Elections 2024: Social media leaders pledge to combat fake news

  • The 2024 general elections see further protections as the Electoral Commission forms a pact of cooperation with some of the world’s social media leaders.
  • Google, Facebook-owner Meta and TikTok say they are committed to fighting fake news and maintaining community integrity on their platforms, especially during elections.
  • Among other actions, the social media platforms will issue warnings to users when they identify disinformation relating to the 2024 elections.

Ahead of the 2024 general elections in South Africa, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) says that if left unchecked, the phenomenon of fake news can undermine the conduct of credible elections.

“The dissemination of disinformation has huge potential to undermine the fairness and credibility of elections. Credible information is the lifeblood of all democracies. Trustworthy information is crucial in the process that enables citizens to choose their leaders,” explained Mosotho Moepya, IEC chairperson.

On Tuesday, the commission announced that it had struck a partnership between itself and social media and online powerhouses Google, Meta, and TikTok in order to fight back against fake news.

While Meta has teamed up with African nations during elections for this purpose in the past, like in Kenya’s 2022 elections, the assembling of these tech titans to protect South African elections is a commendable victory.

A recent study found that 56.7 percent of South Africa’s population uses Facebook, while 30.6 percent are on TikTok – still a relatively new platform.

IEC says that the growing popularity of social media in recent years has also seen growth in digital disinformation and the spread of false information online.

The three firms represent billions of users on social media around the world, with Meta’s Facebook and WhatsApp still the most popular social media platforms.

Additionally, the IEC has teamed up with non-profit Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) in its efforts to halt disinformation about the upcoming elections.

How fake news affects voting behaviour

There have been many studies conducted on the effects of fake news on social media, and how it can influence voter behaviour.

While some studies, like one in Italy in 2018, point out that fake news has a negligible effect on voter behaviour, others show a more complex picture.

It has been found that social media produces echo chambers, where users will stick to information that fits their worldview and resist information that doesn’t, even if that information is more factual.

Eventually, like-minded users will find each other on these platforms, and create a bubble where they feed into their own opinions, and put down dissenting ideas.

Fake news then gets shared among those in the bubble, with the possibility of receiving factual information steadily dwindling.

It also doesn’t help that social media has seen people become more divided politically. This is especially the case in the US, where people leaning on the democrat or republican side treat the opposite with increasing hostility.

South Africa is no stranger to this either, as it becomes more and more okay to attack a person based on political affiliation on these platforms.

“Google has always been committed to supporting democratic processes, including supporting elections integrity and ensuring trust among voters,” said Abongile Mashile, Senior Manager: Government Affairs and Public Policy, at Google Southern Africa.

“We place a big focus on creating products and programmes that enable people across the globe to engage with these activities through information that is accurate, protecting elections and campaigns from bad actors, as well as assisting campaigns in managing their digital presence.”

Social media firms mean action during 2024 elections

As part of the partnership, Google, Meta and TikTok will issue warnings to users on their respective platforms about fake news and disinformation in popular posts.

They will also deal with disinformation in line with their community guidelines and prioritise working with the IEC during the election process in South Africa.

“We continue to make substantial investments to help take aggressive steps in fighting abuse across our platforms, while rolling out policies and products to help ensure a safe and secure general election. We welcome the opportunity to collaborate with the South African Electoral Commission,” added Balkissa Idè Siddo, Public Policy Director for Africa at Meta.

Meanwhile, the public policy and government relations head at TikTok South Africa said that the Chinese firm takes the integrity of its platform – particularly around elections – with utmost seriousness.

Conspicuous by its absence is Elon Musk’s Twitter, which has not had to best track record on the African continent.

Perhaps Musk’s team is too busy putting out their own fires than to be concerned about elections in South Africa.

[Source – SA News]

[Image – CC 0 Pixabay]


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