Phumzile van Damme. Picture: Henk Kruger ANA
Phumzile van Damme. Picture: Henk Kruger ANA

Anti-disinformation group warns parties against spreading fake news

By Jonisayi Maromo Time of article published Sep 13, 2021

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The Local Government Elections Anti-Disinformation Project has warned political parties that with the election date declared last week, the candidates and their agents may now face heavy penalties for spreading disinformation.

Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma declared November 1 as the new date for the local government elections, indicating that the Independent Electoral Commission's (IEC) code of conduct comes into effect.

The Local Government Election 2021 Disinformation Project said it 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,” said Gamane Gama, spokesperson for the Local Government Elections Anti-Disinformation Project.

“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’."

He said 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.

According to the Local Government Elections Anti-Disinformation Project, political 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.

The Local Government Elections Anti-Disinformation Project’s co-ordinator Phumzile van Damme said she hopes the initiative will work as a deterrent ahead of the hotly contested polls.

"We hope political parties will see our initiative as a deterrent and an opportunity to reflect on how they communicate with voters," said the former Democratic Alliance Member of Parliament.

“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.”

Adebayo Okeowo, programme manager at international civic and social organisation WITNESS, appealed to South Africans to rely on trusted sources of information.

"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," said Okeowo.

Lazola Kata, national communication rights campaigner at Right2Know, said: "We trust that all regulations especially associated with disinformation are followed, and in instances where they are not followed, the Electoral Court will be decisive in its penalty and follow-through”.

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 campaign, Code For Africa, Superlinear, Dr David Rosenstein and WITNESS.

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