Defeat dodgy poll deepfakes

The altered video of former US President Donald Trump in which he purportedly calls on voters to back ex-president Jacob Zuma’s MK party in the national elections. Both former presidents are hoping to reclaim their former jobs. Source:

The altered video of former US President Donald Trump in which he purportedly calls on voters to back ex-president Jacob Zuma’s MK party in the national elections. Both former presidents are hoping to reclaim their former jobs. Source:

Published Mar 24, 2024


Durban — Dodgy news and deepfakes are proliferating worldwide as more than 40 countries including South Africa, India, the US and UK prepare to hold national elections this year.

In South Africa, media and IT experts have warned people not to believe or share everything they see on social media and messaging platforms. Instead they’ve called on them to verify information and report anything untoward or suspicious to the authorities.

The Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) has set up a system called Padre (Political Advert Repository) to help voters check whether a political meme or advert is official or a fake.

The project is supported by non-profit organisation Media Monitoring Africa (MMA), and is a repository for official political party adverts that can be accessed by the public to determine whether or not an advert by a political party is real or fake.

IEC deputy chief electoral officer Mawethu Mosery said dodgy news and disinformation was common during an election period, while messages created through artificial intelligence (AI) were also prevalent.

“There’s a lot of it. Part of it is campaign rhetoric where parties are the ones who are the source of incorrect information or information that is misleading. We then also have a few creations that we would never know who created. In today’s terms, people will say it’s AI.

“We also have a lot of old experiences reposted as if they are being experienced in real time,” he said.

Concerns about what is fact or fiction are so dire that the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2024 warned that misinformation and disinformation was “the most severe global risk anticipated over the next two years”, and will be used by various players to deepen societal and political divides.

The report says the tools used to disseminate misinformation and disinformation may undermine the legitimacy of newly elected governments and could result in unrest ranging from violent protests and hate crimes to civil confrontation and terrorism.

“Beyond elections, perceptions of reality are likely to also become more polarised, infiltrating the public discourse on issues from public health to social justice. However, as truth is undermined, the risk of domestic propaganda and censorship will also rise in turn.

“In response to mis- and disinformation, governments could be increasingly empowered to control information based on what they determine to be ‘true’,” the report states.

Over the past few months South Africans have had a taste of dodgy information, the most recent being a TikTok video of former US president Donald Trump in which he purportedly encourages voters to support ex-president Jacob Zuma’s MK Party.

Mosery says it’s crucial to have a “mechanism” to quickly verify information. He said in South Africa those who spread misinformation and disinformation commonly used “voice audio statements” more than deepfakes which are highly realistic videos or images.

These deepfakes were “not as prevalent as we see in other large democracies like in America. In videos, we see a recreation of past statements but out of context, manipulating the context as if it is a negative context.”

Explaining the Padre platform, Mosery said political parties were encouraged to voluntarily deposit their information on the Padre system so it was accessible to anyone. He said based on what was in the repository, the IEC or MMA could quickly verify or dismiss information.

Many new parties have registered for elections in South Africa which means more new candidates, and Mosery said they wanted to ensure that voters understood the legislative changes that were made relating to the elections. In addition they wanted voters to be alert to misinformation and disinformation.

“Don’t be a contributor to misinformation. Check the correctness of the information you receive. If in doubt, do not share it because you will be contributing to misinformation.”

MMA director William Bird said unless you get your information from a source that is known to be credible, you should be careful.

“If you see a post that makes you scared, that makes you angry, just go and check it on a range of credible sites and whatever you do, don’t share that, because disinformation loses its power if it doesn’t get shared.”

Apart from Padre, the MMA has another online platform, www.real411. org to combat digital disinformation.

Bird said it was hard to determine the prevalence of disinformation, but based on the number of complaints they receive through 411 it was clear there were a lot of people out to misinform others.

He said during election time there were standard types of disinformation such as that which attacks and undermines the credibility of the IEC.

“Not to say that people shouldn’t question the IEC or even expose them if there’s wrongdoing, but what we do see are these unwarranted attacks on their credibility. And they’ll do that by suggesting that they steal votes, or votes are pre-counted, or they’ll invent all sorts of things about the IEC,” Bird said.

What made it tricky was that disinformation usually contained a grain of truth and was sometimes spread through co-ordinated efforts or by people trying to stir up trouble.

“Other times it does seem to be linked to some alternative or political movement seeking to undermine or discredit the electoral process. Sometimes you know who they are. Sometimes you get political parties that have a clear vested interest in spreading disinformation and they’ll do it. So it really is coming from a lot of places.

“The one thing we’ve seen less of, that is more prevalent in other elections, is foreign interference,” said Bird.

Anna Collard from cybersecurity training organisation KnowBe4 Africa said deepfakes posed “major risks” in the run-up to elections.

She said the production of deepfake videos and images was cheap and easy.

“If you’re a politician, expect deepfakes impersonating you to appear to sway public opinion,” she said.

“Similarly, voters should not believe everything they see or hear on social media. AI-generated fake content has huge implications for society, especially during election periods. To combat this form of disinformation and safeguard the democratic process, social media platforms, political parties and independent watchdogs as well as us the public will all need to work together.”

Brigadier Thandi Mbambo from the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (Hawks) said their cybercrime unit would investigate fake news and deepfakes relating to the elections. She said these issues should be reported to the police just like any other case and they would be referred to the Hawks.

“Our cybercrime is assisting our Serious Organised Crime, Serious Commercial and Serious Corruption (investigations). They don’t work independently like the cybercrime from the SAPS. They are a support structure to those other components.”

Mbambo said when needed the cybercrimes units from the police and the Hawks collaborated on certain cases.

Those interested in fact checking platforms can go to za and

Independent on Saturday