Pro­pa­ganda now pre­sented as fake news

On­line onslaught aimed at politi­cians un­likely to stop


THE PRO­LIF­ER­A­TION of fake news tar­get­ing po­lit­i­cal par­ties and cer­tain politi­cians is “new age pro­pa­ganda” that is not likely to stop, and po­lit­i­cal lead­ers have to brace them­selves for the on­line onslaught.

This is ac­cord­ing to a so­cial me­dia lawyer and a re­searcher, who were re­spond­ing to al­le­ga­tions that the ANC spent R50 mil­lion to spread fake news and pay so­cial me­dia “in­flu­encers” to dis­credit the po­lit­i­cal op­po­si­tion.

Xolani Dube, po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst and se­nior re­searcher at the Xu­bera In­sti­tute for Re­search and De­vel­op­ment, be­lieves what is now termed fake news has been around since the in­cep­tion of power.

“Pre-in­for­ma­tion age, fake news was called pro­pa­ganda and pre­served in print me­dia and ra­dio. It ex­isted by other names be­fore that. For any­thing to sus­tain it­self it needs to re­brand, so it is ap­pear­ing now as fake news and elec­tion­eer­ing sab­o­tage.”

Sab­o­tage had al­legedly been the aim of the work of an ANC team called the “war room” in the run-up to the Au­gust lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tions.

Al­le­ga­tions that its goal was to cre­ate – among oth­ers – posters de­pict­ing op­po­si­tion po­lit­i­cal par­ties neg­a­tively were con­tained in a court ap­pli­ca­tion by Sihle Bolani.

The pub­lic re­la­tions strate­gist fin­gered Shaka Sisulu, Wal­ter Sisulu’s grand­son, as her re­cruiter, as did Thami Mthimkhulu, a Dur­ban man who has now joined the #PaidTwit­ter fray. He claimed – on Twit­ter – that he was sent slan­der­ous posters to “push” on so­cial me­dia in a po­lit­i­cal-de­cep­tion cam­paign.

Bolani took the party to court for al­legedly fail­ing to pay her the R2.2m she was promised for the work.

The han­dle @Mtamerri trended on Twit­ter yes­ter­day as Mthimkhulu “ex­posed” Kananelo Sexwale, Tokyo Sexwale’s niece, and Sisulu for al­legedly re­cruit­ing him to share dis­parag­ing posters fea­tur­ing EFF and DA lead­ers. He claimed to have been re­cruited by Sisulu and re­ceived the posters from Sexwale’s “peo­ple”.

Sisulu and Sexwale have pub­licly de­nied this. Sisulu la­belled the al­le­ga­tions #Fak­e­News.

Fake news – which had his­tor­i­cally tar­geted celebri­ties – had shifted to pol­i­tics, said Ver­lie Oosthuizen, a part­ner in Shep­stone and Wylie’s so­cial me­dia law de­part­ment.

“Don­ald Trump’s elec­tion shows the im­pact of this grow­ing trend in pol­i­tics. It does a lot of dam­age, and South Africa learns very quickly,” she said.

Try­ing to pros­e­cute the cre­ators of fake news sites would be ex­tremely dif­fi­cult.

“If you could af­ford to spend the time and the money, you’d find the in­ter­net server could be in eastern Europe and the con­tent held in Amer­ica. You’d end up chas­ing leads in dif­fer­ent ju­ris­dic­tions,” said Oosthuizen.

She also high­lighted that politi­cians, like other pub­lic fig­ures, were ex­pected to have a higher tol­er­ance for abuse on­line. Neg­a­tive sto­ries were writ­ten about them all the time and, un­der­stand­ing the na­ture of the busi­ness they were in, they hardly ever ran to the courts.

The Elec­toral Com­mis­sion of SA (IEC) yes­ter­day noted the al­le­ga­tions, say­ing it would leave the mat­ter to the courts, but if cir­cum­stances re­quired it to take any fur­ther ac­tion, “it will not hes­i­tate to dis­charge its du­ties and obli­ga­tions”.

Mean­while, DA leader Mmusi Maimane has said he would ap­proach the IEC to in­ves­ti­gate the mat­ter and that they would re­fer the case to their lawyers.

“The fraud­u­lent pro­pa­ganda cam­paign by the ANC must be treated with con­tempt by all South Africans who be­lieve in the sanc­tity of the con­sti­tu­tion.”

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