By A Correspondent- The South African government has established an institution that would monitor hate speech and false statements by politicians during election campaign periods.
The Local Government Election 2021 Disinformation Project will be monitoring communications from political parties using technological tools and data science for any disinformation in violation of the IEC Code of Conduct.
Any instances of disinformation detected will be reported to the Electoral Court.
The disinformation project also has powers to punish any politician or political party that would have been found wanting.
With the local government election date declared last week, political parties, candidates, and their agents may now face heavy penalties for spreading disinformation.
The Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma declared 1 November 2021 as the new date for the local government elections, indicating that the Independent Electoral Commission’s (IEC) Code of Conduct will come into effect.
The IEC Code Of Conduct prohibits political parties from “publishing false information about other parties” and “generally abusing a position of power, privilege or influence to influence the outcome of an election.”
These sections read together prohibit political parties from spreading disinformation – false, inaccurate and misleading information spread deliberately to deceive and manipulate the public for political gain.
Parties that violate the IEC Code Of Conduct can be fined up to R200 000, have to give up the party’s election deposit, be stopped from working in an area, have their votes in an area cancelled or can have their party registration cancelled.
“We hope that political parties will see our initiative as a deterrent and an opportunity to reflect on how they communicate with voters,” says Phumzile Van Damme, the Disinformation Project’s Coordinator. “Disinformation contributed to billions of rands in destruction of property and to the loss of over 300 lives in July 2021. Politicians must not use their words recklessly and endanger lives. We ask South Africans to join us and stand united against those who use disinformation to spread hatred on the grounds of race, nationality and incite violence in the quest for power.”
“In order to avoid the harm caused as a result of disinformation, I encourage South Africans to always turn to trusted sources for their information during these elections and whenever in doubt, they can use some simple verification tactics, which we intend to share during the course of this project,” says Adebayo Okeowo, Program Manager at WITNESS.
“We trust that all regulations especially associated with disinformation are followed, and in an instances where they are not followed, the Electoral Court will be decisive in its penalty and follow-through,” says Lazola Kata, National Communication Rights Campaigner for Right2Know.
The 2021 Local Government Anti-Disinformation Project is a first-of-its-kind common-purpose “country duty” collaborative project against disinformation and misinformation. The project’s partners are Phumzile Van Damme, Right2Know, Code For Africa, Superlinear, Dr David Rosenstein and WITNESS.
The project’s partners maintain their independence and, on a voluntary basis, are collaborating to tackle disinformation in the lead up to the elections.