As we go to the Polls, let’s be wary of unvetted opinion polls, false information and ‘Fake News’ targeted at politicians, political parties, organizations, media, individuals, and the general public.
According to the United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF) and Africa Check, decisions people make and the actions they take affect their lives in several ways – whether they are deciding which political party to vote for in the next election, how they are going to ensure that their children get the best possible education, or if they are going to get the Covid-19 vaccine.
To make these decisions, they must rely on the best publicly available information, but often the only information available is misleading or completely wrong.
Africa Check and Democratization Efforts
The UNDEF was created by UN Secretary-General Kofi A. Annan in 2005 to support democratization efforts around the World. Africa Check was launched in Johannesburg in 2012 as Africa’s first independent fact-checking organization.
It is a fact that opinion polls during elections are used to survey trends and attitudes. However, to ensure validity and reliability of the findings of such research, it has to be done according to proven scientific methods. We need to know how such polls are conducted and reported.
It is important to obtain information on the methods used and the main results of the survey and seek expert opinion on the validity of the methods used and interpretation of the findings.
Statements gathered (live or pre-recorded) from people chosen at random are not scientific surveys. These should be presented solely to illustrate the range and texture of popular opinion on a topical issue.
Such opinions are based on beliefs or points of view, which often display bias as they fit our worldview and own experience. Thinking something is true because we agree with it, doesn’t make it a fact.
Following the recommendations of the World Association for Public Opinion Research (WAPOR) and the Publication of Electoral Opinion Polls Act (No. 39 of 2012), one should be guided by the following questions in determining the credibility of surveys:
- Who commissioned the survey?
- Who paid for it?
- Why was the survey commissioned?
- Who conducted the survey?
- What geographical areas were covered?
- What was the sample size?
- How representative was the sample?
- What sampling methods were used?
What was the response and non-response rate? What kinds of questions were asked? What caliber of staff was involved in the data gathering? Over what period was the survey conducted? What was the margin of error? What were the results?
False information can quickly find its way onto social media platforms getting us stuck in a web of misinformation, disinformation and malinformation. First Draft News defines misinformation as information that is false, but the person who is disseminating it believes that it is true. Disinformation is information that is false, and the person who is disseminating it knows it is false. It is a deliberate, intentional lie.
Malinformation is genuine information that is shared to cause harm. This includes private or revealing information that is spread to harm a person or reputation.
Half-truths, hoaxes, and misleading information can create unnecessary fear, lead to violence and even be life-threatening when contributing to the spread of diseases.
Social media- from WhatsApp to Facebook and Twitter- is awash with job scams and quack cures. Just because it’s online does not mean it’s true! Verify before forwarding a message. Imagine how awkward it would be if you were wrong!
False information spreads because of our trust in public figures, influencers, free low quality alternative media and digital illiteracy (I hope you are learning). Remember, there are people paid (money or airtime) to push content online. Since false information often spreads faster than facts, we have a responsibility to verify the accuracy of information before sharing it.
‘Fake News’ are stories presented as real but have no factual basis.
They are used to deceive people. These stories mostly originate in social media and the Internet. In terms of elections, political actors have found ways of using social media to spread false and unverified information. ‘Fake News’ are fabrications, but false news arises out of quality control failures by media houses.
There are other forms of election propaganda applied to influence the public which we should be wary of. Always start with the key questions like: Where is the evidence? Is the evidence verifiable? And is the evidence sound? How was the information gathered? When? By whom?
Always be critical and curious by reading the comments accompanying the story. Check the correctness of spelling, grammar, and web links of the story.
We believe “seeing is believing” but during elections we need to be more careful about trusting our eyes. Look out for dates and landmarks of videos and photographs presented.
Are the images altered or have blurry lines and faded colors? One can verify images and videos by using reverse image search on Google, Tin Eye, Bing, Yandex, Red Eye, Invid, and Amnesty International’s YouTube data viewer.
Whatever your profession or occupation, it’s best to question – not dismiss – a claim until there is reliable, verifiable evidence to back it up. If in doubt, check it out, experts advise.