In February the Democratic Alliance’s (DA) Member of the Portfolio Committee on Communications & Digital Technologies, Phumzile Van Damme, issued a request for Facebook’s local representatives to discuss how the social media company handles misinformation on its platform.
At the time, Facebook had registered its willingness to discuss misinformation with the DA and other political parties in Parliament, but no date was set up. That changed earlier this week, however, as said meeting is scheduled to be happening on 25th May.
“The success of the DA’s invitation for a meeting with Facebook has been formally confirmed by the Communications and Digital Technologies Committee. The meeting is set to take place on 25 May 2021. Similar invitations have been sent to other big tech giants – Google and Twitter,” noted Van Damme in a press statement.
“We commend Facebook for agreeing to the meeting which we hope will be constructive.”
The DA member also touched on the specific subject matter she has planned to ask Facebook during next week’s meeting – elections.
“The reason for inviting Facebook was with the view of ascertaining what steps the tech giant will be taking in tackling harmful misinformation, particularly as we inch towards the 2021 Local Government Election. Facebook often tailors plans for countries ahead of elections to guard against harmful misinformation. We would like to see the same done for South Africa,” she outlines.
We have to agree with what Van Damme explains above, especially as Facebook announced several initiatives to tackle election-related misinformation during last year’s US presidential elections. We have also long lamented the fact that big tech firms regularly concern themselves with how policies or plans impact those in the US, but not in other non-Western countries where it has a presence.
Another topic of discussion will be Facebook’s engagement with publishers, with the recent episode involving Australia being cited by Van Damme.
“Of importance is also the protection of the private data of South African users of Facebook-owned platforms as well as the beginning of discussions regarding Facebook paying South African media houses for carrying their content as was recently successfully implemented in Australia,” she adds.
While both Google and Facebook got what it wanted and not the other way around in that Australian example, it will be of interest to see what those discussions yield.
“The aim of discussions with Facebook will be to ensure that the interests of the people of South Africa are protected as well as upholding the constitutional right to freedom of speech,” concluded Van Damme.
If Facebook is indeed interested in engaging with local political parties and government as it has said it is, this upcoming meeting needs to result in something tangible. Here’s hoping that is the case.