Disinformation, like any other trend, seems to have its own peaks and troughs!

Posted on 20th Apr 2021

Real411 was developed as an independent, expert-led platform to take action against disinformation, hate speech, incitement to violence and harassment of journalists online. Unlike complaints that a user may submit to any social media platform, all complaints submitted will be assessed according to the same principles, and the reasons set out for a decision. 

Real411 also offers an appeals process. Every complaint is assessed by a team of three experts (media, legal and digital), and then by a member of the secretariat (a legal professional/lawyer). Guidelines to assess each category of complaint have been developed in line with South African legislation.  

If a complaint requires action, Real411 can issue an infographic and can also issue a takedown request to the social media platforms (in most instances the content is removed). Outcomes can be shared with networks and key stakeholders, including CovidComms, the government and the South African Human Rights Commission. Real411 is a South African solution to combat a growing and dangerous threat to our democracy, and over the last year has been successful in making a difference. 

Through Real411, Media Monitoring Africa has been tracking disinformation trends on digital platforms since March 2020. The platform has received just over 1,350 complaints (all complaints are submitted to the platform by public users). We are currently focusing on combating anti-vaccine content, and are also gearing up for elections.  The graphic below shows complaints received, submitted as disinformation, and after review and assessment, how many of those complaints were determined as disinformation. Of all the disinformation complaints submitted, 41% of those were ruled as disinformation. 

There are two trends we take from these results. The first is that while we are thrilled at the number of complaints, we suspect it is only a fraction of the disinformation circulating out there. The threat posed by digital harms is significant and increasing. 

The second trend is that those who take the trouble to complain generally have a solid basis for doing so, with 41% of those complaints found to be disinformation. We think this is a positive finding and believe that if more people know what to look for and if more can spot and report to Real411 we can mitigate the negative impact of such digital harms. 

William Bird is director of Media Monitoring Africa. Thandi Smith is head of programmes at Media Monitoring Africa.