Online vigilance required as South Africa’s 2024 elections approach

Online vigilance required as South Africa’s 2024 elections approach

Our co-founder, Kyle Findlay, recently wrote an op-ed for News24 (paywall) discussing the influence landscape ahead of South Africa’s 2024 elections happening at the end of May 2024. He discusses some of the players involved, what’s being done about it and what average users can do to prevent themselves from becoming victims of influencer operations. Here’s an extract:

“Disinformation has been a persistent presence, at least since the 2016 inception of the Guptabots campaign against journalists and politicians who were critical of Jacob Zuma and the Gupta brothers. 

Those specific bots were switched off a few days after the RET faction lost at the ANC’s Nasrec 2017 elective conference. However, the RET faction, which is Russia-aligned, came back with a variety of anonymous influencers that have all the hallmarks of intelligence assets. They have been defining narratives for years in preparation for these elections.

Similarly, the #PutSouthAfricansFirst anti-foreigner, xenophobic campaign (of which Operation Dudula is the on-the-ground component) was launched on 27 April 2020 with, in my opinion, the sole purpose of laying the foundation of a populist political platform for the 2024 elections. 

So, disinformation is a multi-pronged, long game, and we’ve been marinating in it for years already. With regards to the involvement of state actors in driving disinformation, Jacob Zuma’s daughter and de facto voice of the MK Party on social media platform X, Duduzile Sambudla-Zuma (who was one of the main cheerleaders of the July Unrest), has been linked to Russia’s charm offensive a few days after the launch of the Ukraine invasion in February 2022.

She championed the South African leg of the Russian #IStandWithPutin campaign, which targeted BRICS and BRICS-adjacent countries. Just days later, she posted selfies from Moscow.

The discussions around the Israel-Gaza conflict are also highly contested. It is a topic that pulls in some of the world’s most technologically and operationally advanced purveyors of geopolitical influence, including Israel, Iran, and Russia. Two examples of how these players likely have poured fuel onto the fire of local issues include the conspiracy theory that the ANC is funded by Iran and the campaign to cleave the Muslim vote away from the DA in the Western Cape. This is not to say that other players don’t get involved as well, though.

China tends to focus on traditional media ownership (such as its stake in the Independent Media Group) and leverage through debt. In contrast, the West tends to focus on influence through traditional media, formal institutions, and relationships with decision-makers.

Geopolitics is an unavoidable game for all states. Disinformation tactics are effective against all of us, regardless of our education level. What is more important is our level of media literacy…”

Read more at News24….

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