South Africa

2024 elections: IEC looking to counter ‘threat’ of fake news

Disinformation on social media is expected to intensify during the 2024 general election – but the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) has vowed to nip it in the bud using the new framework signed with social media platforms.

Usually, disinformation that was rampant during elections included individuals releasing wrong information on X (previously Twitter) and Facebook about the results, and about ballot papers and ballot boxes allegedly dumped along the road or in the bushes.

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They would even show photographs of the “ballot boxes” that turned out to be pictures photo-shopped from elsewhere to mislead the public.

In some instances IEC officials were falsely accused of directing people to vote for certain parties instead of what the voter’s choices.

But in most cases these were found to be untrue.

Educate voters

The IEC has promised to issue information to help educate voters about the dangers of disinformation and how to spot it.

Disinformation is defined as “false, inaccurate or misleading information designed to intentionally cause harm”.

According to the IEC, this includes false information intended to unduly affect participation in and the outcome of elections.

IEC chief electoral officer: outreach, Mawethu Mosery, said they were aware of disinformation during elections, and that was likely to be repeated in the 2024 polls, which worried them.

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“The bad news travels faster than the objective news. So it is an area of concern as to how well as a country will we manage disinformation,” Mosery said.

The IEC acknowledged the increasing use of digital media had seen a corresponding surge in digital disinformation, particularly on social media platforms and how “this phenomenon stands to undermine the conduct of credible elections.”

To counter the scourge, since July the IEC entered into a partnership with social media giants – Google, Meta and TikTok – and the Media Monitoring Africa (MMA).

The parties signed the first Framework of Cooperation to combat disinformation and other digital harms.

‘Trustworthy information’

The IEC believes disinformation poses a threat to the exercise of various rights contained in the constitution, including freedom of expression and association, and freedom to make informed political choices.

“Credible information is the lifeblood of all democracies. Trustworthy information is crucial in the process that enables citizens to choose their leaders,” said IEC chair Mosotho Moepya.

IEC and MMA would work with the online platforms to enable access to complaints platform and transparent political advertising protocols, including Real411, which uses a panel of experts in media law, social and digital media and would make recommendations to the commission.

The IEC’s directorate of electoral offences investigates the disinformation complaints and recommends possible further action, which include referring the matter to the Electoral Court or to the social media platforms to act.

“It is in our interest that the voter turnout always remains high. In ideal world you would say it is good if all eligible South Africans would participate in the choosing of their public representatives because it is not only a duty but it is a positive contribution by all of us to participate in the elections,” said Mosey.

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