The information age has brought with it many opportunities as well as challenges. Is it not ironic that in this digital age where information is supposed to be available at our fingertips it has actually left citizens disempowered and disillusioned? Instead of citizens or audiences being empowered by having unfettered access to information, they are seeing the resurrection of the opinion leaders of the 1960s through the rise of disinformation and misinformation.
Most media audiences will just swallow any information posted, tweeted or shared without engaging in critical thinking depending on who said it and in what context. Some facts and truths are also dismissed depending on who has said them.
The purveyors of disinformation and misinformation prey on the susceptibility or partisan potential of recipients whom they hope to enlist as amplifiers and multipliers. While social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp are to be embraced as tools to enhance communication, they have become weapons to mislead others.
In this information age, we have seen a rise in fake news to the detriment of nations and individuals. Social media has become a weapon to lie, destroy, discredit, sully, and tarnish individuals, organisations and even countries.
With globalisation, fake news has truly become a global problem, extending beyond the political sphere to all aspects of information and Zimbabwe has not been spared. The levels of toxicity on social media are unprecedented and its unfortunate how lies are quickly spread without any fact-checking on the part of the amplifiers who are normally the audiences. As the old adage goes, lies run sprints but the truth runs marathons comes alive on these platforms.
Disinformation disguised as news emanating from all corners of the world specifically from those who wield power to influence the masses such as journalists and politicians is just the tip of an iceberg on the potential dangers of misinformation.
Disinformation is circulated via social media, which has loosely connected networks of individuals who simultaneously have Twitter with identical hash tags and messages to spread rumours. This is also true for Facebook groups/pages and WhatsApp groups and Telegram among other social media platforms.
Anyone who dares to go against the grain is removed or blocked on the social platforms. One can define disinformation as the spreading of information that is false, and the person who is disseminating it knows that it is deceitful. It is a deliberate, intentional lie, and points to people being actively misinformed by malicious actors.
This falsehood is usually picked by people who are under the influence of the originator of the lie and run with it. It then becomes misinformation when the information is false, but the person who is disseminating it believes that it is true. Individuals on social media unwittingly published a number of rumours, which have turned out to be untrue through retweets, shares, likes etc after being misled by their "favourites." A claim by a senior opposition leader Tendai Biti on Twitter that the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) was to introduce a new currency within the week is one such example.
Biti made the claims, despite the fact that when the RBZ introduces a new currency, it usually runs mass campaigns before the introduction of the new currency.
This claim was taken as the gospel truth and the lie spread like veld fire such that by the time the RBZ issued a statement refuting the claim the damage had already been done.
Biti's supporters believed this and joined in saying the opposition had scuttled the plans by the RBZ to introduce the new currency. Disinformation is generally used to refer to deliberate and often well-orchestrated attempts to confuse or manipulate people through delivering dishonest information to them and Biti did exactly that. The markets were almost disturbed by that rumour.
The audience is usually gullible and based on confirmation bias, they believe everything their leaders feed them. Confirmation bias is the tendency by the audience to process information by looking for, or interpreting, information that is consistent with one's already existing beliefs.
This biased approach to decision making is largely unintentional and often results in ignoring inconsistent information or new information presented such as the rebuttal in the RBZ statement. Purveyors of misinformation normally take advantage of that. How many times have people fallen victim to fake news because of confirmation bias? One just needs to follow "Zwitter" as the Zimbabwean Twitter community is popularly referred to.
Information and tweets from their "favourites" is often taken as the gospel truth without being questioned. It is easy for disinformation and misinformation to go viral with distribution amplified by "trust networks" and emotional reactions triggered by confirmation bias and lack of fact checking.
There is information contestation on social media and if one tries to share their opinion or the alternative which is contrary to the bias of some participants then one is lynched and cyber bullied. This happened to Tsitsi Masiyiwa who was forced to close her Twitter account after she was bullied for expressing her opinions.
Zimbabwe has been in the limelight after the opposition-led skirmishes that happened in January. Regrettably, lives were lost including a police officer in Bulawayo. Property worth thousands of dollars was burnt and looted. These violent and criminal acts have become fodder for the purveyors of fake news and misinformation. Non-governmental organisations such as the Human Rights Forum, Crisis Coalition, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty Zimbabwe took advantage of these disturbances and were at the forefront of spreading misinformation through dossiers presented to donors. The dossiers are used to elicit more funding from donors.
In their reports the NGOs claimed that two people whose names appear on their list were allegedly shot and killed by the security forces.
One was Tinashe Kaitano and another 26 year old "veteran" journalist Elizabeth Zimunda, it was claimed. Investigations all show that Zimunda does not exist. This exposed the disinformation and misinformation peddled by the NGOs.
Kaitano appeared in a Kadoma court charged with public violence. He was not dead as claimed. Major journalist organisations such as Misa and Zuj did not pick up the story. This raised a stench.
Further investigations revealed that Crisis Coalition announced her burial as 27 January while her supposed employer said 21 January. How the veteran journalist got to be buried twice, just boggles the mind. Western powers then use this disinformation to extend the sanctions against the country.
Dewa Mavhinga, the Human Rights Watch merchant of propaganda retreated into his cocoon and never responded to his tweet on Zimunda. It's unfortunate that there was nothing that was done to these NGOs which thrive on peddling falsehoods.
These two cases exposed the opposition and anti-Government elements' tendency to exaggerate and fabricate information to earn the sympathy of the West and fleece it of some funds.
The West has bought the opposition's victimhood strategy hook, line and sinker in order to spite Zanu-PF. All this proves that disinformation and misinformation is the new battle the country now faces.
Source - Davison Kaiyo.
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