Swaziland
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CANGO TO COUNTER ‘SOCIAL MEDIA UNREST’ DURING ELECTIONS

MANZINI – The Coordinating Assembly for Non-Governmental Organisations (CANGO) has committed to counter ‘social media unrest’ in the upcoming national elections.

CANGO Executive Director (ED) Thembinkosi Dlamini announced the project during the Press Freedom Day celebrations held at the American Corner, at Manzini Library yesterday. The project aims at countering misinformation, disinformation and fake news on social media. Dlamini said social media brought social biases to light and opened opportunities for them to be evaluated and addressed at a public scale, hence the need to address all prejudice, since the online space influenced offline behaviours. He said researches suggested that online hate contributed to offline violence. Virtual communities and networks also offered individuals opportunities to interact, and to find solidarity.

Harness

“We will harness this potential by facilitating dialogue online around elections with the aim to conduct narrative monitoring and reporting on the elections and to also calm online unrest caused by disinformation. “We will further use the dialogue facilitation methodologies to promote posts encouraging voter participation. “Social media platforms also offer a convenient, cost effective and sustainable way to engage with people and stimulate social change on a long term basis.

“These platforms can contribute to preventing the spread of mis or disinformation and preventing violence during elections,” he said. Dlamini added that they would report and monitor election irregularities and complications during the elections. He said the programme was aimed at questioning misinformation and disinformation online, aimed at the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC).

He said the proposed programme would be a partnership between CANGO and EBC, and would include dialogue facilitation campaigns online to share information on the importance of elections and voting procedures. “We will monitor for signs of violence on the content posted on social media and other online platforms and also monitor the post-election narrative.

“The dialogue facilitation campaign has the potential to have a wide impact. “The use of social media plays an increasingly dominant role in our daily lives and has become an integrated aspect of our existence.
“Although prejudice is not a new phenomenon, social media brings social biases to light and opens opportunities for them to be investigated. “People often discuss critical social issues on social media,” he said. CANGO ED said a few people were equipped to dialogue effectively in online environments, and difficult conversations became challenging.

Opposing

“Dialogue skills are particularly important since unstructured online communication between opposing groups is connected to offline violence. “In the dialogue facilitation campaign, we will harness our skills in dialogue facilitation and narrative therapy, to drive transformative conversations in online spaces. “Dialogue has long been recognised as a unique method of generating knowledge, challenging assumptions and creating opportunities for social intervention.

“Our dialogue approach is based on respect, care and empathy, and derives from an understanding that violence breeds violence, and that all parties require healing in order to change,” said Dlamini. He further averred that through self-reflection and critical thinking, online conversations were effectively challenging online and offline gender-based violence and gender subordination.

He elaborated that one of the things they viewed as important was knowledge creation and knowledge dissemination so that people could be free to form and to voice their opinions without fear of reprisals. “It does seem that we are having a scenario where for the longest time we thought the government was the one with a problem but now we are realising that we are a problem ourselves. “We are a problem because we do not read and we do not participate in such forum.

“We do not seek knowledge yet our responsibility should be that of seeking and processing it before taking action.
“We are living in an era where there is social media. We talk about trolls, fake news, fake accounts, and violation of privacy of people, cyber bullying and many other atrocities. “All this needs to be addressed and tackled head-on.
“We need to be honest to ourselves,” he said.  

Eswatini National Association of Journalists (ENAJ) President Welcome Dlamini applauded the initiative by CANGO and said it was bound to change the media landscape in the country. Dlamini said there was a need for the nation to be equipped on the content of real news against fake news.

“This is a great initiative by CANGO and I want to applaud them for taking such a step towards educating the nation, especially social media users on the issue of information sharing. Not everyone is a journalist and not every gossip is a story, there is what we call fact-checking and balancing of a story and we find people taking everything that they read on social media as the real story.

“Such a project needs our support as stakeholders,” he said. Dlamini, who was among the speakers on the day, requested to address the participants on an off the record basis and touched on the problems faced by the media in the country.

Threatned

He said the media was threatened by self-censorship, fake news and misinformation. He also stated that journalists were lowly paid in the country and, therefore, tempted to take bribes. Dlamini further said the judiciary was being used to suppress the media through deliberate lawsuit, where some law-firms even call clients and ask them to sue the media for stories published. Political Parties Assembly (PPA) Deputy Head of Secretariat Thami Hlatshwayo, who was part of the event, said they were interested to see how CANGO would implement the programme.

“We have questions on how they would implement such a programme because even governments have failed to do what they want to do. “It is interesting and we are waiting on them to unpack or implement their proposal, then we can make an informed comment or contribution on the matter,” he said. Representatives of the academia, Khulekani Nene and Nqobile Ndzinisa both concurred that there was a need for media literacy in the country. They both said the nation needed to be educated on what was the composition of news before misinformation takes over the space.  The project is yet to be officially launched to the public and will run for a period of three months.