed to identify trends and the manner in which media outlets and journalists use Facebook to inform their audience about the political and electoral discourse of competitors. The aim was also to determine the neutrality or political affiliation of journalists.
This report has been possible due to the generous support of the American and British people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and UK Aid. The content of this material is the responsibility of the Independent Journalism Center and does not necessarily reflect the vision of UK Aid, USAID, or the United States Government.