Meta establishes resource centre for SA elections

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 16 Apr 2024
Meta’s dedicated Elections Operations Centre will identify and address potential threats during SA’s election period.
Meta’s dedicated Elections Operations Centre will identify and address potential threats during SA’s election period.

Facebook owner Meta has created an election resource centre as part of its multi-faceted approach to support the integrity of the 2024 South African elections across its online platforms.

In a statement, the company says the online resource centre provides government, political and non-profit partners with information on how to secure their accounts, and best reach and engage voters with authoritative information.

It also provides reminders of what politicians should consider as they plan their election campaigns on Facebook, Messenger, Threads and Instagram before, during and after the 2024 South African general elections. It provides information on understanding what is and what is not allowed on Meta’s platforms.

South Africans will take to the polls on 29 May to elect the leadership of the seventh administration, in what is expected to be the most contested election in the last 30 years.

Meta says while it has over the years developed an approach to elections across the globe on its platform, no two elections are the same. Therefore, its team developed a tailored approach to the South African elections, drawing on lessons learnt from previous local elections, and Meta’s involvement in over 200 elections globally.

“Over the last eight years, we’ve rolled out transparency tools for ads about elections or politics, developed comprehensive policies to prevent election interference and voter fraud, and built a third-party fact-checking programme to combat misinformation,” explains Balkissa Idé Siddo, public policy director for Sub-Saharan Africa at Meta.

“In preparation for the elections, Meta has signed the Voluntary Framework of Cooperation to Address Disinformation in the 2024 National and Provincial Elections in South Africa – an agreement to collaborate with the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) and other industry partners, where possible, to mitigate the risks associated with elections.”

The social media giant, which has over three billion users, saw backlash over the past few years from government leaders and citizens who accused it of being used as a tool to spread fake news, propaganda and terrorist activity.

Last year, the company appeared before the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Communications (PPCC), alongside other platforms, to engage policymakers on the state of readiness for the elections.

Building on this, Meta kicked off a series of sessions earlier this year for the PPCC, to build understanding of how it is keeping public officials and public organisations safe and secure online.

Only the facts

As part of efforts to strengthen collaboration with third-party organisations, Meta says it has been working alongside fact-checking partner, Africa Check, to train staff at the IEC to be able to better detect misinformation.

It has also partnered with the IEC and Media Monitoring Africa to train over 160 government communicators on Meta’s approach to combating misinformation, as well as the various safety and security features they can use on its platforms.

Alongside the South African Human Rights Commission and The Other Foundation, it will run a number of training initiatives with civil society organisations, to help support the safety of marginalised communities online, including by raising awareness of its safety tools.

“Meta has activated a dedicated Elections Operations Centre that is aimed at identifying and addressing potential threats in real-time. Moreover, we have partnered with fact-checking networks in the country and have the capabilities to fact-check in a number of local South African languages, including Afrikaans, isiZulu, Sesotho and Setswana,” adds Idé Siddo.

Meanwhile, the IEC says is ramping up its digital efforts to stop fake news, irregularities and fraudulent activities during the elections.

Educating users

To help empower its local users leading up to the elections, Meta says it is continuing its long-term partnership with Digify Africa to develop digital literacy tools, such as the Lesedi WhatsApp chat service, which teaches students digital literacy skills, and Kitso, which trains teachers on internet safety.

Both tools use WhatsApp to teach digital skills in a data-light, conversational way, making education more accessible, it notes.

“These efforts complement the internet safety skills project we have been supporting since 2018, called Ilizwe Lam. Through this project, we educate, inform and empower 13- to 18-year-olds with the right tools and information to explore the internet and protect themselves online.”

Meta is currently running anti-hate speech and misinformation campaigns on its platform, as well as on local radio.