New info hub fact-checks election material

Admire Moyo
By Admire Moyo, ITWeb's news editor.
Johannesburg, 22 May 2024
It is feared that fake news, misinformation and disinformation may have a negative impact on the outcome of the elections.
It is feared that fake news, misinformation and disinformation may have a negative impact on the outcome of the elections.

To ensure accurate information reaches South African voters before the general election, Africa Check has added an Election Information Hub to its website.

It features fact-check reports, analyses, factsheets and AI-generated videos produced by digital marketing agency Rogerwilco.

This, as South Africa readies to go to the polls on 29 May to elect the leadership for the seventh administration.

There have been concerns that fake news, misinformation and disinformation may have a negative impact on the outcome of the elections. The Election Commission of South Africa (IEC) and social media companies have since taken measures to address these fears.

Noko Makgato, Africa Check executive director, says: “One of the key mediums we’re using is video because it appeals to so many people, especially South Africa’s young voters. In the video series, Zanele, our AI host, debunks some of the parties’ more spurious claims, while validating those that are correct, enabling Africa Check to proactively provide reliable, non-partisan information on key campaign issues. We’re also working with social media platforms to highlight fact checks, using tools like Meta’s third-party fact-checking program.”

According to Africa Check, the Election Information Hub focuses on claims made by the three major political parties – the ANC, DA and EFF.

It also features a report examining the election promises made by the ANC in 2019 and details the commitments that have not been met.

The organisation notes that because voters can’t easily find this information, Africa Check does it for them. It examines important public statements and then checks them against the best available evidence and publishes findings to guide public debate with facts, it adds.

AI anxiety

The organisation explains there is a difference between misinformation, which is shared unintentionally, and disinformation, which is false information spread with the intent to mislead. The latter is particularly problematic during an election, it stresses.

“When we conceptualised the campaign, we wanted to bring in an artificial intelligence component because the abuse of AI – and technology in general – has given rise to so much misinformation in election campaigns globally,” says Wilton Ackeer, Rogerwilco creative director.

“Our intent was to demonstrate that, when used effectively and with purpose, artificial intelligence can be an asset in sorting fact from fiction.”

According to Rogerwilco, this year has seen the highest number of youths registering to vote – 48% of people aged 20 to 29, up from 30% in 2019.

It notes this age group gravitates towards short-form social media content like TikTok – nearly 40% of TikTok users are aged 18 to 24.

The problem is that false information thrives on TikTok due to a lack of fact-checking, the digital agency says. In 2022, it adds, this was proven by NewsGuard, a journalism and technology tool that tracks online information.

According to the report published on CNN’s website, TikTok “repeatedly delivered videos containing false claims in the first 20 results, often within the first five”.

In SA, it says, more than 70% of the population is estimated to receive their news online and through social media such as TikTok and Reels.

In April, TikTok SA announced several initiatives to combat misinformation and disinformation.

Reality check

Meanwhile, Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) has warned the increase of misinformation and disinformation on social media poses a threat to democratic elections.

Addressing a webinar held yesterday, hosted by the Government Communication and Information System on the upcoming elections, MMA communications manager Nomshado Lubisi-Nkosinkulu said the “explosion of information” is making it increasingly difficult to know what is real and what is not.

The MMA is an organisation that helps to promote ethical and fair journalism, which supports human rights and democracy.

“Democracy is under threat. SA is dealing with unprecedented threats, and political analysts are calling the upcoming elections period as one of the most crucial, potentially aggressive, elections periods in our young democracy.

“With the dramatic increase in misinformation and disinformation on social media platforms and the lack of strong digital and media literacy skills among the public, it becomes more important than ever before for traditional media to not only be credible but also well-equipped to deliver on their mandate of informing and educating,” Lubisi-Nkosinkulu said.

She stressed that as the country moves towards the elections, misinformation, disinformation and other digital harms are not only likely, they are a certainty, and pose clear threats to democratic elections.

To combat misinformation, Lubisi-Nkosinkulu said a multi-stakeholder partnership with the IEC – which includes a framework of co-operation between MMA Africa, IEC, social media platforms and a disinformation working group with key civil society bodies – is key.

At the event, Fortune Mgwili-Sibanda, TikTok Sub-Saharan Africa director of public policy and government relations, noted the platform’s community guidelines will help to ensure the election’s integrity is protected.

“These guidelines define a common code of conduct. Every household has rules... We work to maintain an environment where everyone feels safe and welcome to create videos, find community and be entertained. These guidelines also allow our community to help maintain a safe shared space.”