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Election Disinformation in South Africa

In today's digital age, disinformation stands as a pervasive and insidious threat, particularly during elections.

As South Africa approaches its upcoming national elections, it is vital for citizens to recognize the dangers of false information and to be ready to combat it. The integrity of our democratic society hinges on our collective ability to distinguish truth from falsehood and to hold accountable those who propagate disinformation.

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The Dangers of Disinformation

Disinformation, defined as false information spread deliberately to deceive people, can have severe consequences for democracy. During elections, the stakes are incredibly high, as disinformation can:


Undermine Public Trust: Trust in democratic institutions is the bedrock of any functional society. When false information is disseminated, it erodes trust in the electoral process, government institutions, and the media. This can lead to a disillusioned electorate and decreased voter turnout, weakening the democratic fabric of the nation.


Polarize Societies: Disinformation often exploits existing societal divisions, exacerbating tensions. By spreading false narratives that pit different groups against each other, disinformation can deepen polarization and lead to a more fragmented society. This can manifest in increased social unrest and violence, undermining social cohesion.


Influence Election Outcomes: Perhaps the most direct impact of disinformation is its potential to influence electoral outcomes. By spreading false claims about candidates, parties, or the electoral process itself, disinformation can sway public opinion and voter behaviour. This manipulation can result in the election of candidates who do not represent the will of the people.


Spotting & Countering Disinformation

Given the dangers posed by disinformation, it is vital for South African voters to be vigilant and proactive in spotting and countering false information ahead of the 29 May election date. Here are a few tips to help navigate the information landscape during the elections:


Verify the Source: Always check the credibility of the source before accepting any information as true. Reputable news organizations adhere to journalistic standards and ethics, which makes them more reliable. Be cautious of information from unknown or dubious websites, and always cross-reference with other reliable sources.


Look for Original Reporting: Disinformation often relies on second-hand accounts or misinterpretations. Original reporting, where journalists have conducted interviews or firsthand investigations, is generally more reliable. Look for articles that reference direct quotes, official documents, or firsthand accounts.


Check the Facts: Use fact-checking websites and services to verify the authenticity of the information. Organizations such as AfricaCheck, Media Monitoring Africa with platforms like Real411 work to debunk false claims and provide accurate information. Make use of these resources to verify election-related news and, report disinformation to these platforms if you come across it.


Watch Out for the Politics: Beware of disinformation spread by political parties or figures. Political campaigns are notorious for stretching the truth to gain an edge, so approach their claims with a healthy dose of scepticism. Play it safe and check the information spread by parties.


Diversify Your Information Consumption: Social media algorithms are designed to show you content similar to what you've previously engaged with, which can create echo chambers that reinforce your existing beliefs. To avoid this, actively seek out a variety of news sources, including those with different political perspectives.


This will help you gain a more balanced understanding of events and reduce the likelihood of being misled. Part of this is also understanding how much parties spend on their social media campaigns as this may influence the amount of content you see from a specific party, websites like the Political Ad Library can help with this.


Be Wary of Emotional Appeals: Disinformation often uses strong emotional appeals to manipulate readers. If a news piece elicits a strong emotional reaction, take a moment to pause and critically assess the content. Emotional manipulation is a key tactic in spreading false information.


Understand the Context: Information taken out of context can be misleading. Ensure that you understand the broader context of the news story, including the background and the surrounding circumstances. Contextual information can often clarify ambiguities and prevent misunderstandings.


Educate Yourself and Others: Raising awareness about the dangers of disinformation is crucial. Educate yourself and others about how to identify and counter false information.


As South Africa approaches its elections, we must safeguarded against the corrosive effects of disinformation. By staying informed, vigilant, and proactive, citizens can play a crucial role in ensuring that their democracy remains robust and resilient. Let us all strive to be informed and responsible voters, contributing to a fair and transparent electoral process.

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Christiaan Endres

Christiaan Endres

Project Coordinator +27 (11) 214 2900-204


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