Fake news ‘good’ for government transparency
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.