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Google’s Contributions Ensuring Election Integrity in SA

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Vusi Melane
Vusi Melane
Staff Writer

Google is committed to upholding election integrity in South Africa. Fair and transparent elections play a critical role in democracy.

This year- 2024, South Africa celebrates 30 years since the dawn of its democracy, alongside its 7th election. South Africa will hold its democratic elections on the 29th of May. 


Aligned with their commitment to organizing the world’s information for universal access and utility, Google has taken several measures to bolster election integrity in South Africa. These efforts include providing voters with high-quality information, safeguarding their platforms against misuse, and equipping campaigns with top-notch security tools and training. Moreover, Google will intensify these endeavors by leveraging the potential of artificial intelligence- AI.

Here’s a summary of Google’s initiatives:

Connecting people to reliable and trustworthy information

I EC
IEC. Image sourced from Mail & Guardian.

Throughout elections, both experienced and first-time voters in South Africa will actively seek information about different candidates, voting locations, and campaign agendas. Here are some of the ways Google will facilitate access to the information they need:

  • Search: Google Search surfaces high quality, authoritative information. When people search for topics like “how to vote,” they will find information about ID requirements, voting stations and more — linking to authoritative sources from its partners such as the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC).
  • YouTube: During an election, voters across the country come to YouTube to get news and information from a diverse set of authoritative news sources. For example, when voters search for election-related topics, YouTube’s recommendation system prominently surfaces election content in search results, the homepage and the “watch next” panel. At the same time, human reviewers and machine learning technology combine to detect, review and remove content that violates Google’s policies.
  • Ads: To support responsible and transparent political advertising, all advertisers who wish to run election ads in South Africa must complete an identity verification process and display an in-ad disclosure that clearly shows who paid for the ad. We also limit targeting of election ads to the following general categories: age, gender, and general location (postal code level). All election ads are published in our Political Ads Transparency Report, where anyone can look up information such as how much was spent and how many impressions were received.

Providing political candidates and campaigns with security features and training

In addition to ensuring South African voters have access to accurate and timely information, Google is dedicated to assisting high-risk users, such as campaign and election officials, in enhancing their security measures. Google aims to educate them on effectively utilizing its products and services to engage with voters and manage their digital presence.

  • Security tools: We offer free services like our Advanced Protection Program — Google’s strongest set of cyber protections — and Project Shield, which provides unlimited protection against Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks.
  • Training: In collaboration with IEC, Google has trained representatives of political parties on its elections integrity work including product policies, recommended security protocols as well as reporting and removal processes for harmful and illegal content.

Protecting online information around elections

Ensuring access to reliable information online during the election period in South Africa is essential. Google is continually improving its enforcement systems and collaborating with the broader ecosystem to combat misinformation.

  • Enforcing its policies: Google has long-standing policies that inform how it approaches areas like manipulated media, hate and harassment, and incitement to violence — along with policies around demonstrably false claims that could undermine trust or participation in democratic processes, for example in YouTube’s Community Guidelines and our unreliable claims policy for advertisers. Google’s Trust & Safety teams are equipped with local knowledge and language expertise to monitor for and enforce upon content that violates its policies. And with recent advances in its Large Language Models (LLMs), Google is building faster and more adaptable enforcement systems that enable it to remain nimble and take action even more quickly when new threats emerge.
  • Tackling coordinated influence operations: Google’s Threat Analysis Group (TAG) helps identify, monitor and tackle emerging threats, ranging from coordinated influence operations to cyber espionage campaigns against high-risk entities – and reports on actions taken in our quarterly TAG bulletin.
  • Working with the wider ecosystem to safeguard election integrity: Google is working with industry players such as the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC), Media Monitoring Africa (MMA), and TikTok through a Framework of Cooperation, designed to protect and safeguard the integrity of the elections and fight against misinformation. This framework allows signatories to work together to promote access to information, candidates conduct awareness campaigns on elections, and provides training to political parties, and other key stakeholders on addressing misinformation.
  • Establishing a fact-checking coalition with South African media: Google is funding a fact-checking coalition led by Africa Check with South African media which works together to fact-check claims made by political parties, provide voters with reliable, non-partisan information on key issues, and equip the public with the skills they need to identify election misinformation. Africa Check is also supporting national and local media with election reporting training and workshops. Through the Google News Initiative it will support a further six fact-checking coalitions across the African continent as more countries head to the polls this year.
  • News publisher workshops: Additionally, Google will be offering workshops to help news partners to optimise their YouTube presence during the election period, including how to utilise YouTube tools and understand platform guidelines, along with strategies for election coverage on YouTube.

Helping people navigate AI-generated content

With the increasing interaction with AI-generated content, Google has implemented policies and tools to assist audiences in navigating it:

  • Ads disclosures: Google is the first tech company to require advertisers to disclose when their election ads include synthetic content that inauthentically depicts real or realistic-looking people or events. This includes ads that were created with the use of AI. Our ads policies already prohibit the use of manipulated media to mislead people, like deep fakes or doctored content.
  • Content labels on YouTube: YouTube’s misinformation policies prohibit technically manipulated content that misleads users and could pose a serious risk of egregious harm. YouTube also requires creators to disclose when they’ve created realistic altered or synthetic content and will display a label that indicates for people when the content, they’re watching is synthetic and realistic.
  • A responsible approach to Generative AI products: In line with Google’s principled and responsible approach to its generative AI products like Gemini and Search Generative Experience (SGE), Google has prioritised testing across safety risks ranging from cybersecurity vulnerabilities to misinformation and fairness. Out of an abundance of caution on such an important topic, Google is restricting the types of election-related queries for which Gemini and SGE will return responses.
  • Watermarking: SynthID, a tool from Google DeepMind, directly embeds a digital watermark into AI-generated images and audio.

This effort builds upon the work that Google undertakes during elections throughout the African continent and other regions, in line with its enduring commitment to bolstering democratic processes. As Google enters a phase of increased political engagement in South Africa and across Africa, its dedication to informing voters by providing high-quality information, safeguarding its platform from malicious actors, and aiding campaigns in enhancing its security and digital presence remains steadfast.

 

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