The poll asked people where they get information about events in the country from. A hefty 42.8% said they get it from WhatsApp, more than the 40.5% who said they get it from local newspapers and news websites. Twitter came in third at 7.1%.
Let’s paint the picture further, 52.3% of Zimbabweans get their news from WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook (this is what we call social media in Zimbabwe.) We know this is so because of the data bundles which make access to these platforms cheaper.
When the same people were asked which source of news is the most reliable, 17.5% said WhatsApp, 10% said Twitter whilst 5% said Facebook. That means 32.5% of Zimbabweans think social media is a reliable source of news.
The takeaways, 52.3% of Zimbabweans get their news from social media and 32.5% think it is a reliable source of news.
What this means is that we need to be responsible when sharing information on social media. Before you forward anything, make sure you verified that it is true. It is your duty as a Zimbabwean citizen. Some will not be able to verify anything due to limited internet access. Some don’t think there is anything to verify, if it’s on WhatsApp it is true.
So before you tell people that microwaved food is killing them or that EcoCash wallets are not secure you need to think about the impact that news will have.
There is a new tool which can help with this problem of ours – WhatsApp Business. This new application allows businesses to have verified accounts, indicated by a tick. Zimbabweans can be educated to look out for the verified accounts of both government institutions and private companies. As a rule, people can be told to assume news is fake if the concerned organization has not confirmed so through its WhatsApp Business account.
The first step however is for all businesses; big and small; private, public and State-owned to have verified accounts. This way we can have a directory of verified business accounts and have that circulated on WhatsApp. Once people know the verified accounts they know exactly who to ask to verify any news they receive.
Zimbabwe is not alone in fighting the scourge that is fake news. It is a problem the world over. There have been deaths and disputed election results owing to false information circulating. Is this a battle that can be won? There won’t ever be complete victory but we need to do every little thing that we can to fight the fake news problem.