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.”