Facebook to face the music in SA Parliament, says DA

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The Democratic Alliance (DA) has confirmed that Facebook will be invited by the South African Parliament’s Committee of Communications and Digital Technologies to respond to questions about misinformation on its platforms.

The move to summon the world’s largest social media platform to SA’s legislature comes after DA MP and spokesperson on communications, Phumzile van Damme, yesterday detailed plans to request Facebook to be invited to account on several matters, including the protection of the digital privacy of its South African users and its role in combating disinformation during the local elections which are scheduled for any time between August and November 2021.

In a statement, the DA notes the committee, which had its first meeting of the year today, has accepted the proposal and has agreed to invite Facebook to face the music in Parliament.

“Facebook Africa needs to provide a plan on what steps it will be taking in tackling misinformation ahead of the 2021 Local Government Election, as it has done for elections in other parts of the world.

“While the company has committed to strengthening content moderation, their efforts are usually focused on countries that are global powerhouses like the US,;the European Union and others, like our own, are not a priority,” says the DA.

Facebook also owns the WhatsApp messaging app, which is used by 58% of South African mobile phone owners.

The opposition party further notes it is of the firm belief that SA’s election campaigns must happen in a manner where all South Africans, regardless of political affiliation, are able to consider all the electoral offers without being manipulated with misinformation or the “weaponisation of their private data as seen in the Cambridge Analytica scandal”.

“We want stronger content moderation that protects those that could be subjected to hate speech as well as curb the spread of misinformation, which in some instances could have deadly consequences. We trust that Facebook, in good faith, will accept the offer to appear before the committee in order to build a relationship with Parliament and clarify concerns,” says Van Damme, in a soundbite attached to the media statement.

Facebook, which has 2.8 billion users worldwide, is currently under fire from a number of governments around the world, with critics saying it is undermining user privacy and is not doing enough to combat the spread of misinformation and fake news on its platform.

In SA, social media platforms WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter have been blamed for the alarming increase of COVID-19 vaccine-related conspiracy theories and claims linking the spread of COVID-19 to 5G technology.

In its defence, Facebook said it is taking aggressive steps to stop misinformation and harmful content from spreading on its platforms and to connect people to accurate information about the coronavirus.

In May 2020, Facebook announced it had established an oversight board in response to criticism levelled against it for not being transparent enough on decisions regarding what content is or isn't banned on its platforms.

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