South Africa and the rest of the African continent are not immune to the dangers of disinformation campaigns, and the impact is felt even more now than ever. This was the focal point for the forum today, as these critical players examined the intersection between cyber security and disinformation campaigns in Africa.
Over the last three years, the digital presence of private and public entities has increased exponentially. The increased scope and opportunity for malicious actors to disseminate disinformation have resulted in reputational damage and financial loss for organisations and entities.
Professor Sibusiso Vil-Nkomo, Executive Dean of the Thabo Mbeki African School of Public and International Affairs, opened the conference, followed by the Spanish Ambassador to South Africa, H.E. Raimundo Robredo Rubio, who reflected on the evolving disinformation challenges and the need for closer cooperation between governments, academia and the private sector. “We need to prepare for the conflicts of the future, and disinformation will be the main weapon of these conflicts. Democracy, prosperity and even human rights might be object of hybrid threats. We need to understand how these threats work if we want to safeguard our societies”.
Andre Pienaar, C5 Capital Founder and CEO, a major player in the cyber security, space and nuclear power sectors, facilitated a panel with Lord Robin Renwick, previous British Ambassador to South Africa and the United States, who also authored a book on the threat of disinformation.
Andre Pienaar, CEO and Founder at C5 Capital, commented: “Disinformation is increasingly a tactic used by hackers to deceive individual targets, enterprises, governments and nations. Our conference today brought together experts with journalists, civil society, business and governments to raise awareness of this serious threat in South Africa and Africa. The best antidote for disinformation is an open conversation in South Africa, journalists with integrity and a society capable of critical thinking.”
Most recently, disinformation campaigns have been used to influence the outcome of elections, spread false medical data about COVID-19 vaccine drives, and lay the groundwork for cyber-attacks on the continent. In South Africa, disinformation campaigns and ever-increasing cyber-attacks have negatively impacted local economic and social growth.
The Disinformation Conference’s purpose was to start a dialogue between the public and private sectors on this crucial topic, creating awareness around disinformation while investigating its root causes. There is growing concern about the lack of awareness about cyber-attacks and the role that misinformation campaigns on media platforms play to polarise and mislead narratives on the African continent.
“African countries are increasingly becoming the targets of sophisticated nation-state level disinformation campaigns and cyber-attacks, the effects of which can undermine the trust needed to bring much-needed international investment to the continent. In order for any company that operates in the online space to protect itself, and its stakeholders, a robust partnership to combat the effects of cybercrime and disinformation is vital. We at Liquid are proud to be part of this important forum to raise awareness,” said Deon Geyser, CEO of Liquid Intelligent Technologies, South Africa.
This is a significant step towards cultivating public awareness that will see private sector and government officials joining efforts to probe the impact of threats in the online space and find ways to combat disinformation. But unfortunately, disinformation and the damage it can cause is a reality. Today’s conference was a much-needed initiative to address this growing concern that can destroy the social fabric of societies and sovereign democracies on the African continent and beyond.