The deluge of fake stories that aim to sway populations first came to the fore in the West during the US election in 2016, spread to Europe, and is now appearing in countries such as Africa’s Zimbabwe.
The reforming nation regularly sees fake stories circulated on social media and websites, often seeking to discredit the government.
Most recently a fake news story spread on social media platform WhatsApp claiming that (sic) “The European Union EU have issued a travel warning to its citizens” against traveling to Zimbabwe.
This was blatantly false as the EU has issued no such warning. In fact, the EU mission in Zimbabwe has not issued any statements or tweets since the beginning of the year.
The travel advice regarding Zimbabwe offered by the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, meanwhile, dates back to January 15th and affirms that the situation in Zimbabwe is “normalizing”.
By contrast, the recently circulated WhatsApp message claimed that “the reports coming from the Souther (sic) African country Zimbabwe reveals that all is not well and that massive labour protests are to occur nation wide”.
This was the latest poorly written attempt clearly aimed at undermining the efforts of President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is in the process of implementing wide-ranging reforms to stabilize the Zimbabwean economy.
These attempts come after decades of misrule by former President Robert Mugabe that brought the former ‘bread basket of Africa’ to its knees.
The Zimbabwean government is often targeted by fake stories that circulate on websites. For example, last Friday (24 May), ZWnews.com claimed that a coup was imminent, with Vice President Constantino Chiwenga and the army about to oust President Mnangagwa.
Headlined ‘Chiwenga, Army to oust Mnangagwa through Operation Restore Economy coup’, the story claimed that “well placed military intelligence sources” had signalled that the president would be forced to resign “after failing to resolve Zimbabwe’s economic crisis”.
Zimbabwe is not the first developing country to be targeted in this way, nor will it be the last. But in a country with a young population that increasingly gets its news via the internet, such misinformation can have a huge impact.
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