DA calls for Facebook to be summoned to Parliament 

Issued by Phumzile Van Damme MP – DA Member of the Portfolio Committee on Communications & Digital Technologies
15 Feb 2021 in News

Please find attached a soundbite by Phumzile Van Damme MP.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) will be requesting 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.

Tomorrow the committee will have its first meeting of the year where the draft programme of the first term of the 2021 parliamentary calendar will be discussed.

While the programme includes necessary procedures Parliament needs to be engaged in, it is way past overdue that the committee proactively takes steps in considering matters related to the “Digital Technologies,” aspect of the portfolio.

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 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.

However, 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 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.

Intrinsic in the digital transformation first and foremost is ensuring that the digital environment has the necessary protections in place. Facebook should be first and Google, Twitter and others next.

The DA is hopeful that this is a proposal that will be considered favourably by the rest of the members of the committee