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Deputy President Paul Mashatile Emphasizes the Need for Principles and Guidelines for Social Media Use in Elections

Published March 01, 2024
3 months ago

As South Africa gears up for elections in 2024, Deputy President Paul Mashatile has put a spotlight on the critical role of social media in modern electoral processes. Speaking at a workshop organized by the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) in Johannesburg, Mashatile emphasized the dual nature of social media – its power to shape opinions and the potential risks if left unregulated during elections.

The Deputy President's speech comes at a time when the African continent braces for a wave of electoral activities, with more than 20 AU member states, including South Africa, scheduled for elections in the coming year. With social media's reach extending even further into political campaigning and public discourse, Mashatile highlighted the necessity of establishing robust principles and guidelines.

These guidelines, initiated by the continental election management bodies (EMB), serve as a blueprint for the optimal use of digital and social media in election management. They provide comprehensive instructions on interfacing with digital and social platforms during various electoral stages: before, during, and after the elections.

Mashatile remarked on the swiftly evolving digital landscape, noting the paramount importance of social media as a conduit for forming public opinion and setting election narratives. The changing landscape requires frameworks to assure fairness, transparency, and inclusivity in the electoral process – hallmarks of a democratic structure.

By implementing these principles, stakeholders can tackle several challenges inherent to the digital age. These include combating misinformation and disinformation, ensuring online integrity, and protecting voters' privacy and data security—key issues that can undercut the democratic process if not correctly managed.

Of particular importance, Mashatile directed attention to Africa's youth, a demographic that is exponentially increasing its presence on various platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and the platform formerly known as Twitter. Social media, when utilized responsibly, can serve as a potent tool for disseminating positive messages and informing young voters, who comprise a significant portion of the electorate.

By adhering to the EMB's principles and guidelines, countries can pave the way for safeguarding democracy, ensuring that elections remain free, fair, and reflective of the people's will. The Deputy President's call to action underscores the urgency to embrace these guidelines as digital media continues to reshape the election landscape.

The drive to promote responsible digital and social media usage in elections is not just a matter of maintaining credibility but also a step towards deepening the democratic engagement of all citizens, especially the younger generation who might help shape the continent's future.

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