Meta partners with IEC to combat elections misinformation

IEC voting station on Esplanade in Durban. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo/Independent Newspapers

IEC voting station on Esplanade in Durban. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo/Independent Newspapers

Published Apr 12, 2024


Misinformation, harmful content, abuses of artificial intelligence (AI) generated content on social media platforms will be a thing of the past as social media giant Meta has collaborated with the Electoral Commission of SA (IEC) empowering voters ahead of the pivotal national elections next month.

Meta - which owns Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp - is working directly with the IEC to combat the spread of misinformation during the May 29 elections.

This is not the first time Meta is working with the IEC as they collaborated during the 2021 Local Government Elections, and has also been implementing a number of initiatives to prepare the upcoming elections since last year.

Meta has already invested more than $20 billion (R376bn) in covering more than 200 elections globally in eight years since 2016, with a team of more than 40 000 people working on safety and security only.

In an interview with Business Report yesterday, Meta’s public policy director for sub-Saharan Africa, Balkissa Idé Siddo, said that they had drawn from lessons learned from all these elections to actually build a specific approach to the South African election.

Siddo said the approach that Meta decided to adopt in South Africa was actually based both on the company’s experience in other elections, its internal expertise, and conversations it has had with experts.

“We are going to put in place a South African dedicated election operations centre, bringing together experts from across the company, from threat intelligence, engineers, data analysts, legal people, and colleagues from South Africa,” she said.

“So it's going to be really a robust team brought together to monitor potential threats during the election, and take action to counter those threats.”

A recent study from Brandeis University, George Mason University, Carnegie Mellon University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology revealed a disturbing trend of entities engaging in disinformation wars, using the anonymity and reach of social media to influence political and social narratives.

The study presented a novel preventive technique called “ex-ante content moderation,” which entails giving accounts a disinformation score determined by how likely they were to disseminate misleading information.

The goal of this strategy is to proactively detect and lessen the effects of misinformation before a large audience is exposed to it.

Siddo said Meta’s approach was based on five main strategies and tactics.

“The number one is to remove harmful content. And we remove harmful content based on our community standards, which are publicly available, and just provide visibility on what we allow and what we don't allow on our platform,” Siddo said.

“The second tactic strategy that we're going to adopt is to combat misinformation. And for that, we are going to leverage the fact checking program that we put in place. We work with independent fact checkers across the globe. So we have more than 100 partners.”

Meta’s fact-checking partners cover a number of languages, including English, Afrikaans, IsiZulu, SeSotho, SeTswana.

They review and rate content on Meta’s platform and bring it to the company’s attention.

When the news is debunked by Meta’s fact-checking partners, Meta will apply a warning label to it and also down-rank it in the feed so it's visible to fewer people.

“The third one is about abuses of AI generated content. The number four is about collaborating with local organisations, whether NGOs, activists, or even relevant authorities like the IEC, with whom we've been partnering for over the years,” Siddo said.

“And the fifth one is about empowering voters, empowering them with the right information from authoritative sources like the IEC on how they can participate in the vote when it comes to correct dates, time, location, and methods of voting.”

In February, the Association of African Election Authorities - supported by the IEC - reached a significant milestone in the effort to harness the benefits of digital and social media, as well as mitigating the potential harms.

IEC chairperson Mosotho Moepya urged all stakeholders to play their roles in ensuring that the guidelines are widely socialised and implemented, not only to increase voter confidence and trust in electoral processes, but also to ensure the deepening of democratic values.