Fake news: An insidious problem

By Lazarus Sauti

THE INTERNET is an amazing place, crammed with information from different news sites, but the only problem is that some devious elements are using it to cause alarm and despondence as well as destroying people’s lives.

An escalating number of fake and spoof sites are exploding on a daily basis, spreading phony reports like wildfire on the Internet.

Most people in southern Africa woke up to a bogus news report recently suggesting that popular South African gospel artiste, Lundi Tyamara, had died after suffering from multiple diseases including anal cancer, chest pains and abdominal tuberculosis.

The fake story went viral, with fans on social media platforms expressing shock over the artiste’s ‘death’.

His manager, Anele Hlazo, however, rubbished the claims, saying “the gospel star is out of danger and his fans should not worry”.

Tales of President Robert Mugabe’s ‘death’ also gained grip recently after a ‘R.I.P Robert Mugabe’ Facebook page posted that: “At about 11AM ET on Saturday (January 21, 2017), our beloved political figure Robert Mugabe passed away…” President Mugabe’s representatives dismissed the fake reports, officially confirming that the President is not dead.

The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) also dismissed reports made on social media last weekend that its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, was dead following food poisoning.

“There is a morbid and malicious rumour circulating about President Morgan Tsvangirai,” says MDC-T Presidential spokesperson, Luke Tamborinyoka. “Zimbabweans should be rest assured that their leader is alive, well and in good health.”

Online shaming is also a tool that is used by mischief makers in Zimbabwe to tarnish the image of whomever they hate, especially women and girls, a fact supported by United Nations Women’s executive director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, who says, “Online violence has subverted the original positive promise of the Internet’s freedoms and in too many circumstances has made it chilling space that permits anonymous cruelty and facilitates harmful acts towards women and girls.”

Late last year, Zimbabweans woke up to a colossal buzz on social media platforms that the wife of socialite and businessman, Tazvi ‘Chief Joze’ Mhaka, was filmed bedding her gardener.

In an Instagram post, Mhaka dismissed the claims, saying: “The social media is abuzz with purported infidelity by my wife, friend and partner of over 15 years. There is nothing further from the truth than this absolute hogwash and filth.

“I absolutely and resolutely have nothing to fear or worry about as I find my beautiful wife, a well refined, mannered and loyal person is unfortunately being lynched by sick minds that can’t get used to my social and financial success.”

Mhaka disowned his alleged gardener, saying he is a porn-star based in the United States of America.

“I don’t know both of the people involved in that video,” he said. “The guy who was said to be my gardener is actually a porn-star from the USA from my research.”

Akin to Mhaka’s case, naive and unsuspecting social media users fall into a trap again when insensitive individuals circulated an adult video and a series of screenshots, allegedly from talented artiste, Ammara Brown’s sex tape.

Although the woman, who appears in the video has an uncanny resemblance to the singer, the video was downloaded off a porn site.

Commentator, Bernard Mutashu, says the ‘pull him/her down’ factor and the desire to shame someone are twin evils that are promoting fake news and destroying the lives of innocent people.

“Malice is forcing people to behave like animals; it is pushing people to make viral fake news and the idea is only to pull someone down,” he says.

Mutashu also says people enjoy controversy, and as such, they try as much as possible to generate it via the creation of phony reports.

“Sadly, they pay little or no attention to the damage caused by their inhumane actions,” he adds.

Journalist and musician, Best Mukundi Masinire, says although social media has given voice to the voiceless, some elements in society are using it as a weapon of mass reputation destruction.

“Deceitful people are using the Internet for the wrong reasons: to amplify slander and bullying as well as committing gender abuses,” he says.

Information technology expert, George Magombeyi, believes regulation is critical to curb ICT abuse in the country, but says it is difficult to criminalise the spread of phony reports.

“One does not need a licence to create a blog or a WhatsApp group. Because of this, it is a mammoth task to criminalise the spread of fake news on social media platforms,” he says.

The government and other stakeholders, urges IT specialist, Liliosa Mangwe, should invest in software, which traces where the message originated from.

She adds, “Although the country is drafting a Computer Crime and Cybercrime Bill to provide for investigation and collection of evidence for computer and network-related crime, the truth is that self-censorship is more efficient than trying to criminalise fake news on social media platforms.”

Gender activist, Daphne Jena, says fake news and online shaming fuel gender violence, a fact supported by a research from Pew Hispanic Centre, which adds that 65 percent of young internet users have suffered online harassment, and young women aged 18-24 are particularly vulnerable as they experience certain severe types of harassment at excessively high levels.

“In this era of viral lies and Internet shaming, people should be critical of whatever they read before spreading falsehoods as well as crucifying innocent souls,” she says, adding that people should think twice before shaming others on social media platforms.

Ruvimbo Pasi from Waterfalls, however, believes social media is not to blame for the spate of misinformation, but the mainstream media as most, if not all, people have lost faith in it.

January 2017
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