South Africa questions Facebook

Facebook Set To Be Grilled By South Africa’s Parliament In Rare Summon

By  |  February 16, 2021

In what appears to be a first on the African continent, global social media giant, Facebook, is being requested to appear before the South African parliament.

The company is expected to face what could be described as an inquiry, not unlike what has happened in the United States and some European countries in the past.

According to reports, Facebook will be summoned before the country’s lawmakers to “answer questions around misinformation surrounding the 2021 elections” in South Africa.

This was revealed by the Parliamentary Committee of Communications and Digital and it trails an earlier development in which the Democratic Alliance, the official opposition to the ruling party in South Africa, implored the parliamentary committee to summon Facebook to address concerns over moderation of content on its social media platforms.

Facebook Inc. owns the most-used and most popular social media platforms in Africa. Between platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, the company accounts for hundreds of millions of social media users across Africa. Its original social network, Facebook, boasts 210 million active users across Africa and 26.8 million of those are in South Africa. Globally, Facebook has 2.8 billion users.

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Due to its reach and accessibility, Facebook has also morphed into a powerful tool for political propaganda and fake news across nations which have proven to be dangerous in many cases. Hence, the platform has found itself under the microscopes at different points while making an effort to sanitize its social network by weeding out bad actors.

However, South Africa’s Democratic Alliance has gotten parliament to beam the searchlight on Facebook. 

“The Democratic Alliance (DA) is pleased that the Committee of Communications and Digital Technologies has agreed to invite Facebook to meet with the committee,” the DA said in a statement following the announcement of the Facebook summon.

“We trust that Facebook, in good faith, will accept the offer to appear before the committee, in order to build a relationship with Parliament and clarify concerns.”

The DA maintains it seeks not to use the opportunity to shut down freedom of speech, but to combat fake news on Facebook and protect South Africans from hate speech.

“From the DA’s perspective the aim is not to use the opportunity to shut down protected freedom of speech but to deal with the proliferation of fake news in its form as disinformation and misinformation, as well as protecting the people of South Africa against harmful Hate Speech that could result in violence,” the party said.

The DA also contends that Facebook must pay more attention to the misinformation on its platforms proliferating within countries outside of the traditional global superpowers that have taken much of its attention.

“While the company has committed to strengthening content moderation their efforts are usually focused on countries that are global powerhouses like the United States, the European Union, and others, like our own, are not a priority,” the DA said.

“Importantly, Facebook Africa needs to provide a plan on what steps it will be taking in tackling misinformation ahead of the 2021 Local Government Election, as it has done for elections in other parts of the world.”

It is understood that the invitation to appear before parliament will be served to Facebook through its local presence in the country at the Johannesburg offices of Facebook Africa.

Featured Image Courtesy: Addis Herald

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