Disinformation in a time of Covid-19: Social media needs Rapid Information and Communications Task Team

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17 July 2022, William Bird and Tina Power, Daily Maverick

Given that our work at Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) traverses on- and offline forms of media and communication, we were – and remain – acutely aware of the role of social media in some instances escalating the unrest. The role of social media in the July violence was highlighted in the Expert Panel Report and in submissions to the SAHRC inquiry. Oddly, the expert panel made no recommendation around the huge challenges relating to social media. As MMA we would like to see the creation of a Rapid Information and Communications Task Team (RICTT). The RICTT would serve multiple purposes, but key among them would be to act as an effective communication strategy and an effective crisis response mechanism.

Why do we need the RICTT?

Running the Real411 for the last three years has shown that mis- and disinformation thrive when there are insufficient details or big gaps in communication, but also when there are higher levels of anxiety and elevated tensions. It’s hardly surprising then that there was a proliferation of mis- and disinformation around the violence in July in 2021. During the unrest we also saw – as evident in other instances, like some of the pervasive Afrophobic content shared on social media – a combination of online harms that worked together to heighten tensions and anxieties. For example there were posts showing burning buildings from a few years ago and in some instances violence from different countries. This content was often accompanied by calls encouraging and inciting further violence. MMA highlighted these and other elements during our submission to the SAHRC inquiry.

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