SOWETAN | Fake news about polls mustn't win

first day of special votes taking place at Moses Kotane Primary School in Braamfischerville, Soweto
first day of special votes taking place at Moses Kotane Primary School in Braamfischerville, Soweto
Image: Veli Nhlapo

As thousands of South Africans went out to cast their special vote yesterday, it has become clear that one of the biggest challenges to contend with in these elections is misinformation and disinformation campaigns, especially against the electoral commission. 

Since the advent of social media, election management bodies across the world have had to navigate the impact of disinformation as a growing phenomenon of fiercely contested polls. 

SA is no different. 

As early as last week, it was clear that false and manipulated information was being spread on various social media platforms with the aim of causing confusion among the public and ultimately bringing into question the credibility and results of the election. 

On Sunday, a video and pictures of ballot boxes were circulating in a disinformation campaign driven by the MK Party, who trespassed an IEC storage site in a KwaZulu-Natal station, claiming the rigging of an election without a shred of evidence. 

Similarly, communication platforms have been flooded by ridiculous claims that the IEC would give people voting pens it can erase, presumably to change people’s votes in favour of a pre-determined outcome.

Others have circulated supposed ballots being irregularly marked, but closer inspection shows such ballots are not of this election. These disinformation campaigns are designed to sow doubt in the minds of the electorate. 

Our responsibility as citizens committed to democracy is twofold. We must hold the IEC to account, demand transparency and fairness in its processes. 

Equally, we must be vigilant and actively reject the proliferation of disinformation by those whose desire is to influence destabilisation of democratic processes. 

This responsibility demands that we educate ourselves on electoral processes to allow ourselves to pause and question the legitimacy of the information we consume before passing it on to others. 

It also demands that we are intentional about the sources from which we get information, such sources in this context being the IEC itself as well as public platforms which subscribe to, and demonstrated commitment to, accountability mechanisms. 

Importantly, we urge the IEC and law enforcement authorities to act reasonably and within the law against those who are hellbent to undermine this election without reasonable basis and for nefarious agendas. 

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