The IEC said it has received more than 70 complaints since it launched a pilot project to combat digital disinformation a month ago. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/ African News Agency (ANA)

Johannesburg - The Independent Electoral Commission said it has received more than 70 complaints since it launched a pilot project to combat digital disinformation a month ago.

In a statement, the electoral body said on Sunday of the complaints received, 34 have been finalised and the remainder continued to be processed as they were received.

It also said there has been no instances of deliberate disinformation found by the committee set up to assess complaints.

"A number of the complaints, while not disinformation, have related to the tone and content of messages by political parties and contestants which have the ability to cause offence and/or undue political tension and rivalry.

"In these cases, the Electoral Commission is addressing these complaints with the relevant political parties."

The commission said several complaints referred to news articles or opinion pieces on news media websites and these were referred to the Press Council.

"However, it is important to note that journalists reporting on what politicians say is not disinformation. A free press is critical for free and fair elections and encourages accountability and keeps the electorate informed.

The IEC also said another area of potential confusion related to the nuances of satire. 

"Satire has an important role to play in political commentary and the Electoral Commission is committed to ensuring that free speech is not undermined in this disinformation initiative. "However, in using original images of political party material, there can be confusion as to what emanates from the political party and what does not and publishers of satirical material would be well served to indicate content as satire to mitigate people reporting such to the online platform."

Deputy chairperson of IEC Janet Love the complaints received have served to highlight the challenges of combating disinformation and the continuing need for education regarding what constitutes disinformation.

"At the time the number complaints and interactions demonstrates that South Africans are taking the time to engage with political messages and reporting in digital media,” Love said.

Media Monitoring Africa director William Bird said they applauded the IEC for launching the world's first mechanism for empowering the public and helping people combat disinformation.  "For a platform that is just in its infancy we have seen already great interest and support for what we are trying to do which can inspire us all as we build our democracy,” Bird said.

Possible disinformation can be reported on www.real411.org.za 

Political Bureau