IEC launches online reporting platform for digital disinformation

Monday, April 1, 2019

The Electoral Commission has launched an innovative online reporting platform to help combat the scourge of disinformation intended to unfairly influence the elections.

Launched on Monday, the new online reporting platform for digital disinformation, which is developed in partnership with Media Monitoring South Africa and other partners, will facilitate the online submission and tracking of complaints relating to disinformation.

This follows the rise in disinformation, especially via digital platforms and the potential negative impact it may have on the integrity of elections.

Speaking at the launch, Chief Electoral Officer Sy Mamabolo said there are three key aspects to the initiative.

The first part of the project is to enhance the education of all stakeholders around disinformation on digital platforms. This includes highlighting the risks and dangers of intentionally false and misrepresented information for free and fair elections and in raising the consciousness of the public in relation to this problem.

“It also includes providing tools and assistance to voters, the media, political parties, candidates and others in helping to identify false information and knowing what steps to take to query and lodge complaints regarding potential instances of disinformation,” Mamabolo explained.

The second key part of the project is to provide an online platform, which will allow members of the public, members of the media, political parties, candidates and other interest groups to quickly and easily report to the Electoral Commission potential disinformation, which may be in breach of the Electoral Code of Conduct – and then to allow the Electoral Commission to rapidly and efficiently deal with such complaints.

“The third aspect of today’s initiative is a pilot political advertisement repository where political parties can post copies of their official campaign material to help with the identification of false messaging,” Mamabolo said.

How will it work?

 Explaining how the online platform will work, Mamabolo said once a complaint is submitted online, it will be referred to a panel of experts under the umbrella of the Electoral Commission’s Directorate for Electoral Offences.

“This panel – with expertise in media law, social media and disinformation – will assess and investigate the complaint and make a recommendation to the commission for consideration,” he explained.

The IEC will then make a determination on any possible further action. Such action could include:

•           Requesting social media platforms to remove the offensive or inaccurate material.

•           Requesting political parties or candidates to clarify the information.

•           Issuing media statements to alert the public and correct the disinformation.

•           Referring the matter for criminal or civil legal action, if necessary.

“The site will contain a database of all complaints received and their progress so that other social media users can see if an issue has already been dealt with and what the outcome was,” Mamabolo said.

Disinformation and Code of Conduct

 Mamabolo noted that the dangers of false information and disinformation have long been recognised within South Africa’s electoral system and legislative framework.  Both sections on prohibited conduct in the Electoral Act, as well as the Electoral Code of Conduct prohibit false information.

The Code of Conduct specifically prohibits:

  • The use of any language that may provoke violence or intimidation.
  • Any discrimination on the grounds of race, ethnicity, sex, gender, class or religion.
  • The publication of any false or defamatory allegations in respect of any other party or candidate.

The Electoral Act also prohibits any person from publishing any false information with the intention of disrupting or preventing an election, creating hostility or fear in order to influence the conduct of an election, and influencing the conduct or outcome of an election.

In seeking to give real meaning to these provisions, Mamabolo said that the Electoral Commission has been engaging with a range of stakeholders to see how “we can simplify and accelerate the process of identifying and dealing with alleged breaches of the code regarding false information, specifically on digital platforms”.

He said engagement with political parties within the National Party Liaison Committee around the issues of digital disinformation and the online platform initiative has received overwhelming support from all parties. –