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Of fake news and social media

The “digitisation” of the traditional newspaper in Zimbabwe has been ongoing for more than a decade with an upsurge of smartphones and tablets equipped with easy-to-use tools that have enabled readers to become active participants in the production and distribution of news and information through various networking sites.

By Tinotenda Samukange

There has been discussion in the media circles for the past few weeks on the effect of what is termed “fake news” on social media. But can Zimbabwe be spared from such cyber-attacks with it’s over 90% unemployment rate?

The term fake news refers to hoaxes, misinformation or propaganda published by websites that benefit from the traffic generated by their misleading leads or headlines. Unlike news satire, where humour is the object, fake news sites seek to increase their traffic by knowingly circulating false stories.

The emergence of “Baba Jukwa”, a faceless social media character in 2013 — a few months before the presidential elections — gave birth to social media negligence in Zimbabwe as the masses were becoming more desperate for information.

Despite the Facebook page dishing out sensitive news about Zanu PF big-wigs, it also carried a commercial imperative — it had a PayPal account and was open for donations.

Due to this socio-economic decay, social media use has since been on the rise with some individuals recording videos and circulating them on WhatsApp and Facebook for financial benefit.

Internet costs are still restrictive to a lot of Zimbabweans such that many have resorted to partially accessing WhatsApp and Facebook at the charge of $3 per month.

According to Techzim website, the leading drivers of broadband consumption for Zimbabweans are WhatsApp and Facebook, which collectively account for over a third of data used.

This gives power to these two services not only as communication platforms to interact, but as primary sources of any information that passes through it, whether checked or unchecked.

Some social media skits have given birth to “new media houses” such as 263Chat, Nafuna TV, P.O.Box and Bustop TV, to mention a few.

Information, Media and Broadcasting Services minister Chris Mushowe

Information, Media and Broadcasting Services minister Chris Mushowe

In August, Information and Broadcasting Services minister Christoper Mushowe (pictured above) warned Zimbabweans circulating against “terror” messages on social media.

“Let all Zimbabweans be warned and keep away from associating with programmes and activities that fall outside of the law and legal political activities. Government is aware of activists in the country collaborating with the diaspora cyber terrorists. They must be warned that the long arm of the law is encircling them,” said Mushowe
In a healthy economy, social media is used to proffer developmental issues as compared to deteriorating economies where the masses tend to use it to air their grievances and for their voices to be heard.

The online environment is more conducive for “citizen participation”, with its limited control over their content.

This has, however, compromised the traditional boundaries of news production, and tends to undermine the journalistic role of gatekeeping, thereby giving room for magnifying inaccuracy.

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