• Home
  • /
  • Wireless
  • /
  • FPB finds fake news, misinformation amid electioneering

FPB finds fake news, misinformation amid electioneering

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 30 May 2024
The FPB saw misinformation, disinformation and fake news at its peak in April.
The FPB saw misinformation, disinformation and fake news at its peak in April.

Ahead of this year’s highly-contested elections, the spread of and engagement with misinformation, disinformation, hate speech and related content was at its peak in April.

This is one of the findings of an online monitoring report compiled by the Film and Publication Board (FPB). The two-part report covers the period of April and the first two weeks of May, with focus on content related to yesterday’s general election.

Misinformation, disinformation and fake news are spread online, typically via social media platforms.

The FPB’s report reveals how South Africans referenced, interacted and engaged with misinformation, disinformation and fake news.

The report covered online platform X (formerly Twitter), online news sites, forums and blogs. In addition, the FPB makes a distinction between references and engagement in the context of its social media monitoring.

References, it states, typically indicate the inclusion or mention of a social media account or specific content within a post or message, including tagging or directly mentioning an account, linking to a website or article, or citing a particular piece of content.

Engagement refers to the level of interaction and involvement that users demonstrate with a particular piece of content or campaign. This encompasses various actions taken by users, such as likes, reactions, comments, retweets, replies and shares on social media posts.

According to the FPB report, in the first week of April, there were 4 100 references with 5 700 engagements, with misinformation referenced at a high on 4 April. Most of the engagements were found to among people between the ages of 25 and 34.

“In total, there were 1 200 references with 2 600 engagements of hate speech, incitement of violence and propaganda for war. The highest peak of hate speech references was on 2 April. The Western Cape province reported the highest number, followed by Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga. Most of the references were on Twitter.”

The findings of the FPB report for week one in April.
The findings of the FPB report for week one in April.

In the second week of April, the FPB says a slight increase was recorded, with 4 200 references and 8 300 engagements.

It notes that most incidents were reported at the beginning of the week, but reduced towards the end of the week.

“In total, there were 8 000 references, with 20 700 engagements of hate speech, content propagating for war and incitement of violence. Incitement of violence references dominated the period, with the MK party [uMkhonto we Sizwe] dominating the news. Some 7 300 references and 18 900 engagements were made during this week, surpassing all the categories of prohibited content.”

The findings of the FPB report for week two in April.
The findings of the FPB report for week two in April.

According to the report, the upward trend continued in week three, when 5 700 references and 8 300 engagements were reported. It also notes that fake news surfaced high on 18 April.

“In total, there were 9 600 references with 40 600 engagements in the category of hate speech and incitement of violence.

“Incitement of violence references dominated again throughout the week at 9 100 references and 39 900 engagements. No content propagating war was reported during the period.”

The findings of the FPB report for week three in April.
The findings of the FPB report for week three in April.

In the last week of April, the FPB recorded the lowest references in the category of misinformation, disinformation and fake news content at a combined 3 700 references, with 7 400 engagements.

“In the category of hate speech, propaganda for war and incitement of violence content, there were 8 700 references, with 28 000 engagements. Incitement of violence dominated the last week of April.”

A summary of the FPB’s findings in the run-up to the elections.
A summary of the FPB’s findings in the run-up to the elections.

An entity of the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies, the FPB is mandated to ensure content distributed through various platforms aligns with the regulations outlined in the Films and Publications Act (FP Act).

By conducting online monitoring, the FPB assesses whether platforms are complying with the regulations by ensuring platforms are not used to distribute harmful and prohibited content, as defined in the FP Act.

The current FPB guidelines outline various forms of prohibited content, including hate speech, misinformation, fake news, propaganda for war and content that incites violence.

The enforcement mechanisms provided for in the Act include fines and potential prison sentences for the distribution of prohibited content.

With the participation of close to three billion people expected in electoral processes worldwide, including in SA, the dissemination of misinformation and disinformation have been identified among the biggest risks to the integrity of elections and the legitimacy of elected governments.

To address some of these risks, the Election Commission of South Africa (IEC) forged a multi-stakeholder partnership with major online platforms and non-profit organisations − including Google, Meta, AfricaCheck and Media Monitoring Africa − in the run-up to, during and beyond SA’s 2024 elections.

IEC CEO Sy Mamabolo admitted during the IEC media briefing on Tuesday evening that the rate and intensity of the propagation of fake news is “so big” that it outpaces reaction ability.

He indicated this was something the IEC was evaluating ahead of yesterday’s election, in an effort to minimise the risk of the election being undermined.

However, Mamabolo stated the IEC was satisfied with the level of cooperation with online platforms and takedown of certain posts on social media, saying these have been justified.