The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has taken decisive measures to combat the surge of disinformation in the lead-up to the Local Government Elections (LGE).
As the country prepares for this significant event scheduled for September 29, 2023, dissemination of false information has become a growing concern for voters and the general public.
Tuoe HantÅ¡i, the Public Relations Manager of IEC, highlighted the prevalence of engineered misinformation during the election period.
HantÅ¡i revealed that more than 10 individuals had already reported receiving false information from individuals claiming to be IEC officials, enticing them with fictitious job offers.
To counteract this trend, HantÅ¡i emphasised that the IEC releases official information exclusively through its verified social media channels.
â€œWe are actively raising awareness among the public about disinformation, particularly false posts on social media claiming that the IEC is hiring and demanding payment for employment,â€ he said.
â€œThese messages and posts are fake news and should not be associated with the Commission,â€ he added.
HantÅ¡i further cautioned the public against falling victim to scams, urging them not to provide money in exchange for employment opportunities.
He clarified that genuine IEC announcements were exclusively made from his office and were disseminated through the official channels managed by the public relations department.
The IECâ€™s official presence on social media platforms has yielded positive results, with individuals reaching out and receiving assistance, HantÅ¡i said.
He affirmed that while there have been victims of disinformation, the Commissionâ€™s objective was to make the public aware and encourage them to seek verified information regarding the Commission and election-related matters.
Regarding the recent announcement by the Director of Elections, advocate Mpaiphele Maqutu, proposing a reduction in the number of media houses reporting on the elections, HantÅ¡i clarified that the idea had been dismissed by the Commissionâ€™s leadership.
â€œThe notion of exclusively using Community Radio Stations was rejected last week during a meeting held at the Convention Center. However, it is yet to be determined whether the number of newspapers involved will change or if we will continue with the existing three newspapers,â€ he said.
The European Union (EU) Elections Observation Mission report from the National Assembly Elections that were held in October last year highlighted the extensive use of mobile devices by over 96 percent of social media users in Lesotho.
The report also noted the rise of anonymous improvised â€œnews outletsâ€ on social media and the dissemination of unverified and misleading content through 41 anonymous media Facebook pages.
It indicated that to communicate messages, the IEC primarily relied on Facebook, while WhatsApp groups were utilised by political actors and institutions.
The report emphasised the need for updated websites and highlighted that only three out of the 65 registered political parties had active websites.
The Minister of Communications, Nthati Moorosi, expressed her belief that the passing of the Computer Crime and Cyber Security Bill, 2023, could have aided in curbing the spread of disinformation relating to the upcoming Local Government Elections.
The bill, which was withdrawn from Parliament for further review, aimed to address criminal activities online, including defamation and disinformation.
â€œThe bill was going to help to curb the spread of disinformation and other criminal activities perpetuated online such as defamation,â€ she said.
Moorosi urged journalists to maintain balance in their reporting to prevent the spread of disinformation from dampening the spirit of the elections.
She emphasized the detrimental impact of disinformation on voter interest and appealed to journalists and broadcasters to report accurately and objectively.
â€œDisinformation kills the spirit of elections as people end up running out of interest to vote. I appeal to journalists and broadcasters to report accurately and balance their stories,â€ Moorosi said.
In a recent workshop for journalists conducted by the IEC, HantÅ¡i highlighted the importance of adhering to the media code of conduct when reporting on elections.
He said the code of conduct serves as a reminder of the media’s responsibility to provide truthful, impartial, and comprehensive information concerning all relevant aspects of the electoral process, including citizens’ electoral rights.