Fake news ‘good’ for gov­ern­ment trans­parency

Sunday Observer - - NEWS -

The prop­a­ga­tion of fake news within African coun­tries has been hailed as con­trib­u­tor to a sem­blance of trans­parency within gov­ern­ments.

Uni­ver­sity of Malawi Lec­turer in Me­dia, Com­mu­ni­ca­tion and Cul­tural stud­ies at Chan­cel­lor Col­lege, Jimmy Kainja said fake news in the African con­text forces gov­ern­ment to be re­spon­sive and give the cor­rect in­for­ma­tion as counter.

This he said dur­ing his pre­sen­ta­tion en­ti­tled ‘Pol­i­tics of ‘Fake News’ in Africa: His­tor­i­cal per­spec­tive’ dur­ing the Busi­ness of Truth Con­fer­ence in Jo­han­nes­burg.

He said over the years, gov­ern­ments pro­pelled fake news through us­ing state me­dia, where they were not chal­lenged, or facts talked of ques­tioned.

“For too long state broadcasters were the main source of mis­in­for­ma­tion in Africa - these are set-up to pro­tect the po­lit­i­cal sta­tus quo, not pro­vid­ing in­for­ma­tion crit­i­cal to it,” he said, adding that pri­vate me­dia in the demo­cratic era faces chal­lenges by the fact which sees gov­ern­ments re­main the largest ad­ver­tiser. The with­drawal of this ad­vert­ing is usu­ally done to me­dia crit­i­cal to gov­ern­ment.

The use of me­dia to spread fake news, has, how­ever, seem­ingly back­fired as equally non-fac­tual news is spread us­ing lesser cred­i­ble sources ‘val­i­dated’ by the type of sen­der who spreads it.

He said fake news in Africa is mostly fed by ru­mours, which are the gen­eral na­ture of in­for­ma­tion gen­er­a­tion on the con­ti­nent.

“My for­mer col­league at Uni­ver­sity of Malawi, Mwiza Nkhata no­ticed "ev­ery­thing in Malawi starts as a ru­mour.",” he re­vealed adding how there was a con­tin­u­ous strug­gle for Africans to ac­cess in­for­ma­tion ev­i­denced by how only 22 coun­tries within the con­ti­nent had leg­is­lated for ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion by the end of 2017.

He stated that it was, how­ever, per­ti­nent for one to recog­nise that the fake news de­bate in Africa needed African con­text, which is dis­tinctly dif­fer­ent from that of the West.

Also, he stated that there was a need to be care­ful of shift­ing the blame of fake news on so­cial me­dia be­cause this could give African gov­ern­ments an ex­cuse to clamp on­line spa­ces in the name of fight­ing 'fake news’.

With the rise of the la­belling of news as fake, which has been given pop­u­lar­ity by Amer­i­can Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, Kainja said, “Ge­orge Ogola no­tices that "it is im­por­tant to recog­nise that for Africa, the idea of a 'post­truth' era is folly… be­cause it pre­sup­poses the ex­is­tence of an era in which truth was self- ev­i­dent. He counted some forms of art and sto­ry­telling as the orig­i­nal con­duit for the dis­sem­i­na­tion of fake news.

He noted how Africans go on­line be­cause this is the only chan­nel where in­for­ma­tion can be shared freely, “This is why African gov­ern­ments have re­sorted to In­ter­net shut­downs and so­cial me­dia tax - the aim is to con­trol and nar­row the spec­trum of ac­cept­able opin­ion.”

He did not deny that new me­dia was home of fake news which can be toxic; “A re­cent BBC re­port on fake news in Africa sug­gested that peo­ple share fake news be­cause: 1. Peo­ple trust in the sen­der of in­for­ma­tion - not car­ing about the source.”

Fur­ther, the study found that most peo­ple found read­ing to be cum­ber­some, whereas shar­ing was easy. “Shar­ing is so­cially val­i­dat­ing, for most peo­ple this mat­ters most than car­ing about the na­ture of in­for­ma­tion,” he said of the third point.

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