Fake news and hate speeches are the crux of the issues pertaining to a decentralised internet. Causing lots of crisis in Africa on social media through unverified news and derogatory statements. This current predicament has contributed so much to the political instability, genocide, hate and intolerance we are experiencing in Africa today.
The cyberspace and digital media has been overwhelmed with so much fake news and hate contents by individuals and groups who do this in order to garner more website traffic and increase ad revenue at the detriment of the populace. Conventional media may also responsible for churning out unverified news. The average consumer ingests loads of fake news articles daily by just reading the headlines on social media. The equation is simple, misinformation and provocation is equal to clicks.
This unprofessional act has further contributed to the absence of credible information that prevents citizens from participating in public decision-making. Especially on important issues that pertain to education, health, and governance.
It is not like fake information jumps out of the page to cause harm but in a world of high tension and dicey relationships. Most times, one headline can be the catalyst of a countrywide genocide. To get a scale of this, not less than 800,000 people were killed, 250,000 women became victims of sexual violence during the Rwandan genocide in 1994 and the country is yet to fully recover from the impact of the tragedy.
In Africa today, the rate at which fake news and hate contents are published on the cyberspace and social media— both by bloggers and conventional media is saddening. Overzealous politicians, religious leaders and ethnic groups across Africa also have a share of this blame.
Unfortunately, fake news and hate speeches go viral almost immediately unlike tangible content which many regard as boring.
Case in point; Ruth First, South African anti-apartheid activist was killed by a parcel bomb addressed specifically to her in Mozambique by order of Craig Williamson, a major in the South African Police. But in place of the truth, a fake narrative went viral claiming that Joe Slovo, her husband and a similarly prominent anti-apartheid activist, had killed the woman.
Nigeria’s herder crisis has also been affected by this phenomenon. Only a few weeks ago, conventional news media notably Premium Times, Daily Trust and The Nation posted a story claiming that a leader of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, Danladi Circoma said the attacks crisis is an act of vengeance for the loss of 300 cows.
This comment drew widespread anger and swift condemnation from different quarters in Nigeria but the leaders of the herders denied ever making such statement. It later came to light it was sourced from a WhatsApp broadcast.
No one wonder governments in the continent are wasting no time in clamping down these platforms. Currently, countries like Nigeria, Cameroon, Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopia, Congo and Chad have social media under the watch of the government.
Internet and social media is good, no doubt, it has provided a perfect platform for many voices that are often ignored to be heard and has promoted networking, it has done away with gatekeepers and has created a platform. However, there is set way to curtail the influx and spread of propaganda.
The presence of social media in Africa has provided a tool for democratic engagement but, the same tool is also being used to grind down trust, damage reputations and promote division within society. These problems aggravate each other. The less people trust in the system the more likely they are to believe in news mediums and what they find on social media.
Fake news and hate speeches enhances discrimination, harassment and violence as well as disintegration among different ethnic groups which is harmful to our continent. We have to understand the gravity of these predicaments and take responsibility for the way we consume and perpetuate social media in our community.
It requires all hands on deck and everyone recognizing that we all have a part to play. Social media providers like; Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp especially should sanction these abuses.
Also, internet service providers should assist the government by providing them with malicious IPs and fake users so as to aid the fight against fake news and hate speeches. But this can also be a double edged sword as the Government might want to use this avenue to silence the people. This is where we should apply discretion.
Lastly, online news medium need to reiterate their position as reliable and trustworthy voices who can fight for the truth. The onus on us is that, we should all become aware of the enormous risks that fake news and hate speeches create and collectively as a continent, start investing in credible news sources and quality content.