Social media apps, IEC, move to combat election disinformation

The Independent Electoral Commission has partnered with key stakeholders to combat the growing problem of disinformation around the elections.

As South Africa draws closer to the seventh democratic elections, Media Monitoring Africa has warned that the increase of misinformation and disinformation on social media poses a threat to democratic elections.

Addressing a webinar on Tuesday, hosted by the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) on the upcoming elections, Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) Communications Manager Nomshado Lubisi-Nkosinkulu said the “explosion of information” is making it increasingly difficult to know what is real and what is not.

The MMA is an organisation that helps to promote ethical and fair journalism, which supports human rights and democracy.

Democracy under threat

“Democracy is under threat. South Africa is dealing with unprecedented threats, and political analysts are calling the upcoming elections period as one of the most crucial, potentially aggressive, elections periods in our young democracy.

“…There is a dramatic increase in misinformation and disinformation on social media platforms. And with the lack of strong digital and media literacy skills among the public, it becomes more important for traditional media to be credible. To also be well equipped to deliver their mandate of informing and educating,” Lubisi-Nkosinkulu said.

She said that as the country moves towards the elections, misinformation, disinformation and other digital harms are not only likely. They are a certainty, and they pose clear threats to democratic elections.

Misinformation is misleading content. While disinformation is false, inaccurate or misleading information. It is designed, presented and promoted to intentionally cause public harm or for profit.

Public harm includes, but is not limited to, disrupting or preventing an election, conduct or outcome of an election. Or unduly influencing the outcome or conduct of an election.

Lubisi-Nkosinkulu said disinformation always has a grain of truth. It makes the public angry, anxious, fearful and uncertain.

Consequently, it undermines the ability to trust and as a result, key institutions of democracy are undermined.

Multi-stakeholder partnership, Real411, to address the problem

Lubisi-Nkosinkulu said a multi-stakeholder partnership with the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) is important. This is cooperation between the MMA, IEC, social media platforms and a disinformation working group with key civil society bodies. These are key to combat misinformation.

“Using dedicated tools such as Real411, we will help combat, mitigate and investigate disinformation. We… will do so with other online harms during the election period,” she said.

Real411 is a digital platform that was created with a singular purpose: to empower every citizen with the means to combat digital disinformation. Specifically as the country prepares for the pivotal 2024 South African General Elections. When you report an instance of digital disinformation to Real411, you are raising awareness. You are also initiating action and safeguarding the integrity of the upcoming 2024 elections.

Real411 provides a platform for the public to report digital harms, including disinformation. This ensures that online content is assessed and addressed in an independent, open, transparent and accountable manner within the laws and constitutional rights.

The app is available on Google Play and the App Store.

Real411, run in conjunction with the IEC, seeks to ensure that:

  • Key stakeholders play by the same rules;
  • There is a mechanism for the public to act against disinformation. It helps to empower citizens to act against disinformation, thus helping to mitigate its impact;
  • The system offers one central place for the public to report, regardless of the platform. And the lEC is able to deal with complaints across digital platforms.
Access to a political party information platform

In addition, the public now has access to a political party information platform, PAdRE. It aims to ensure and increase access to information in the elections in South Africa. This in line with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights’ Guidelines On Access To Information And Elections In Africa.

PAdRE is an initiative aimed at supporting free and fair elections by ensuring access to information during the elections period. The platform provides information on political party adverts and how much parties are spending.

TikTok Sub-Saharan Africa Director of Public Policy and Government Relations, Fortune Mgwili-Sibanda, explained the platform. Its Community Guidelines have a holistic approach that will ensure that the election’s integrity is protected, Mgwili-Sibanda said.

“These guidelines define a common code of conduct. Every household has rules… We work to maintain an environment where everyone feels safe. They feel welcome to create videos, find community, and be entertained. These guidelines also allow our community to help maintain a safe shared space.

TikTok introduces new measures to combat disinformation

“We deeply value that our users come from a huge breadth of nationalities and cultures. Our Community Guidelines take into account the cultural norms and local regulations of the countries in which we operate.

“We believe that feeling safe is essential to feeling comfortable expressing yourself authentically. This is why we strive to uphold our Community Guidelines by removing accounts and content that violates them,” Mgwili-Sibanda said.

On May 17, the platform updated the rules and standards. It introduced a warning strike for when a creator violates the Community Guidelines for the first time. It also introduced  a policy to make an account temporarily ineligible for recommendation if a creator repeatedly posts content that goes against the guidelines.

An account check, which is an in-app feature that lets creators audit their accounts and post their last 30 post, was introduced.

“These are standards that we expect creators involved in TikTok programmes to follow on and off-platform,” Mgwili-Sibanda said. 


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