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By Zanele Mbengo


Call to watch out for poll misinformation

REAL411 alerts of disinformation dangers as South Africa gears up for 2024 elections, urging awareness and action against misinformation.

Disinformation can polarise communities, mislead voters and erode trust in electoral institutions, REAL411 has warned.

“As we navigate the ever-evolving landscape of digital media and gear up for the 2024 general election, it is crucial to recognise the dangers that disinformation poses to democracy,” said REAL411.

Combatting disinformation in elections

The Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) partnered with social media giants Google, Meta and TikTok, and nonprofit organisation Media Monitoring Africa (MMA), and signed a framework of cooperation to combat disinformation in the elections.

IEC chair Mosotho Moepya said the framework was important because disinformation poses a threat to the exercise of various rights and to the access of constitutional protections, including freedom of expression, access to credible information, and the freedom to make informed political choices.

“The dissemination of disinformation has huge potential to undermine the fairness and credibility of elections. Credible information is the lifeblood of all democracies,” Moepya said.

Trustworthy information ‘is crucial’

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He added trustworthy information “is crucial in the process that enables citizens to choose their leaders”.

Moepya highlighted the framework’s important points aligned with the constitution, the Electoral Act, and Electoral Code of Conduct.

“It supports the establishment of a working group between partners, promotes access to accurate information, conduct of awareness campaigns on elections and trains political parties and candidates on addressing disinformation,” Moepya said.

Proactive measures against disinformation

MMA Africa director William Bird said Real411 takes proactive measures against disinformation and encourages parties not to use disinformation during their campaigns.

Bird said when they find content with disinformation, they ask the platforms to take that content down.

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“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,” he said.

Be critical about the source of news you consume

Thembelani Mazibuko, senior researcher at Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa, said people must be taught critically about the source of news they consume.

“It’s important that voters consume sources that are credible and fact check information if they feel that their source might not be credible,” he said.

Mazibuko said it’s impossible to stop disinformation without impeding freedom of expression.

“Citizens and political parties have a right to freedom of expression whether that information is right or wrong. It is up to the citizens to look up the information and asses it, to see if they believe it,” he said.

Abongile Mashile, senior manager: government affairs and public policy at Google Southern Africa, said Google has always been committed to supporting democratic processes.

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