Accessing accurate public information

Zanele Mngadi By Zanele Mngadi

Through social media apps, websites, and other digital tools, the internet gives us a lot of ways to connect with each other. This makes information easy to find.

However, the ease with which we get information online makes it hard to determine how true it is. The COVID-19 pandemic is a great example of this challenge because knowledge spread very quickly through our phones and social media sites.

During this dark time, scary fake news spread very quickly, making it harder for people to get the right information and stay safe, which was bad for their health and made them less likely to trust others.

In order to fight fake news, the South African government set up many ways for people to easily get true and accurate information. This included the SA Coronavirus website, social media accounts, and regular updates for the whole country.

Lessons from the pandemic
Because of the pandemic, government learned that giving people easy access to reliable information gave them the tools they needed to make smart choices about how to protect their health.

Building on the success of spreading information widely during COVID-19, government has adopted a multi-media approach that uses all forms of media to give South Africans more power by giving them accurate information about problems facing the country, the government's solutions, and programmes meant to bring about change.

Government just recently set up two WhatsApp channels, governmentza and the PresidencyZA, that people can follow to get regular updates on things that affect everyone, like chances for legal education and work.

This adds to government’s social media platform GovernmentZA, which lets people get true information right away and talk to the government directly. People should follow these social media pages on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, TikTok, WhatsApp, X, and YouTube, as well as government websites like https://www.gov.za, https://www.gcis.gov.za/, and https://www.thepresidency.gov.za/, to get accurate news about issues that affect the whole country. 

The GCIS also has its own in-house news agency, SAnews (https://www.sanews.gov.za/) which provides regular news updates on matters of public concern, at no cost.  In addition the GCIS launched a podcast, Vuk Talks to give people more access to information about government programmes. It’s on YouTube and Spotify.

Our online presence adapts to the changing needs of our citizens, but we also make sure that people who don’t have access to the internet can still get information.

The government tries to get accurate and reliable news to millions of people in rural areas and townships. Over the years Vuk’uzenzele newspaper has touched the lives of many people. It also brought the government to closer to the people through Izimbizo and partnerships with local community radio stations.  From April 2024 on, the newspaper will only be available online, but its articles will still be useful to everyone in South Africa.  We have also partnered with SABC 2 on the 13-part series Citizens Connect in an attempt to educate more citizens. 

The value of accurate information

All of these online platforms let people to easily get reliable information directly from the government about their lives, our country, and the world we live in. Reliable information is essential to make democracy work. The opposite is equally true: inaccurate information, often a result of fake news, can be dangerous to democracy, especially during big national events such as elections.

As the seventh national and provincial elections get closer, people are being warned to be careful of fake news online, especially since new technologies make it hard to tell the difference between fact and fiction.

With the rise of deep fake content, fake content can seem credible. Dishonest people use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to make fake videos, pictures, and audio recordings of other people. Public figures, such as our political leaders, are often the targets of these attacks.

Be vigilant at all times

Government urges every citizen to be wary of falling victim to fake news. Pay close attention to face features and lip movements that don’t match up on videos because that can be a sign of deep fake content. If in doubt, verify the information you receive via trustworthy information sources (such as government platforms). That’s how you can learn the truth  and make smart decisions about your future. 

If you use social media and websites as sources of information, make sure that they are real. It’s easy to miss fake accounts or profiles because their names sound a lot like real ones. So, double-check the writing of the profiles and websites you follow.

Every South African needs to make sure that the news they spread comes from reliable sources. Let’s all stay alert all times to avoid being duped by fake news. Let’s all play our part to make our democracy strong. Let’s fight disinformation.

By Zanele Mngadi is Chief Director:  Products and Platforms at GCIS