How to spot a political smear campaign

How to spot a political smear campaign

IMAGE: Namibia fact check

Information manipulation tactics about candidates and political parties have infiltrated the online election information landscape.

A common one tactic to try to undermine a competing candidate or political party is to launch a campaign of discredit.

In Namibia, in recent months it has become clear that there is A concerted and coordinated smear campaign is underway addressed to the leader of the Independent Patriots for Change (IPC), Panduleni Itula.

According to the Collins Dictionary, a smear campaign is:

“a deliberate attack on someone, spreading a false and unpleasant rumour about him or her or making an accusation intended to damage his or her reputation”
Example: He attributes all the accusations to a smear campaign by his political opponents.

Definition from collinsdictionary.com

According to various online sources, a political smear campaign has two main objectives:

  • First, Undermining support for a candidate or party in question by attacking their reputation and credibility.;
  • Secondly, to distract them from your message or platform and silence them.

The tactics used in a political smear campaign are:

  • Personal attacks about the individual, candidate or party in question, deliberately spreading and amplifying lies and rumours;
  • Spreading and repeating misinformation online through anonymous or fake accounts;
  • Tagging the candidate or party in question as a threat or failure to represent the public interest or being a “foreign agent,” an “imperialist puppet,” or something similar;
  • Consolidating defamation with videos and voice notesAI-generated videos and voice notes are now also being used.

An example from Namibia?

As stated earlier, there appears to be a political smear campaign underway against Panduleni Itula and his party, Independent Patriots for Change (IPC).

While Itula has been the target of personal attacks recently, The main tactic of the smear campaign against him is to label him as an “imperialist puppet”representing foreign interests that want to bring about regime change in Namibia. This effort has used Videos and voice notes to spread and repeat your narrative. Through social media and messaging platforms. through anonymously generated content.

In May 2024, a story began to spread that Panduleni Itula was somehow connected to the Fishrot fisheries corruption and that the scandal was an elaborate intelligence operation “to destroy Swapo in order to achieve regime change.” According to this smear, the IPC was Itula’s “operational cover,” acting as a foreign agent, while the Icelandic fishing company’s “operational cover” was supposedly Fishrot’s corruption.

An image that emerged in May 2024 allegedly implicated Panduleni Itula in a “regime change” intelligence operation with Icelandic fishing company Samherji.

Also in May 2024, an AI-generated video (see below) began circulating on social media groups calling Itula an “opportunistic politician and fraudster” who was a British citizen, while suggesting he may have been an agent of the apartheid regime.

In early July 2024, the smear that Itula is a British agent was compounded by the emergence and amplification on social media of what appears to be a fake letter alleging that the IPC is funded by the British government and is promoting a British agenda and business interests in Namibia. Fact Checking on Namibia The article on this topic can be read at the following link:

In this context, it is important for Namibians to understand what a smear campaign is and how to recognise when such a campaign is being used to influence Namibian elections.

This article is part of Namibia Fact Check #NamibiaElections2024 coverage.