GCome May 8th, South Africa will be holding its general elections, an event being heralded in all the ways politically and civilly possible. Even as the Southern African nation prepares to vote in and welcome new National Assembly members and provincial legislators, it is of no shock to anyone that fake news will take its swing before, during and probably after.
While this sixth post-apartheid polls will determine who will be the next President of South Africa, untrue reports will set out to either disrupt the process or misinform South Africans. And that’s precisely the reason Google steps in to assist.
Vetted Information During Polls
As part of its USD 300 Mn initiative to combat the spread of fake news, the technology titan is deploying some of its vast resources to train political parties, journalists and editors with a keen focus on how to spot and eradicate false information that could ensue around the electoral process. With the objectives of highlighting accurate journalism while fighting misinformation, helping news sites continue to grow from a business perspective and creating new tools to help journalists do their jobs, Google is going to be at the hem of information during S.A’s polls.
According to Mich Atangana, the communications manager of Google South Africa, the company will protect the Southern African nation against political party website attacks, while finding ways to prevent the spread of misinformation. By working through a system of flaggers, the trained persons will be able to spot fake news and can then contact Google to take further action. Google will have up to nine staff working on their initiative in the run-up to the election, in collaboration with sites like Africa Check to allow people discern which news is true and which isn’t.
Something Lincoln Will Praise
Once, Abraham Lincoln said: “Don’t believe everything you read on the internet just because there is a picture with a quote next to it”. In what seems like an inadvertent move to bolster the American’s position, Google will have trained no less than 100 journalists by the time the South African polls are due to open.
In the 2016 local elections, the country’s ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC) was reported to have run a black ops room to prevent the spread of fake news. It is believed that the party spent R50 million on the operation, which included putting out fake posters supposedly from its opposing parties, delivering news sheets to every door and planting callers on radio phone-ins. The part also controlled the state broadcaster SABC via its political appointees. While this move is a critical one for the elections, no other media has been able to come close to reaching millions of voters in the rural areas.
As a search engine which processes up to 4 billion searches in a day, Google understands the grave responsibility that it carries in weeding out fake new, especially in times such as a country-wide electoral process. In this digital age, new organizations face pressure more than ever to make themselves trustworthy.
South Africa is not the only nation on the continent to have elections this year. While Nigeria just concluded hers after reeling off from a massive fake news attack, Kenya, Cameron, and Senegal are also on the list. In Nigeria, fake news was reported to have been weaponized. Tweets and Facebook posts believed to be old and untrue were continually shared even on Whatsapp to perhaps defame the character and offices of certain Nigerian leaders with no exemption of President Muhammadu Buhari and Atiku Abubakar. If there’s one thing learnable in this context, it is that fake news spread like wildfire during elections, probably purportedly so to beat the odds and hang out a fellow contestant to dry.
Even as Google, Twitter, and Whatsapp have taken many measures to curb this ramp, fake news continues to be a big problem, not just in Africa, but in the rest of the world, just as it became a popular phrase after America’s 2016 elections. While Facebook always monitors and takes actions against fake accounts in its platform, Twitter worked closely with Nigeria’s INEC to make reporting problem accounts easier with the priority of maintaining the health of public conversations during elections cycles.