Curse of digital media

LUCY Lumbe.

Analysis: LUCY LUMBE
DURING my recent interview with Bloomberg Media Global Head of Digital and Media Distribution Scott Havens, he revealed that with the emergence of digital media, it is slowly replacing traditional media sources but with it comes disadvantages.
Mr Havens said global media trends as a result of technological advancements have both cons and pros though he weighs the cons to be threats to the greater good of society.
Digital media is primarily any media that is encoded in a machine readable format, over the years, digital media has been a forerunner across all social media platforms, of which ‘content’ remains the key priority.
Blogs and platforms, such as WhatsApp, have become major sources of news for many internet users.
But information reaching the wrong hands remains a great threat to national peace and security to any country.
“I remember reading a story about the Brazilian elections and how WhatsApp was being used as a distributor of fake news and was causing a major risk within families and the country at large,” Mr Havens said.
He said as digital media is slowly overshadowing traditional media, most people are using social media as a channel to spread fake news or mobilise groups, which becomes a danger to the country and it’s Government.
Though the internet is a lucrative platform, it is also a territory for malevolent forces to operate due to its international nature, large scale, and the relative anonymity that users can enjoy and share.
Many Governments around the world have intentionally restricted public internet access for a period of time to limit free speech and access to information through internet shutdowns.
According to Access Now, a digital rights company, in 2016 there were 56 internet shutdowns across the globe, an increase compared to less than 20 shutdowns in 2015 and many of which were African countries.
Such actions are often justified in terms of preserving peace and security because social media does offer a potential platform for the dissemination of hate speech and incitement to violence.
Zambia has had its own fair share of the increasing spread of fake news through social media.
Social media has continued to be used as a tool of fake news mostly against Government and to incite violent behaviour amongst some societal groups.
The country has been flooded with fake news, with the recent news that Zambia Forestry and Forest Industries Corporation (ZAFFICO) had been sold to Chinese investors resulting in riots in Kitwe.
Earlier a stir up was caused by rumours that the national broadcaster – Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) had been taken over by China’s Top Star Communications.
The spread of fake news has also has created negative perceptions against Chinese nationals resulting in xenophobic attacks in some isolated instances.
This is a manifestation of the effects of false news and how it has the potential to destroy the country’s reputation and relations it shares and enjoys with other countries.
Recently Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services Dora Siliya bemoaned the increase of fake news and inaccurate news.
Ms Siliya said fake news is being used as a smear campaign against Government and it is negatively impacting on the economy of the country.
She said there is need for the media to be professional and self-regulatory to avoid spreading false news and information.
It is the hope of many that through the partnership of Bloomberg Media, the University of Zambia (UNZA) and University of Lusaka to offer a graduate programme in business reporting this will help reduce the spread of false news as more journalists will be trained to report factual and accurate news.
As American businessman and politician Matt Bevin once said, “While it may seem small, the ripple effects of small things is extraordinary.”
It is against this background that Government is also making tremendous strides by setting up a crack squad comprising officers from the Zambia Information and Communications Technology Authority (ZICTA) and other investigative wings to address the cases of cybercrime and fake news.
As a country we can only hope that through Government’s efforts and the coming in of Bloomberg to offer training on business reporting this will in turn reap the intended results aimed at reducing the spread of false news.
Though the creation and dissemination of false news cannot be completely wiped out but efforts and energy spent to reduce this trend will help save the economy from devastating effects of fake news propagated by individuals with ill intentions of tarnishing the image of the country.
The author is a Zambia Daily Mail correspondent.

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