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Africa Blog


How Google is Supporting Election Integrity in South Africa

South African Elections

2024 is an important year for elections across the world, with many countries going into the polls to elect their leaders for the forthcoming years. South Africa will hold its 7th democratic elections on 29 May, in a year that marks the country’s 30th anniversary of democracy.

In line with our commitment to helping organise the world’s information, making it universally accessible and useful, Google has undertaken a number of steps to support election integrity in South Africa by surfacing high quality information to voters, safeguarding our platforms from abuse and equipping campaigns with the best-in-class security tools and training. We’ll also do this work with an increased focus on the role artificial intelligence (AI) might play. Here is an overview of our efforts:

Connecting people to reliable and trustworthy information

During elections, both seasoned and new voters in South Africa will be actively seeking information around various candidates, voting locations, and campaign agendas. Here are some of the ways we make it easy for people to find what 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 our 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 our 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.

Equipping political candidates and campaigns with security features and training

Besides ensuring that South African voters are fully equipped with accurate and timely information, we are working hard to help high-risk users, such as campaign and election officials, improve their security and to educate them on how to use our products and services to connect with voters and manage their digital presence.

  • Security tools: We offer free services like our Advanced Protection Program — our strongest set of cyber protections — and Project Shield, which provides unlimited protection against Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks.
  • Training: In collaboration with IEC, we have trained representatives of political parties on our 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

Maintaining access to trustworthy information online during the election period in South Africa is crucial. We continue to enhance our enforcement systems as well as work with the wider ecosystem in the fight against misinformation.

  • Enforcing our policies: We have long-standing policies that inform how we approach 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. Our Trust & Safety teams are equipped with local knowledge and language expertise to monitor for and enforce upon content that violates our policies. And with recent advances in our Large Language Models (LLMs), we’re building faster and more adaptable enforcement systems that enable us to remain nimble and take action even more quickly when new threats emerge.
  • Tackling coordinated influence operations: Our 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 we 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, we 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

As more people interact with AI-generated content, we have introduced policies and tools to help audiences navigate:

  • Ads disclosures: We were 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 our principled and responsible approach to our generative AI products like Gemini and Search Generative Experience (SGE), we’ve prioritised testing across safety risks ranging from cybersecurity vulnerabilities to misinformation and fairness. Out of an abundance of caution on such an important topic, we’re 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 all builds on work we do around elections across the African continent and in other regions, as part of our longstanding commitment to supporting democratic processes. As we enter into a period of heightened political activity in South Africa and across Africa, we remain committed to informing voters by surfacing high quality information, protecting our platform from bad actors, as well as assisting campaigns in managing their security and digital presence.