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By Lunga Simelane


Disinformation: ‘Parties must act responsibly when communicating’

IEC takes a stand against disinformation, urging collaboration to safeguard democratic integrity.

Although social media can be a valuable source of information for citizens before the elections, it also has the potential to be used for potentially damaging disinformation, says Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) chair Mosotho Moepya.

He was speaking at a multisectoral dialogue in Johannesburg yesterday on misinformation during the election period.

Undermine legitimacy of democratic institutions

Moepya said misinformation and disinformation undermined the legitimacy of South Africa’s democratic institutions.

“In recognition of the gravity of this threat, the electoral commission together with our partners, the Information Regulator and Media Monitoring Africa, are seeking to confront and eradicate this issue,” he said.

“We have entered into partnerships with social media companies and are working with the regulator in particular, to look at the legislative framework our country has carved for us to deal with such ills.

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“Through collaborative efforts, we aim to safeguard the integrity of our electoral processes and uphold the principles of transparency, accountability and fairness.”

Moepya said disinformation sowed seeds of doubt, bred distrust, fostered division among citizens and threatened the fabric of society.

Exercise restraint and responsibility

He urged all political parties, candidates and supporters to exercise restraint and responsibility in their communication strategies.

He said the success in combating misinformation, disinformation and malinformation did not depend only on the actions of institutions, but also on the cooperation of all stakeholders, particularly those who were contesting elections.

“The commission has taken steps to put in place measures to deal with instances of misinformation, disinformation and malinformation,” said Moepya.

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“Our plea is that before rushing to the media with allegations or accusations, those who are confronted by issues they need to deal with must first approach the commission and give us an opportunity to address instances of misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation.

“It is incumbent upon all of us to critically evaluate the information we encounter online and to seek credible and truthful sources to engage in responsible and digital citizenship,” he said.

“It is not an easy thing to simply say ‘I have done my bit’ when one closes one’s eyes to an injustice being done to persons that are dependent on good information to make decisions.”

Need for voter education

Duduetsang Makuse of the University of Pretoria’s Centre for Human Rights said there was a continuous need to roll out voter education to help citizens make their choices correctly on the ballot paper.

However, one of the biggest issues was a society that for “whatever reason, unwittingly or wittingly” believed institutions that had previously been trusted were no longer to be trusted.

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“If technology is going to go at the pace it’s going, at some point it’s going to get better at identifying misinformation and disinformation,” she said.