ELECTORAL COMMISSION LAUNCHES ONLINE REPORTING PLATFORM FOR DIGITAL DISINFORMATION

1 April 2019

Centurion – Following a global rise in disinformation especially via digital platforms
and its potential impact on elections, the Electoral Commission has launched an
innovative online reporting platform for citizens to report instances of alleged digital
disinformation.

Developed in conjunction with Media Monitoring Africa, an NGO focused on
promoting independent, accurate and impartial reporting on elections, the platform
will provide for the online submission and tracking of complaints relating to
disinformation encountered on social media platforms.

The platform is hosted on a website called “The Real 411” (www.real411.org) and
can be accessed from the Electoral Commission website (www.elections.org.za).

“411” is internet slang for information. Urbandictionary.com describes 411 as “1.
slang for ‘the info’; 2. asking for the low-down on something; 3. information”.

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.

The digital disinformation reporting platform forms part of the work of the Directorate
of Electoral Offences which was first established ahead of the 2016 Municipal
Elections to investigate alleged breaches of the Code of Conduct and prohibited
conduct.

The Directorate operates when the Code of Conduct is in relation to an election (i.e.
from the date of proclamation until the announcement of results). It consists of a
panel of independent attorneys appointed to investigate each complaint and make
recommendations for possible further action to the Commission.

The purpose of appointing an external legal firm also facilitates the independence
and the integrity of the Electoral Commission in relation to the investigation of such
complaints.

Noting the power and speed of social media, the online platform will help to enable
the rapid submission and consideration of any complaints received of alleged
disinformation.

Complaints will be considered by a panel of relevant experts including those with
expertise in media law and 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 for criminal or civil legal action
 Requesting social media platforms to remove the offensive material
 Issuing media statements to alert the public and correct the disinformation

The site will contain a database of all complaints received and their progress.

In addition to the online reporting platform, the initiative will also include a
communication and education strategy to help educate voters about the dangers of
disinformation and how to spot “fake news”.

Launching the platform today Vice Chairperson of the Electoral Commission, Ms
Janet Love said:

“Digital media has the potential to be an asset in the promotion of democracy,
transparency and informed decision-making that should underpin elections as it
provides platforms for rapid and wide sharing of information. But it also comes with
significant risks and we have seen disinformation posing a very real threat to free
and fair elections elsewhere in the world.

“This platform is South Africa’s innovative step to help channel any complaints to
people with the relevant capabilities so that the Electoral Commission can take the
necessary action quickly.”

Media Monitoring Africa director William Bird said one of the core challenges
surrounding disinformation is that it is increasingly difficult to distinguish between fact
and fiction.

“Without the necessary skills and techniques to distinguish real information from
disinformation, the likelihood of members of the public being misled is
increasing. While some efforts to build critical digital literacy skills have been made,
it is essential, in the lead up to elections, that concerted efforts to develop digital
literacy skills are rolled out. Not only will such skills have lasting impact but the more
people who are equipped to combat disinformation the harder it will be to spread.”

To help distinguish between official and fake adverts, political parties contesting the
8 May elections have been asked to upload all official advertising material used by
the party to an online political advert repository.

This will allow anyone to check whether a poster or a digital banner is legitimate or
has been digitally altered.

Commissioner Love said while false information was already covered by the current
Code of Conduct, a supplementary Code of Conduct on Digital Disinformation had
been drafted as part of the project.

“The additional draft Code helps clarify issues around the new realities and risks
associated with digital platforms and social media. The draft Code will be voluntary
for the 2019 elections but it is our intention to formalize this for future elections
depending on the success of this platform and what we learn.”

The digital platform is intended for complaints related only to social media and is not
intended to replace existing channels and processes for investigating alleged
breaches of the Code of Conduct.

Such complaints can be submitted to the Electoral Court or the Directorate for
Electoral Offences. The Secretary of the Court, Ms Samkelo Mgxekwa, can be
contacted on email SMgxekwa@sca.judiciary.org.za or tel: (051) 412-7400 / 7494.
The Directorate for Electoral Offences can be reached via email at
legalservices@elections.org.za

ISSUED BY THE ELECTORAL COMMISSION

Ensuring free and fair elections
For media queries please contact Kate Bapela on 082 600-6386
For media interviews with Electoral Commission officials please email
requests to spokesperson@elections.org.za

Also find the IEC on –

• Facebook: www.facebook.com/IECSouthAfrica
• Twitter: @IECSouthAfrica
• You Tube: www.youtube.com/user/IECSouthAfrica
• Contact Centre: 0800 11 8000
• Join the conversation: #SAElections2019 #Xse2019

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