“Journalism has changed tremendously because of the democratization of information. Anybody can put something up on the Internet. It’s harder and harder to find what the truth is.”
Fake news articles which have caused much havoc during and after the US Presidential campaign are not a new phenomenon in Zimbabwe. Every year rumours of President Mugabe’s death circulate just after he takes his annual leave in December, while music superstar Oliver Mtukudzi dies 3 times a year. Unlike in America where its fake news is imported from eastern Europe, ours is made right here in Zimbabwe.
By Victor Mabutho
There is a market for fake news that’s why it spreads so quickly, especially when spreaders (won’t even call them journalists) and readers don’t have knowledge of the basic tenets of journalism such as verifying facts and objectivity. Without checking the authenticity of a story it’s quickly shared on social media as if there’s a competition to break the story first. In some cases these spreaders know exactly what they are doing, creating stories to attack attention. Fake news stories are usually on topic on politics, celebrities, sex and scandal.
Websites which target Zimbabweans in the Diaspora are the main culprits of rumour mongering and falsehoods. These sites amplify stories by advertising on the Google search engine and Facebook so as to get the highest number of hits, making money on advertising revenue generated from the amount of reader traffic to the site. It doesn’t really matter if a story is true or false. Whatsapp has become the fake news weapon of choice, because it’s cheap and sharing to groups is just a few touches away.
These sites get away with murder as victims of falsehoods usually lick their wounds instead of taking legal action, but even if you do sue these sites it’s difficult to know who or where the owners are. This is why the traditional newspapers still have a large readership online, because even though they may have an editorial bias, the information is verified before it’s published.
In 2016 a woman was falsely accused to injecting her step son with her HIV positive blood, a story which shook the nation, only after she was arrested and detained was it discovered that it was a lie, oh and she’s HIV negative. A shocking rumour of Maranatha students involved in a tragic accident also spread, yet the children didn’t even go on a trip. Having the slightest resemblance of pornographic performers will get you labeled as having sex tape ask Ammara Brown and Sandra Ndebele.
Fake news destroys one’s character and even after the story is checked to be false the damage is already been done. You can’t recall messages that have been forwarded to hundreds if not thousands of people, it’s not like bad milk which you can replace with the fresh one. How can we defend liberalization of the sending and receiving information if we abuse, giving our paranoid government a scapegoat to clamp down on social media.
Enshrined in Section 61 of our Constitution is the Freedom of Expression and freedom of the media which guarantees the freedom to seek, receive and communicate ideas and information responsibly. This freedom excludes the malicious injury to a person’s reputation and unwarranted breach of one’s right to privacy.
You must take what you read on social media with a pinch of salt. Scrutinise the information; check the story with the large circular dailies or weeklies, before you go spread something to a group. In this age of fake news it’s better to be rational than emotional.