Facebook works to reduce fake news as SA elections near

Admire Moyo
By Admire Moyo, ITWeb's news editor.
Johannesburg, 15 Mar 2019
SA's general elections will be held on 8 May.
SA's general elections will be held on 8 May.

Facebook, the world's biggest social network, is gearing up to tackle fake news and misinformation ahead of the South African elections.

General elections will be held in SA on 8 May to elect a new National Assembly and new provincial legislatures in each province. This will be the sixth election held since the end of the apartheid system in 1994.

This election will determine who will become the next president of South Africa.

In a blog post, Akua Gyekye, Facebook's public policy manager for Africa elections, says the company is working to reduce the spread of misinformation, protect election integrity and support civic engagement across the continent.

Facebook has faced backlash over the past two years for not acting fast enough to combat fake news, propaganda operations and extremist content spread on its platforms.

Some of the scandals that hit Facebook in 2018 included data privacy issues, election interference, as well as the spreading of fake news.

Earlier this year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg promised stronger controls on the social network following a scandal-ridden 2018.

"We want to stop the spread of false news on our platforms. That's why we've teamed up with local third-party fact-checkers across South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Cameroon and Senegal, including Africa Check, AFP, Pesa and Dubawa," says Gyekye.

She points out these independent groups help Facebook assess the accuracy of news shared on the platform, and when they determine content is false, Facebook reduces its distribution in News Feed so fewer people see it.

"We also show related articles from fact-checkers for more context and notify users if a story they have shared is rated as false."

Gyekye points out these fact-checking expansions are part of a broader strategy to fight fake news that includes extensive work to remove fake accounts; cut off incentives to the financially-motivated actors that spread misinformation; promote news literacy; and give more context so people can decide for themselves what to read, trust and share.

She adds that Facebook wants to make sure people can spot false news and know how to flag it. "That's why we've rolled out educational tips on national and regional radio and in print media across Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia, Kenya and Zimbabwe."

In order to better understand local issues and how Facebook can tackle the educational tips more effectively, Gyekye says the company is working with a number of NGO and civil society partners across many African countries.

"These local partners have been instrumental in giving us feedback that we've incorporated into our policies and programmes."