Facebook has agreed to meet with South Africa’s Parliament over concerns around disinformation before South Africa’s 2021 local elections, the Communications and Digital Technologies Committee has said.
The meeting – which was requested by the Democratic Alliance – is set to take place on 25 May 2021.
“Facebook’s agreement to the meeting is historic and a source of pride for South Africa as a first in Africa, and one of a few countries in the world to successfully secure a meeting with Facebook,” said DA MP Phumzile van Damme, who had issued the invitation.
“We commend Facebook for agreeing to the meeting which we hope will be constructive.”
Van Damme said the reason for inviting Facebook was to establish what steps the tech giant would be taking to tackle harmful misinformation, particularly in light of the upcoming elections.
“Facebook often tailors plans for countries ahead of elections to guard against harmful misinformation,” Van Damme said. “We would like to see the same done for South Africa.”
In September 2020, the social media company implemented measuress which it said were intended to help secure the integrity of the US elections by encouraging voting, connecting people with authoritative information, and reducing the risks of post-election confusion.
These included updates related to misinformation, COVID-19 and voter suppression, and a ban on new electoral, political, or social issue ads.
Van Damme said the protection of private data of South African users on Facebook-owned platforms would also form part of the meeting.
The implementation of the policy was delayed following heavy backlash from users earlier in 2021.
“The aim of discussions with Facebook will be to ensure that the interests of the people of South Africa are protected as well as upholding the constitutional right to freedom of speech,” Van Damme said.
She added the meeting will also be the beginning of discussions regarding Facebook paying South African media houses for carrying their content as was recently successfully implemented in Australia.
The DA has sent similar invitations to other big tech giants – Google and Twitter.