Over many years, Meta has developed a comprehensive approach to elections on our platforms, writes Balkissa Ide Siddo, public policy director: sub-Saharan Africa at Meta.

But we know that no two elections are the same. That’s why our team is developing a tailored approach to help preserve the integrity of the South African elections on our platforms, drawing on lessons learnt from the previous election in the country, and our involvement in over 200 elections globally.

Over the last eight years, we’ve rolled out industry-leading transparency tools for ads about elections or politics, developed comprehensive policies to prevent election interference and voter fraud, and built the largest third party fact-checking programme of any social media platform to help combat the spread of misinformation.

Here are some of the key areas we will be focusing on in the lead up to the South African elections, helping us focus our teams, technologies, and investments so they will have the greatest impact.

Taking action against harmful content

No tech company does more or invests more to protect elections online than Meta. We have around 40 000 people working on safety and security, with more than $20-billion invested in teams and technology in this area since 2016. This includes 15,000 content reviewers who review content across Facebook and Instagram in more than 70 languages.

We want people to be able to talk openly on our apps about the issues that matter to them, while still feeling safe. Our Community Standards publicly explain what content is and isn’t allowed on Facebook and Instagram, and cover a number of areas relevant to elections. These include policies on harassment and incitement to violence, as well as detailed hate speech policies that ban attacks on people based on characteristics like ethnicity or religion. When we become aware of content that violates these rules, we take action.

As election day approaches, we will activate a South Africa-specific Elections Operations Centre focused on identifying potential threats across our apps and technologies in real-time. This initiative will bring together experts from across our company, including those based in South Africa, from our intelligence, data science, engineering, research, operations, public policy, and legal teams.

Combating misinformation

We remove the most serious kinds of misinformation from Facebook, Instagram, and Threads, such as content that could contribute to imminent violence or physical harm, or that is intended to suppress voting.

For content that doesn’t violate these particular policies, we work with independent fact-checking organisations who review and rate content, including if it was created or edited by digital tools such as AI. When content is debunked by these fact-checkers, we attach warning labels to the content and reduce its distribution in Feed so people are less likely to see it. In South Africa we work with Africa Check and AFP, who can fact-check in English, and a number of local languages, including Afrikaans, Zulu, Sotho and Setswana.

Ahead of the elections period, we will make it easier for our fact-checking partners in South Africa to find and rate content related to the elections because we recognize that speed is especially important during breaking news events. We’ll use keyword detection to group related content in one place, making it easy for fact-checkers to find. Our fact-checking partners are also being onboarded to our new research tool, Meta Content Library, which has a powerful search capability to support them in their work.

Working with local organisations to prepare for the elections

In preparation for the elections, Meta has signed the “Voluntary Framework of Cooperation to Address Disinformation in the 2024 National and Provincial Elections in South Africa” – an agreement to collaborate with the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) and other industry partners, where possible, to mitigate the risks associated with elections.

As part of this collaboration, we have been working alongside one of our fact checking partners in the region, Africa Check, to train staff at the IEC to be able to better detect misinformation. We have also partnered with both the IEC and Media Monitoring Africa (MMA), to train over 160 government communicators on Meta’s approach to combating misinformation, as well as the various safety and security features they can use on our platforms.

Last year, we appeared before the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Communications (PPCC), alongside other platforms, to engage policymakers on our state of readiness for the elections. Building on this, we kicked off a series of sessions this year for the PPCC, to build understanding of how to keep public officials and public organisations safe and secure online.

Alongside the South African Human Rights Commission and The Other Foundation, we will also be running a number of trainings with civil society organisations to help support the safety of marginalised communities online, including by raising awareness of our safety tools and how best to use our platforms.

To complement all of this, we have created an election resource centre on our website specifically for the South African elections, which provides government, political and non-profit partners with information such as how to secure their accounts and how to best reach and engage voters with authoritative information.

Empowering voters

Ahead of the election, Meta is committed to supporting an informed and engaged community on our platforms, as we know that access to reliable information and the responsible use of online platforms is especially important during an election period.

We are continuing our long term partnership with Digify Africa to develop a number of digital literacy tools, such as the Lesedi WhatsApp chat service, which teaches students digital literacy skills, and Kitso, which trains teachers on internet safety. Both tools use WhatsApp to teach digital skills in a data-light, conversational way, making education more accessible. These efforts complement the internet safety skills project we have been supporting since 2018, called Ilizwe Lam. Through this project, we educate, inform and empower 13 to 18 years olds with the right tools and information to explore the internet and protect themselves online.

We are running anti-hate speech and misinformation campaigns on our platform, as well as on local radio, for six weeks starting from Monday 8 April. These campaigns are designed to educate people about identifying and reporting hate speech and misinformation online, and will direct them to Meta’s Hate Speech Transparency Centre page and the Kitso WhatsApp chat service for them to learn more.

Ahead of election day, we will launch our Voter Information Unit and Election Day Reminder feature on both Facebook and Instagram. These election features provide users with neutral reminders, redirecting them to the IEC website, where they can find authoritative information about how to vote on election day.

For more information about how Meta approaches elections, visit our Preparing for Elections page, and for WhatsApp, visit our elections website.