New call for public-interest access to platforms’ data-holdings 

Research ICT Africa
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20 May 2024

Twelve research groups have urged digital companies to enable data access in order to assist with independent monitoring of social media during the South African elections.

The signatories made the call in a joint statement arising from an online workshop convened by Research ICT Africa and Data Science For Social Impact (DSFSI) at the University of Pretoria. 

“Independent monitoring of social media is key to combating online disinformation and hate speech that can harm election integrity and have negative repercussions for peace and human rights,” says the statement. “This kind of access for public interest research purposes is available in the USA and the European Union, but not in Africa in general and South Africa in particular.”

It continues: “Direct and comprehensive data access is needed to independently monitor electoral-content trends, and to assess the platforms’ own performance in addressing potentially harmful content and in elevating public interest information in relation to the poll and its consequences.”

The statement highlights that accessing platforms’ data-sets through commercial providers is very costly, and also offers only a limited range of data. The signatories also expressed support for the efforts of the African Alliance for Access to Data to engage the African Union on promoting data transparency for public interest research on the continent.

In December last year, over 50 stakeholders at a workshop organised by RIA and International Media Support (IMS), issued a similar call that referred to the urgent need to monitor and formulate joint mitigation responses to disinformation and hate speech, given elections in nearly 20 African countries during 2024.