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Fake news monitor launched for 2019 election season

South Africa

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Fake news monitor launched for 2019 election season

The Independent Electoral Commission, in partnership with Media Monitoring Africa, has launched an online reporting platform for citizens to report cases of alleged digital disinformation.

Disinformation is defined as the false, inaccurate, or misleading information designed to intentionally cause harm,” said Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) chief electoral officer Sy Mamabolo at the official launch of an online disinformation reporting platform in Riverside Office Park in Centurion on Monday.

Within an election context this includes false information intended to unduly affect participation in, and the outcomes of, elections,” said Mamabolo.

The platform is aimed at facilitating quick submission and tracking of complaints relating to disinformation encountered on social media platforms.

Hosted on the website named The Real 411”, which can also be accessed from the IEC website, the platform is aimed at curtailing disinformation that might undermine the credibility and integrity of the electoral process.

Director of Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) William Bird said that if something is posted on WhatsApp or any other social media platform, “this is a quick and easy way to see whether it is a real or a drivel advert from any of the major political parties”, or others.

People can submit a complaint via the website. Once submitted, the complaint will go directly to the IEC’s Directorate for electoral offences where it will be reviewed by experts. The reviews will be based on guidelines, with investigators making recommendations to electoral commissioners based on their findings.

Recommendations include:

  • Referring the matter for criminal or civil legal action;

  • Requesting social media platforms to remove the offensive material; and

  • Issuing media statements to alert the public and correct the disinformation.

The electoral commissioners will make a ruling on the complaint and, once discussed, a decision will be communicated. If someone is not pleased with the ruling, they can approach the Electoral Court for relief.

Once you submit a complaint you will be able to know if it’s been received and will see where it is at each stage of the process. You will immediately get a notification with a long ID code, a unique number you can use to search for the complaint as you go through the process. You can also log in with your unique reference number to see where your complaint is and where it is going,” said Bird.

Online harassment of journalists can also be reported through the platform, which is working with the SA National Editors Forum and the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Anonymity is guaranteed, so there is no risk in reporting,” said Bird.

Although it was acknowledged that disinformation can be difficult to assess, vice chairperson of the IEC Janet Love said what was key was whether there was an intent to misinform people.

We won’t pretend we can monitor social media in its entirety. This will be a complaints-initiated intervention through the platform and there is a process that we have outlined to deal with these complaints,” said Mamabolo.

This platform is to enhance the education of all stakeholders around disinformation on digital platforms to ensure that voters and political parties get to understand what disinformation means and what facilities exist to deal with such,” he said.

The platform will run for the duration of the election period as a pilot project, with an assessment of the system and lessons learnt planned for after the elections.

We want to derive lessons that can inform improvements to our regulatory frameworks for the future,” Mamabolo said. DM

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