Here’s what you can and can’t post on social media on election day

Cybersecurity expert breaks down some tips on how to let your followers and friends online know you’ve cast your vote

28 May 2024 - 09:22
By Staff Writer
A run down on what type of social media posts can spoil your ballot. File photo.
Image: Alaister Russell A run down on what type of social media posts can spoil your ballot. File photo.

As we get closer to the contentious seventh democratic elections in South Africa, many first-time voters and novices will be taking to social media platforms to share their stance. 

“In a time when every post and share carries significant weight, navigating social media on election day requires a delicate balance between freedom of expression and electoral integrity,” says Anna Collard, SVP content strategy and evangelist at KnowBe4 Africa.

“With the country’s political future hanging in the balance, understanding the dos and don’ts of online content sharing becomes paramount.”

With the Electoral Act and the Electoral Commission of SA (IEC) shaping the legal framework for elections in South Africa, the boundaries of online expression are also clearly defined. “Being mindful of these legal boundaries and grasping the consequences of your social media actions are important as these may influence the electoral process,” warns Collard.

Before you share anything on or before election day, here are some important tips to follow to protect the fairness of the voting process and encourage good online behaviour:

SVP content strategist Anna Collard.
Image: Supplied SVP content strategist Anna Collard.

What you can post

According to Collard, you are free to share a photo of your inked thumb on election day along with hashtags like #IVoted or #ElectionDay.

“Encouraging others to vote or saying on the voter turnout at your polling station is perfectly acceptable,” she says, adding that posting factual information on how and where to vote provided by the IEC is also encouraged.

“As long as your posts don’t sway how others should vote, you’re on the right track. Just be mindful of who features in the photos you share on social media so that you’re not violating anyone’s right to privacy.”

What you cannot post

The secrecy of the ballot is central to the integrity of the electoral process,” Collard explains, “and sharing how you or anyone else has voted violates this principle.”

Another taboo is social media campaigning on election day. 

Posting content that could be seen as an attempt to persuade voters on election day itself is prohibited,” she says. “This includes sharing political campaigning material, party slogans or anything that promotes a specific party or candidate.”

Violations of election regulations can lead to severe penalties, including fines or imprisonment. “Taking a photo of your marked ballot may invalidate your vote if it compromises its secrecy,” she cautions.

Collard says the IEC actively monitors social media for violations during elections and may use online evidence for prosecution.

What about misinformation and fake news?

Even though information is freely available in this digital age, it is not always correct or accurate. Even worse, people may intentionally create it to mislead voters. The Association for African Electoral Authorities (AAEA) has acknowledged that one of the most pressing challenges it faces is the spreading of false news on social media. These disinformation campaigns are designed to manipulate public opinion and can influence election results, sometimes even leading to social unrest.

Deepfakes are also a worrying trend. “These hyperrealistic videos created using artificial intelligence make it appear as though a politician is saying or doing something they’re not,” says Collard. She urges users to critically evaluate the credibility of posts before sharing them.

“Trust nothing you see trending on social media, even if it sounds and looks real. Be wary of content that seems designed to elicit a strong emotional response.”

If you are unsure if the news is real or false, there are several useful sites to help cross-reference election information, such as Africa Check and Padre.

Collard also suggests that fake news should be reported directly to the social media platform for immediate removal. “It’s important to approach information with a critical eye and confirm its accuracy through multiple sources before believing or spreading it.”