WhatsApp and Facebook could face government questioning in South Africa

Opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), says that it will formally request that Facebook be summoned to parliament to account on several matters, including its role in misinformation and the protection of the digital privacy of its South African users.

The reason for summoning Facebook – which has an office in Johannesburg – is with the view of ascertaining what steps the tech giant will be taking in tackling harmful misinformation, the party said.

“The spread of Covid-related misinformation primarily through Facebook and WhatsApp – a company owned by Facebook – highlights the need for Parliament to take an active role in curbing misinformation.”

The DA added that the aim of questioning Facebook should be to ensure that the interests of the people of South Africa are protected and not an attempt to exert control or limit freedom of expression.

“South Africa’s parliament is currently being left behind while legislators across the globe push for social media reform and strengthened content moderation on social media platforms.

“In the South African context, and in line with our Constitution, stronger content moderation would mean removing content that incites violence; and advocates for hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion. Full freedom of expression that does not fall into this categories must be protected.”

Another issue requiring thorough examination and interrogation is to what extent the digital privacy of South African Facebook and WhatsApp users is being protected, the party said.

“The digital transformation of South Africa must begin now. The wearing of “4IR” jackets and inserting “4IR” in every speech as a mere cool buzzword does not make digital transformation happen.

“While governments across the world and on the African continents have embraced innovation and technological advancement, South Africa lags behind – an old bureaucracy unable to move with the times to improve service delivery and create new jobs.”

The DA said it is hopeful that this is a proposal that will be considered favourably by the rest of the members of parliament’s communications committee.

Read: There’s a big problem with South Africa’s plans for digital tax

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WhatsApp and Facebook could face government questioning in South Africa