DA MP Phumzile van Damme.
DA MP Phumzile van Damme.

Facebook must account to Parliament for spread of misinformation, says DA

By Sihle Mlambo Time of article published Feb 15, 2021

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Johannesburg - Facebook must be summoned to Parliament to account for its role on the spreading of misinformation in South Africa, the DA has said.

As such, DA MP and spokesperson on communications, Phumzile van Damme, will be asking the communications portfolio committee to summon Facebook to account for its role in misinformation and the protection of the digital privacy of its South African users.

She said if the motion was supported by other MPs in the committee, Google and Twitter would also be summoned to the committee, she said.

“Tomorrow the committee will have its first meeting of the year where the draft programme of the first term of the 2021 parliamentary calendar will be discussed.

“While the programme includes necessary procedures Parliament needs to be engaged in, it is way past overdue that the committee proactively takes steps in considering matters related to the ’digital technologies’ aspect of the portfolio,” said Van Damme.

Van Damme said the social media platform had to come to Parliament and explain to MPs what steps it had taken to tackle the harmful spreading of misinformation about the coronavirus on the platform and WhatsApp, which is also owned by Facebook.

“The spread of Covid-related misinformation primarily through Facebook and WhatsApp, a company owned by Facebook, highlights the need for Parliament to take an active role in curbing misinformation.

“However, the aim of questioning Facebook should be to ensure that the interests of the people of South Africa are protected and (it is) not an attempt to exert control or limit freedom of expression.

“Parliament is currently being left behind while legislators across the globe push for social media reform and strengthened content moderation on social media platforms,” said Van Damme.

She said stronger content moderation from Facebook meant that the platform would and should remove content that incited violence or advocated hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion.

“Full freedom of expression that does not fall into these categories must be protected,” she said.

Van Damme said the social media giants also had to explain how the digital privacy of South Africans was being protected.

“The digital transformation of South Africa must begin now. The wearing of 4IR jackets and inserting 4IR in every speech as a mere cool buzzword does not make digital transformation happen.

“While governments across the world and on the African continent have embraced innovation and technological advancement, South Africa lags behind - an old bureaucracy unable to move with the times to improve service delivery and create new jobs.

“Intrinsic in the digital transformation first and foremost is ensuring that the digital environment has the necessary protections in place.

“Facebook should be first and Google, Twitter and others next.

“The DA is hopeful that this is a proposal that will be considered favourably by the rest of the members of the committee,” she said.


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