The power of fake news

By Sam Nkogatse

According to Wikipedia, we had Spanish Flu in January 1918 – December 1920 where 500 million people died worldwide. These years remain a tragic part of the world’s history, something we shall never forget. This year, the world finds itself deep in the throes of another pandemic, COVID-19. Churches are closed and some have suspended their large communal services. Some land borders and seaports are closed, so are schools and shopping centers. This is something that has never happened before in South Africa. To the majority of us, it is like the world is coming to an end.

All I know is that COVID-19 is here and all of us need to adhere to the rules that are given to us by our officials so that we can survive the war against this pandemic. Sometimes I feel like it is all just a pipe dream- to think that we can fight and conquer this pandemic. How will we succeed when we are driven by the power of fake news? If we stop spreading fake news, we can be certain of victory.

I’ve noticed that a lot of people are misinformed due to the fake news that is circulating on social media. This, especially affects people who are living in rural areas, people like myself. The majority of us rely on social media for information. I am saddened to see our fellow brothers and sisters in a panic because of this. They have lost hope and have no faith that the nation can overcome this. I have never seen them like this before. The circulation of fake news has put doubt in the minds of the people. A significant number no longer trust the information given by the media, be it radio or newspaper. Some don’t understand the difference between COVID-19 and regular flu.

Some of the fake news I have read on social media suggest that COVID-19 is only for people who travel abroad. It says that those who were in China or one of the European countries are those who are likely to be infected. The news reported that Black people are immune to the virus. One online news article reported that 50 people have already died in South Africa due to COVID-19. Hoax news is a big threat to most people who rely on social media for information. They start to panic. They think about the poor delivery of services in their area, including the fact that they do not have access to proper health care facilities, what will happen to them if the virus reaches their areas?

I have experienced a lot of pain in seeing fellow South Africans making a joke out of this situation and defying instructions. Even during the period of a national lockdown, we still see people loitering the streets, led by the power of fake news that the national lockdown is only for the ‘middle class’ or people who have access to a ‘better life.’

I don’t take this pandemic lightly. As an entrepreneur, I am battling with stress as my business is suffering. We’ve had to go on lockdown and have lost much of the income. My business supplies the government with books for their school libraries. Factories had to go on lockdown too, this means that we will not be able to print and deliver on time.

I rely on the news a lot, being informed helps me overcome challenges, that’s why I understand the need to stay home and safe.

I have read stories from different media platforms. I am inspired by how our President has responded to the call to lockdown. Organisations like ACTIVATE! Change Drivers have also given me tons of inspiration by putting together information about COVID-19 and measures to carry out in order to stay safe. The Department of Science and Innovation “Is engaging stakeholders to mobilise funding and reprioritise research strategies. It has ready redirected R4 million from other projects,” quoted from a government newspaper.

I urge everyone to ensure that fake news does not influence our behaviour or make us believe that COVID-19 is a lie or something to joke about. COVID-19 is real. As per the government update, spreading fake news about COVID-19, intentionally, can land one in jail. Also, intentionally exposing another person to the virus could see you prosecuted for assault and attempted murder.

It is never easy to know or spot fake news. One has to verify the source before they can be sure if the news is accurate. The following are questions that can be used to verify the information:

  1. Who is the creator?
  2. What is the message?
  3. Why was this created?

While fake news can take many forms, there are several broad types.

Deliberate Misinformation

This is news that is written for profit and then shared on social media among targeted groups of people who want to believe that it is true. The intention is for the fake news to spread without readers taking the time to properly verify it. This type of fake news is untrue news.

False Headlines

A news headline may read one way or state something as fact, but then the body of the article says something different. The internet term for this type of misleading fake news is “clickbait”- headlines that catch a reader’s attention to make them click on the fake news. This type of fake news is misleading at best and untrue at worst.

In order to avoid sharing fake news or to be a victim thereof, one needs to avoid sharing anything without verifying it. Social media- Facebook to be specific- is more likely to be a center of sharing. People share from one post to the other or even “copy and paste” without making sure that they are sharing accurate information. At this time of the season, we are facing a huge challenge- mostly due to this pandemic. A lot of people have time to play around and surf the internet to ‘beat the lonely days’ by creating contents that is not researched.

Word of mouth, itself, can be a source or means to spread fake news. Consider people living in rural areas, for example, we mostly rely on hearsay. Once a certain person says a thing or two, we find it well to believe them without following-up.

You can get more accurate information on COVID-19 by sending a whatsapp message to: 060 012 3456 or calling the coronavirus hotline on: 080 002 9999.

Source: Wikipedia

Government newspaper, Vuk’uzenzele April 2020 Edition 1

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