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Phumzile Van Damme launches misinformation project - here's how she will clamp down on fake news

Van Damme says the damage caused by misinformation extends to discrimination on the basis of race, nationality and gender.

05 September 2021 - 12:00
Former DA MP Phumzile Van Damme announced the launch of her anti-misinformation project on Wednesday.
Former DA MP Phumzile Van Damme announced the launch of her anti-misinformation project on Wednesday.
Image: Esa Alexander

Former DA MP Phumzile Van Damme has launched her anti-misinformation project with partners, including Right2Know and Code For Africa.

Launching the project on Twitter, Van Damme said it will tackle the spread of misinformation on social media platforms before and during the local government elections. Each of the six partners, including herself, will work on the project independently and collaborate on a voluntary basis, she said.

On Wednesday, Van Damme said the project will be split into three parts, which will focus on exposing the abuse of human rights by spreading misinformation, studying the behavioural science behind the believability of such messaging, and monitoring misinformation from political parties and the government. 

Speaking to TimesLIVE, Van Damme said the first phase of the project will focus on educating the public on what disinformation and misinformation is and how to identify these. 

“We think it is important to detail what disinformation is because there is a lot of confusion out there about what constitutes that.

“The broad term of fake news is used whereas it relates specifically to publications, broadcast and print that publish inaccurate information. This does not relate to disinformation, which relates to information that is deliberately published to mislead,” said Van Damme. 

For an election to be free and fair, voters need to have accurate information about parties, candidates and other factors to inform their voting decisions. For this to happen, disinformation needs to be removed from the equation. 
Phumzile Van Damme 

She added that the project is not intended to infringe on people's right to self-expression.

Van Damme said the damage caused by the spread of misinformation results in “discrimination on grounds of race, culture, religion, nationality, gender, political beliefs and sexual orientation”, among others. 

“This is particularly important in a lead up to an election where we often see a rise of information where political parties skate the line of the truth and we believe that voters need to be provided with the truth in making those decisions of which political party to support

“Political parties will not necessarily do it themselves but we have seen influence operations... we will carefully monitor that kind of information that might not emanate from the political parties themselves, so that's why we will monitor political discourse on social media,” said Van Damme. 

Van Damme told TimesLIVE in June that she needed to be non-partisan in her pursuit of the project. This was after she tendered her resignation from the DA..

“The point is the misinformation project [we will be rolling out soon], not the DA. I need to be non-partisan and I can’t be a member of any party to be able to monitor misinformation from all parties and do so fairly and hold all accountable,” she said.