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“The danger to democracy is even greater with AI and deep fakes”

The European Union partnered with Transparency Mauritius on sensitizing the youth about the importance of democracy through electoral participation. In a Q&A with BIZWEEK, EU Ambassador to Mauritius and Seychelles Oskar Benedikt shared his perspective on the surge in fake news, the rise of the far right, and the insecurity of young people. For him, passiveness is not an option. Engagement and participation are the way forward, he says.

Oskar Benedikt, EU Ambassador to Mauritius and Seychelles
Oskar Benedikt, EU Ambassador to Mauritius and Seychelles

Let us start with the European Union’s association with the event organized by Transparency Mauritius on Youth, Democracy, and Elections. Can you share the context?

We support Transparency Mauritius because they are doing significant work to improve the electoral process. They want to engage with citizens, especially young people, encouraging them to vote, exercise their rights, think critically, and not abstain. Transparency Mauritius, known for its work on anti-corruption, is focusing on sensitizing young people about their electoral rights, especially with the upcoming election in Mauritius. It is crucial that they participate in voting.


Is there a pattern indicating that young people are not interested in voting?

We have hearsay. We hear that young people are apathetic and prefer to do other things. However, in the recent European Union elections, there has been an increase in young voter turnout, which is quite surprising. Young people, particularly those up to 30, are becoming more interested in exercising their rights as they see changes happening. The rise of the right is worrying for many, and idealistic young people are responding by participating more actively. This year, voter turnout among young people was between 60% and 80%, which is quite surprising. While I have only been here for a short time, I assume that Mauritius might experience similar trends.


Once elected, enemies of democracy could potentially dismantle democracy. This is a significant concern


What are your thoughts on young people involved in politics and elections being instrumental to positive change?

First of all, it’s their future and their world. They will inherit and build it. We’ve faced numerous crises: financial crises, invasions, COVID, and in Europe, a massive wave of immigrants. These events have increased the insecurity felt by young people, leading to a rise in mental health issues and the need for psychological support. Young people are constantly exposed to negative news—climate change, wars—which profoundly impacts their psychology. The way out is through active engagement. Passivity will not solve anything. Engaging in political and social activities can help them feel empowered and bring about change. This is vital for our societies, because otherwise, the future looks rather difficult.


In your speech, you mentioned the importance of fact-checking amid an era of fake news. Could you enlighten us on this?

In recent elections, we’ve seen attempts to influence outcomes through fake news. In Europe, where Ukraine is being occupied and ravaged by Russia, disinformation has been used to influence. The EU has specific departments to deal with disinformation, identifying and debunking false information. 

Another aspect is dealing with social media owners and big tech companies to ensure they take responsibility for preventing hate speech and fake news. This is an ongoing process, and it is absolutely necessary. With the advent of artificial intelligence and deep fakes, the danger to democracy is even greater. AI can be used to create false narratives, which is why the EU has tried to regulate AI. It’s a crucial moment to prevent AI from undermining democracy.


Is there any progress in the talks with big tech owners?

There have been intense discussions, including with electoral commissioners responsible for ensuring fair elections. Small countries might struggle to have direct discussions with figures like Elon Musk, but if they unite, it becomes a different matter.

The talks focus on ensuring that big media conglomerates do not become threats to democracy through fake news and widespread disinformation. It’s a complicated process, still in its early stages. Censorship is not the answer; there must be freedom of speech while ensuring that fake news is curtailed. Balancing these aspects is challenging.


Engaging in political and social activities can help young people bring about change. This is vital, because otherwise, the future looks rather difficult.


It’s a catch-22…

Indeed, it is a catch-22. You have enemies of democracy who can be voted into power. Once elected, they could potentially dismantle democracy. This is a significant concern. For example, in Germany, the far-right party AfD is under observation by state security for anti-democratic agitation. There’s a debate on whether they should be excluded from elections, because once in power, such parties might dissolve democratic structures. We’ve unfortunately seen similar scenarios in the 1930s.

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