TikTok SA adds in-app election centre

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 24 Apr 2024
IEC chief electoral officer Sy Mamabolo and the TikTok team.
IEC chief electoral officer Sy Mamabolo and the TikTok team.

TikTok South Africa has announced several initiatives to combat misinformation and disinformation, as SA gears up for its seventh democratic election next month.

Announced during a media briefing in Johannesburg yesterday, the new approach forms part of a partnership with the local electoral commission and civil society organisations, to ensure users have access to information from reliable sources.

TikTok says it is reinforcing its commitment to platform integrity ahead of the polls on 29 May, in what is expected to be the most contested election in the last 30 years.

Through a multi-faceted approach to education and mitigating the potential harms of fake news, the short-form video app’s initiatives include an in-app election centre, investing in media literacy and strengthening policies against paid political adverts.

In partnership with the Independent Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC), TikTok says its in-app election centre is a pivotal step towards safeguarding the integrity of the electoral process.

Through the portal, users are able to gain access to information from reliable sources, made available in local languages, such as isiZulu, Afrikaans, Sesotho, Setswana and English.

Fortune Mgwili-Sibanda, TikTok public policy and government relations director, said it will not be used as a tool for political misinformation ahead of the elections.

“Our in-app election centre has authoritative information about the South African elections from the IEC.

“In order to maximise the visibility and accessibility of our in-app centre, we have implemented labels on content associated with the 2024 general elections. These labels also serve as direct links to the centre, enabling viewers to access comprehensive information about the elections with a simple click.

“Protecting the integrity of our platform, particularly around elections, is a responsibility we take seriously and we work hard to keep harmful misinformation off our platform.”

Tiktok is looking to facilitate access to popular election hashtags, ensuring users searching for related content can effortlessly find and engage with relevant information, he added.

Right to credible info

To further strengthen its mission, TikTok’s collaboration with fact-checking organisation Africa Check focuses on a media literacy campaign to educate users about all things elections-related. This initiative aims to combat harmful misinformation and promote critical thinking among users.

The social media platform has identified local creators who have contributed educational videos about the elections in English, Afrikaans, isiZulu, isiXhosa and sign language, accompanied by English subtitles, ensuring accessibility and engagement across diverse communities.

These videos will provide community members with the tools they need to become more savvy digital citizens, empowering them to engage meaningfully in the democratic process, while simultaneously promoting creativity, safety and civility, it noted.

Sarah Lubala, info finder and media literacy editor at Africa Check, highlighted the importance of a comprehensive plan for responsible social media use during the election campaign period, to ensure the information shared is credible and accurate.

"Media literacy provides individuals with the critical thinking skills needed to distinguish credible information from misinformation and disinformation, enabling informed voting decisions.

“Together with TikTok, we aim to equip South Africans with the skills necessary to navigate today's complex media landscape effectively. Through collaborative efforts like these, we aim to create a more informed and engaged electorate, ensuring the thriving of democracy in our country."

TikTok has also signed a partnership deal with Code for Africa, to help assess whether a claim is true, false or unsubstantiated, so that moderators can take the right action based on TikTok's community guidelines.

Also speaking at the event, Sy Mamabolo, chief electoral officer of the IEC, pointed out that disinformation poses a threat to the exercise of various rights and access to constitutional protection, including freedom of expression, access to credible information and the freedom to make informed political choices.

“The burgeoning use of digital media in recent years has seen a corresponding surge in digital disinformation, particularly on social media platforms. Electoral processes have not been spared.

“Left unchecked, this phenomenon stands to undermine the conduct of credible elections. We applaud TikTok for its efforts in educating the TikTok community and combating the potential spread of harmful misinformation.”

The IEC has also partnered with Google and Meta, as well as non-profit organisation Media Monitoring Africa, to curb disinformation ahead of SA’s 2024 elections.