2024 Elections Weekly Brief No 2: Disinformation and Elections

2024 weekly election brief2 eisa transparent democratic governance in africa

As we navigate the ever-evolving landscape of digital media and gear up for the 2024 South African General Elections, it is crucial to recognise the dangers that disinformation poses to the core of our democratic process. Disinformation polarises communities, misleads voters, and erodes trust in public institutions, and during election periods, electoral institutions, and processes, in particular. The explosion of AI means that it has become easier to create and spread misinformation and disinformation.

To empower the public with the means to combat online harms including mis and disinformation, Real411 was created and as pivotal to a credible campaign environment for the 2024 South African General Elections. When an instance of digital mis- and disinformation is reported to Real411, awareness is raised, and action initiated to safeguarding the integrity of the 2024 elections.

2024 weekly election brief2 eisa transparent democratic governance in africa

Real411 is the official platform for reporting mis and disinformation in the lead up to the 2024 General elections. Elections related complaints are shared with the Electoral Commission’s Directorate for Electoral Offences (IEC). Real411 submits its independent outcomes to the IEC. The IEC, will carefully assess each case of reported mis and disinformation related to elections, ensuring that appropriate measures can be taken.

One of the reasons why people should be concerned about disinformation, is because it undermines credible institutions. The IEC is responsible for running and delivering free, fair, and credible elections. If the IEC’s integrity is undermined, people may doubt its ability to deliver free, fair, and credible elections. A recent example of how the IEC has been targeted, is shown below. In the post (shown below), the post on X (Twitter) makes allegations that the president has sought to rig the elections by bribing the IEC

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The post goes on to allege that the five national commissioners, the national office of the Electoral Commission as well as the nine provincial commission offices have been bought. On its own, it may not be sufficiently persuasive, however, were a person to believe the content, they may be dissuaded from voting, since they might perceive the election outcome to be corrupted and predetermined. In this way, this post is not only disseminating false and misleading information, but it is also seeking to discredit the IEC.

One of the reasons why people should be concerned about disinformation, is because it undermines credible institutions.

In a similar vein, also submitted as a complaint to Real411, was a post seen on X (Twitter) which deliberately attacks IEC Commissioner, Janet Love, with no justification. The post says that Love is a long serving, loyal member of the ANC, and that she was appointed by President Cyril Ramaphosa. It is true that Commissioner Love was a member of the ANC NEC until 2009, when she joined the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC). Since that time, Love has enjoyed multi-party support for her appointment as commissioner to the IEC, no credible evidence has been found that in her role as IEC commissioner she has clearly favoured the ANC and prejudiced any other political party, in a manner to suggest she is doing ANC bidding.

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It is true that she was appointed as a commissioner, by President Ramaphosa, through the process determined by law, in which the President is responsible for appointing all commissioners. This was by no means Commissioner Love’s first term as an Electoral Commissioner. It is her second, with the previous term saw her being appointed, by former president, Jacob Zuma. So, why is this disinformation? To suggest that Love is a ‘so called commissioner’ and imply that she is doing the bidding of the ANC is not only patently misleading but given her role as Deputy Chairperson of the IEC, undermines the integrity and credibility of the IEC as well.

A feature from a dis-informer’s playbook is to undermine the credibility of democratic institutions, like the IEC, and to encourage further uncertainty through targeting specific staff at the IEC. A direct unfounded attack on a commissioner, seeks to cast aspersions not only on the person and institution, but on the staff of the Commission as well. This is tantamount to a direct attack on the credibility and independence of the IEC and is made ever more dangerous during the election period. This occurs in a context in which the IEC is already facing the contagion effect of declining trust in public institutions generally, made worse by the aspersions cast on the IEC by political party leaders and supporters, many of who are the source of online mis and dis-information. This serves to consolidate declining trust and a confidence deficit in the IEC and casts a pall of doubt on the integrity of the electoral process and the outcome of the election itself.

Should you come across what you suspect to be mis and disinformation online, here are some pointers to help combat its influence:

  1. Question Sources: Scrutinise the sources of information. Check for credibility and reliability. Be cautious of unverified or anonymous sources.
  2. Cross-Check Information: Verify the information you come across through multiple reputable media sources before accepting it as fact.
  3. Identify Manipulative Tactics: Familiarise yourself with common tactics employed in disinformation campaigns, such as clickbait headlines, selective quoting, and out-of-context information. If a post makes you scared, anxious, or angry – be cautious. Heightening emotions is a core tool of disinformation as it helps prevent calm and reasoned approaches to thinking about and processing information
  4. Pause before you post or Think Before Sharing: Pause and reflect before sharing information on social media. Ask yourself whether the content might perpetuate false narratives or contribute to misinformation.
  5. See Something! Do Something! Report Disinformation: If you encounter digital disinformation, promptly report it to Real411. Vigilance plays a pivotal role in maintaining the integrity of the electoral process.
  6. Promote Media Literacy: Educate yourself and others about media literacy and critical thinking skills to better discern credible information from disinformation.
  7. Combatting disinformation is reliant on a good number of people reviewing, fact checking and verifying information. Volunteer reviewers are welcome, please contact info@real411.org.za for more information.
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The South African Elections Weekly Briefs are produced through a partnership between The Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa, Media Monitoring Africa and the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation. The purpose of the partnership interventions is to strengthen peaceful and inclusive participatory electoral processes in South Africa.