Columnists

Fake news has potential to divide nation

BRIAN Malama.

Analysis: BRIAN MALAMA
THE spread of false information is hardly new or unique to the current political moment.
It has historical roots in sensationalist journalism, foreign espionage, propaganda, and partisan debates—a collection of approaches far richer than suggested by the phrase “fake news”.
This historical context does not make disinformation any less dangerous, however.
Understanding how disinformation is exploited by political actors both internal and external to the state, how existing divisions and polarisation create the conditions for disinformation to be more effective, and the ways in which technologies incentivise or disrupt disinformation, is critical.
Amid technological advancements I endeavour to ponder and explore the most effective means of identifying and countering false information, as well as the challenges in doing so, as a professional journalist.
As a seasoned journalist, I sat down to analyse three aspects of the current moment in misinformation: the status of facts/persistence of misinformation; the speed, virility, and spread of misinformation; and what we—or anyone—can do to correct or manage the misinformation that already exists.
My conclusions are very clear for the onus of tackling this problem is embedded in us as journalists and the general citizenry. Who else? Should we ask ourselves! What has happened to my society and cultural values with regard to safeguarding our interests today and if tomorrow comes?
Fake news, or fabricated content deceptively presented as real news, has garnered a lot of interest since 2015 when President Edgar Lungu took over the mantle from President Michael Sata following his demise.
Although hardly a new phenomenon, the global nature of the web-based information environment allows purveyors of all sorts of falsehoods and misinformation to make an international impact.
As a result, we talk of fake news and its impact not only in Zambia but also in the United States, France, Italy and Germany, to mention but a few.
Even though the rise of fake news in recent months is undeniable, its impact is a different story.
Many opposition leaders have developed a self-deceptive notion and belief that fake news could help them get elected.
The amount of fake news being generated is getting a lot of traction on social media, at times even outperforming actual hard news stories by professionally trained journalists.
It is plausible to argue that this fake news, rumour-mongering, malice and innuendo have gained some level of foothold among the electorate and the general public.
Those with intentions of forming alternative government must therefore provide leadership through honest political overtures rather than misguiding the publics.
The malformation circulated via social media and a few radio stations is slowly degenerating into hate speech and xenophobia targeting a particular group.
The riots in Kitwe over alleged sale of the Zambia Forestry and Forest Industries Corporation (ZAFFICO) is one typical example of fake news.
This misinformation was made public by a senior political figure. It is, therefore, important for society to subject itself to various sources of information.
Given that we are in the information-age society, we should therefore be more judicious by reading alternative media which in many cases broadcast or print fairly written articles.
For example, it should not be a challenge for people to quickly verify information with their civic leaders, Christian radio stations, government websites or through the public broadcaster and print media using online-based platforms.
I have come to conclude that Zambians at home and in the Diaspora are increasingly polarised along ideological lines, and this affective polarisation tends to trigger motivated reasoning — an unconscious, biased way of processing information which makes even smart people believe in falsehoods that support their ideological and partisan predispositions.
This is a very sad scenario which calls for immediate stop. This cancer slowly maturing at the back of our minds subconsciously may rapture into serious ramifications detrimental to our 54-year-old democratic tenets.
President Lungu has guided the citizenry to love and to care for one another – hence our national motto One Zambia, One Nation. As journalists and social media bloggers, our responsibility lies in honest, accurate and fair comment.
This hate speech and fake news has a huge potential of dividing this great nation, let alone hurting the already fragile economy.
The author is Zambia Daily Mail photo editor.

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