The Electoral Commission (IEC) and Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) have joined hands with major social media platforms to fight the spread of disinformation, in the run-up to, during and beyond the municipal elections.
The Commission and MMA, which in 2019, launched a joint action to deal with disinformation, reached an agreement with Google, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok to work in support of our efforts to end the scourge of disinformation.
Commission Vice-Chairperson Janet Love said the framework was important because disinformation posed a threat to the exercise of various rights.
“The dissemination of disinformation has huge potential to undermine the fairness and credibility of elections. It also threatens democratic political and policy-making processes. Credible information is the lifeblood of all democracies. Trustworthy information is crucial in the process that enables citizens to choose their leaders,” she said.
Training to enable the identification of disinformation and to maximise the positive communication opportunities has been offered to a wide range of role-players, including political parties.
“Working to counteract misinformation and distortions from becoming the focus of citizens, the Electoral Commission and MMA have entered into this ground-breaking agreement to cooperate with the four major social media platforms,” Love said.
The Commission and MMA will use a system developed by the MMA called Real411, to deal with disinformation and misinformation. The Commission and MMA will also use a separate software – PADRE – to identify and eliminate misinformation and disinformation contained in advertisements published in all media.
William Bird, MMA’s Africa Director, explained how this would work. “Disinformation goes against the Code of Conduct and the electoral laws. On Real411, once a complaint has been reviewed and points to constituting disinformation or misinformation, the Commission will notify the affected online platform. This notification will be acknowledged and processed as expeditiously as possible by the online platform.
The social media platforms have appointed teams during the election period to prioritise referrals from the Commission.
Actions taken by the platforms are in terms of their policies and may include the removal of the content, the publication of an advisory warning or the de-listing of the post.
Disinformation is defined as false, inaccurate or misleading information designed to intentionally cause harm. Within an election context, this includes false information intended to unduly affect participation in, and the outcome, of elections.
Noting the power and speed of social media, the cooperation with online platforms will help to enable the rapid submission and consideration of any complaints received in relation to alleged disinformation, the IEC said.
Complaints will be considered by a panel of relevant experts, including those with expertise in media law, social and digital media. They will make recommendations for possible further action for the consideration of the Commission. Such action could include:
• Referring the matter to the Electoral Court
• Referring the matter to social media platforms to act upon in terms of their respective policies and undertakings
• Issuing media statements to alert the public and correct the disinformation In addition to the online reporting platform, the initiative will also include the respective disinformation-related policies of the different platforms and information to help educate voters about the dangers of disinformation and how to spot “fake news”.