In 2018, election integrity continues to be under threat across democratic societies. Since revelations about the Russian Internet Research Agency’s social media activities in the run-up to the US presidential election of 2016 began to emerge, research organisations, government committees and journalists have scrambled to provide evidence, sewing together a picture of state and non-state networks that use social media and internet platforms to undermine the transparency and credibility of information and electoral processes. Disinformation and ‘junk news’ have been shown to proliferate throughout national election and referendum campaigns. Cyber-hacks and respective leaks have been used to target individual political candidates and parties, alongside smear campaigns and troll armies. How far are these same tools weaponised to affect regional or local elections?
To date, there has been little to no research examining the resilience of regional and local election processes and audiences to this range of online tactics. ISD sought to answer this question in the context of the Bavarian state election of October 2018, analysing online information ecosystems to understand whether international or domestic actors were exploiting technology platforms to misinform, mislead or manipulate Bavarians in the run-up to or wake of the election.