Phumzile van Damme teams up to tackle misinformation on municipal polls

In its first phase, the project launched by the partners will focus on public education about disinformation and misinformation in its nature, identifying it and its associated terms.

FILE: Western Cape IEC centre say it's ready to open polls Picture: Boikhutso Ntsoko/Eyewitness News

JOHANNESBURG - Fresh from her exit as a member of the Democratic Alliance, Phumzile van Damme hasn't completely left the political spectrum but is now involved in a totally different area.

The former politician, who now works as an independent consultant, has teamed up with media and civil society organisations Right2Know, Code4Africa, Superlinear, WITNESS as well as clinical psychologist, neuroscientist and cognitive behaviour therapist, Dr David Rosenstein, to launch an anti-disinformation and misinformation project for the upcoming local government elections.

The project's partners said that they would maintain their independence and, on a voluntary basis, collaborate to tackle disinformation in the lead up to the elections.

Each brings a variety of skills, expertise, tools, resources and experience. These include disinformation policy, fact-checking, research, data science, behavioural science, psychology, civic technology, communications rights and advocacy.

The project has three components:

● Disinformation monitoring and combatting focusing on online political discourse, messaging emanating from political parties and government.
● Advocacy focusing on Big Tech, PR firms and the use of video technology to expose human rights abuses and combat disinformation.
● Behavioural Science aimed at understanding the believability of disinformation in South Africa.

While accountability is high on the agenda, the partners said that the project was in no way intended to infringe on the rights of South Africans to express their views freely online.

"We will carefully monitor and advocate against any attempts of censorship, particularly by the government. There has been a concerning clampdown on social media by African leaders – 'digital authoritarianism'," they said.

In its first phase, the project will focus on public education about disinformation and misinformation in its nature, identifying it and its associated terms.

"Disinformation and misinformation have had deadly consequences in South Africa, contributing to unprecedented violence since the advent of democracy in the country. The July 2021 unrest is estimated to have resulted in the deaths of 337 people. In eThekwini alone, it is estimated to have caused 129,000 jobs losses and over R16 billion in damages to property.

"For democracy, the effects of online disinformation and misinformation have been identified by experts as a major threat.

"During an election season, disinformation is often spread to skew public discourse and manipulate voters. For an election to be free and fair, voters need to have accurate information about parties, candidates and other factors in order to inform their voting decisions. For this to happen, disinformation needs to be removed from the equation."

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