Ahead of next year’s general elections, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has partnered with social media giants to fight disinformation.
The IEC this week announced it will work with Google, Meta and TikTok, and non-profit organisation Media Monitoring Africa (MMA), in an effort to safeguard the integrity of the electoral process.
The parties solidified the partnership by signing a framework of cooperation to work together to combat disinformation and other digital harms, according to a statement.
The IEC says the bourgeoning use of digital media has seen a corresponding surge in digital disinformation, particularly on social media platforms, and electoral processes have not been spared.
If left unchecked, the phenomenon stands to undermine the conduct of credible elections, it warns.
Electoral Commission chairperson Mosotho Moepya comments: “The dissemination of disinformation has huge potential to undermine the fairness and credibility of elections. Credible information is the lifeblood of all democracies. Trustworthy information is crucial in the process that enables citizens to choose their leaders.”
The electoral body previously partnered with social media platforms in the run-up to the 2021 municipal elections. The IEC and MMA reached an agreement with Google, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok, to work in support of their efforts to curb disinformation.
The newly-signed cooperation framework will support the establishment of a working group between partners, promote access to accurate information, conduct awareness campaigns on elections, and provide training to political parties, election candidates and other key election stakeholders on addressing disinformation, says the IEC statement.
It will allow online platforms to implement policies and processes, such as content removal, advisory warnings and delisting to address disinformation. Additionally, it will enable signatories to cooperate with the IEC and MMA on initiatives such as complaints platform Real411.org and political advertisements repository PADRE.
The cooperation also aims to drive information to help educate voters about the dangers of disinformation and how to spot it.
William Bird, MMA director, explains: “Real411 takes proactive measures against disinformation. Upon careful review of any reported complaint indicating disinformation or misinformation, the commission promptly notifies the relevant online platform. The platform is expected to acknowledge and swiftly process the notification, ensuring a diligent response.”
Real411 complaints about disinformation will be considered by a panel of relevant experts, including those with expertise in media law, social and digital media. They will make recommendations for possible further action for the consideration of the commission.
Such action will include referring the matter to the electoral court, referring it to social media platforms to act upon in terms of their respective policies and undertakings, or issuing media statements to alert the public and correct the disinformation.
Abongile Mashile, senior manager of government affairs and public policy at Google Southern Africa, says: “We place a big focus on creating products and programmes that enable people across the globe to engage with these activities through information that is accurate, protecting elections and campaigns from bad actors, as well as assisting campaigns in managing their digital presence.”
“Protecting the integrity of the 2024 elections in South Africa is a key priority for our company. As our platforms continue to play an important role in civic discussions around the world, including here in South Africa, we know we have an important responsibility,” comments Balkissa Idè Siddo, public policy director for Africa at Meta.
“At TikTok, we take the responsibility to protect our community as well as the integrity of our platform – particularly around elections – with the utmost seriousness. We're proud to be a place that brings people together over creative and entertaining content, and we work hard to keep harmful misinformation and other violations of our policies off our platform,” concludes Fortune Mgwili-Sibanda, public policy and government relations director at TikTok.