Yesterday the Democratic Alliance (DA) issued a statement requesting that Facebook be summoned to Parliament to discuss how it handles misinformation on its platform, and how government can better be involved int he processes that the social media puts in place to that effect.
Said request was issued by DA Member of the Portfolio Committee on Communications & Digital Technologies, Phumzile Van Damme, where the committee is currently scheduled to hold its first meeting of the year later today.
As Van Damme framed it, given that COVID-19-related misinformation has been rife on the Facebook, a clearer understanding of the measures it has in place in order to combat it.
“The reason for summoning Facebook – which has an office in Johannesburg – is with the view of ascertaining what steps the tech giant will be taking in tackling harmful misinformation. The spread of Covid-related misinformation primarily through Facebook and WhatsApp – a company owned by Facebook – highlights the need for Parliament to take an active role in curbing misinformation,” explained Van Damme.
“However, the aim of questioning Facebook should be to ensure that the interests of the people of South Africa are protected and not an attempt to exert control or limit freedom of expression,” she crucially added.
At the time the request was issued, Facebook did not provide an official response, so we reached out to its local representatives to gauge their willingness to engage with government on the matter.
“Protecting people’s information is a priority for us at Facebook. We are committed to respecting South African users’ privacy and safety. We will continue to engage with national governments and welcome ongoing dialogue,” a Facebook company spokesperson told Hypertext.
While that is a slightly boilerplate-esque response, it does at the very least show that there is indeed willingness to engage on the subject of misinformation.
In recent months we’ve seen Facebook take a stronger stance when it comes to misinformation, with increased vigilance surrounding the 2020 US Presidential elections, COVID-19 myths and more recently vaccines.
It is a step in the right direction, but as always, more can be done.
For now, no date has been outlined for the discussion between Facebook and the Parliamentary committee to sit down and discuss the topic of misinformation, but hopefully a clearer idea of how that engagement will happen surfaces following today’s meeting.
It will up to the other committee members to come to a decision on that front.
“Intrinsic in the digital transformation first and foremost is ensuring that the digital environment has the necessary protections in place. Facebook should be first and Google, Twitter and others next,” added Van Damme.
“The DA is hopeful that this is a proposal that will be considered favourably by the rest of the members of the committee,” she concluded.