Fake news destroys democracy

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

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 (GCSI) on the upcoming elections, Media Monitoring Africa 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 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.

“With the dramatic increase in misinformation and disinformation on social media platforms and the lack of strong digital and media literacy skills among the public, it becomes more important than ever before for traditional media to not only be credible but also 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.

Special Report | 2024 Elections

Misinformation is misleading content, while disinformation is false, inaccurate or misleading information 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.

To combat misinformation, Lubisi-Nkosinkulu said a multi-stakeholder partnership with the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) -- which includes a framework of cooperation between the Media Monitoring Africa, IEC, social media platforms and a disinformation working group with key civil society bodies -- is key.

“Using dedicated tools, including Real411, we will help combat, mitigate and investigate disinformation and other online harms during the election period,” she said.

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, helping to empower citizens to act against disinformation, thus helping to mitigate its impact;
  • It 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.

In addition, the public now has access to the Political Party Advert Repository (PAdRE), which aims to ensure and increase access to information in the elections in South Africa, 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, said the platform’s Community Guidelines have a holistic that will help to ensure that the election’s integrity is protected.

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

“We deeply value that our users come from a huge breadth of nationalities and cultures, and 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, which is why we strive to uphold our Community Guidelines by removing accounts and content that violates them,” Mgwili-Sibanda said.

On 17 May, the platform updated the rules and standards, introduced a warning strike for when a creator violates the Community Guidelines for the first time and 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. – SAnews.gov.za