Home South African Parliamentary committee to invite Facebook to account for Covid misinformation

Parliamentary committee to invite Facebook to account for Covid misinformation

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DA MP Phumzile van Damme proposed the motion after raising concerns about the spreading of Covid-related misinformation through Facebook and WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook

File image: Dado Ruvic/Reuters

PARLIAMENT’S communications and digital technologies portfolio committee will invite social media giants Facebook to account for its role in the spreading of misinformation around the coronavirus in South Africa.

DA MP Phumzile van Damme raised the motion during a committee meeting on Tuesday.

On Monday, van Damme had raised concerns about the spreading of Covid-related misinformation primarily through Facebook and WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook.

She said the heightened levels of misinformation highlighted the need for Parliament to take an active role in curbing misinformation.

“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.

“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,” said van Damme.

She said Facebook Africa had to inform MPs on what plans the social media platform had about tackling misinformation ahead of this year’s local government elections.

“While the company has committed to strengthening content moderation their efforts are usually focused on countries that are global powerhouses like the US, the EU and others, like our own, are not a priority.

“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,” she said.

“The DA is of the firm belief that our election campaign must happen in a manner where all South Africans, regardless of political affiliation, are able to consider all the electoral offers without being manipulated with misinformation or the weaponisation of their private data as we saw in the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

“We look forward to what we hope will be a fruitful discussion with Facebook,” she said.

Van Damme on Monday said that Google and Twitter would also be invited to the committee after Facebook had appeared.