Proliferation of fake news during elections

Social media can be a vehicle for change. File picture: Pexels

Social media can be a vehicle for change. File picture: Pexels

Published May 29, 2024


The rise of social media has revolutionised the way information is shared and consumed, but it has also enabled the rapid spread of fake news. During election seasons, the proliferation of misinformation and disinformation poses a grave threat to the integrity of the democratic process in South Africa.

While it is of utmost importance to be vigilant, the dangers of sharing unverified news on social media can have far-reaching consequences, risking the credibility of the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) and potentially inciting political violence.

Fake news, defined as deliberately fabricated or misleading information presented as fact, has become a global phenomenon. In the context of South African elections, the dissemination of false narratives, doctored images, and unsubstantiated claims can sway voter perceptions, manipulate public opinion, and undermine trust in the electoral system.

Social media platforms have become a breeding ground for the rapid spread of fake news. The ease with which information can be shared, coupled with the tendency of users to engage with content that aligns with their existing beliefs, creates an environment ripe for the proliferation of misinformation.

During election seasons, political actors and malicious actors may exploit these vulnerabilities to advance their agendas, often with the intent of discrediting opponents or casting doubt on the electoral process.

The spread of fake news during election season poses a significant threat to the integrity of the electoral process in South Africa. Unverified information can mislead voters, causing them to make decisions based on false or distorted facts. This can lead to the manipulation of voter preferences, skewing the outcome of elections, and undermining the will of the people.

Moreover, the dissemination of fake news can erode public confidence in the IEC, the institution responsible for managing and overseeing elections in South Africa. If voters lose faith in the impartiality and competence of the IEC, they may question the legitimacy of the electoral process, leading to a breakdown in the democratic system.

The proliferation of fake news during election season also carries the risk of inciting political violence. Inflammatory and divisive content can stoke tensions, exacerbate existing societal divisions, and lead to confrontations between opposing political factions.


In a climate of heightened emotions and mistrust, the spread of misinformation can trigger violent reactions, jeopardising the safety of citizens and the stability of the country.

The consequences of political violence can be severe, disrupting the electoral process, causing harm to individuals and communities, and undermining the foundations of democracy. The IEC and other government institutions must be vigilant in addressing the threat of fake news and its potential to spark unrest and violence.

South Africa has enacted laws and regulations to address the challenges posed by fake news and the disruption of elections. The Electoral Act, for instance, prohibits the publication of false information with the intent to influence the outcome of an election. Individuals found guilty of such offences can face fines or imprisonment.

Additionally, the IEC has the authority to investigate and take action against those who interfere with the electoral process, including through the dissemination of false information. The Commission can refer cases to the relevant law enforcement agencies for further investigation and prosecution.

The Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA) also plays a role in addressing the spread of fake news, as it regulates the collection, processing, and sharing of personal data. This legislation can be used to hold social media platforms and other entities accountable for the misuse of personal information in the context of election-related misinformation.

Addressing the challenge of fake news during election season requires a multi-faceted approach involving various stakeholders, including the government, the IEC, social media platforms, and civil society.

The IEC has a crucial role to play in educating the public about the dangers of fake news and promoting media literacy. By empowering citizens to critically evaluate the information they encounter, the Commission can help mitigate the impact of misinformation and disinformation.

Social media platforms, as the primary channels for the dissemination of fake news, must also take responsibility for implementing robust measures to identify, flag, and remove false or misleading content. This may involve the use of fact-checking mechanisms, the enforcement of clear content policies, and collaboration with relevant authorities to address the spread of election-related misinformation.

Civil society organisations and independent media outlets can also contribute to the fight against fake news by fact-checking claims, debunking false narratives, and providing accurate, reliable information to the public. By working together, these stakeholders can help safeguard the integrity of South African elections and protect the democratic process.

The proliferation of fake news during election seasons in South Africa poses a grave threat to the integrity of the electoral process, the credibility of the IEC, and the stability of the country. The spread of misinformation and disinformation can manipulate voter perceptions, undermine public confidence, and even incite political violence.

To address this challenge, a comprehensive and coordinated approach is necessary. The government, the IEC, social media platforms, and civil society must work together to combat the spread of fake news, promote media literacy, and uphold the principles of free and fair elections. By doing so, they can protect the democratic foundations of South Africa and ensure that the will of the people is accurately reflected in the electoral outcomes.

Dube is a political economist, businessman and social commentator.

Sunday Tribune