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Social media exaggerates and so should be regulated, says ZEC. No election rigging in most cases.

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What a time to be alive! Never in the history of the world has an average Joe like myself been able to communicate directly with millions or even thousands of people. Now, armed with a budget smartphone I have ‘reach’ that even monarchs just a century ago could only dream of.

The democratization/decentralization of the control of information came suddenly and devastatingly. 

The internet opened the door for anyone with an idea/thought to share it with the world. Then social media platforms organised that process and legacy media has been scrambling to survive ever since.

In the old days, controlling the newspapers, radio and TV made it very difficult for competing opinions to spread. Worse still, lies and propaganda could not be discussed and dissected easily. 

People had to meet in person to have any meaningful interaction and so the government simply had to limit people’s ability to gather. Over the years in Zimbabwe we have had various laws that achieved this and sometimes the police didn’t even need the law to arbitrarily block some people from gathering.

The next best thing to ‘physically gathering’ is social media. Here, thousands or millions can meet in what Elon Musk called the digital town square. This makes it harder for those that control the information flow in legacy media to get away with anything.

Case in point: ZEC

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) controls elections in the country and should be an independent body. The opposition does not believe for one second that it is impartial. The ruling party claims the opposite.

So, naturally, coverage of ZEC has depended on who is writing about them. We, the people, were reduced to spectators for most of ZEC’S life but that changed with social media.

Now, experts in that field or even disgruntled employees have an outlet to share any sketchy stuff about the election body. That’s exactly what happened recently.

We had by-elections in March and some data experts noticed some irregularities in the voters roll and pointed them out. 

As reported by Newsday, changes were made to 156 polling stations and 177000 people were relocated from their polling stations without their knowledge.

What did ZEC have to say about that? They couldn’t deny the irregularities and so they did the next best thing – claim someone messed with their work. 

So, according to ZEC, the voters roll was tampered with to discredit them. I think we can all agree there was some funny business here. Someone somewhere did some naughty thing.

ZEC’s solution

It was an all round embarrassing moment for ZEC and they have a solution – police social media. 

ZEC wants Twitter and Facebook to pull down troublesome posts. This is all to make sure the general public does not fall for any misinformation or disinformation that litters social media. Says a ZEC spokesperson,

Those who post incorrect information will be asked to pull it down because we noted that there is a lot of false information peddled online. The commission would have a proper way to ensure that there is no (bad) information which would have implications on free and credible elections.

Jasper Mangwana of ZEC

Is it me or does everyone get the chills when they read that people will be ‘asked’ to pull down their incorrect information. For some reason I don’t think ‘ask’ is the correct term for how they would get offending posts taken down. 

Anyway, I don’t think anyone can argue against making sure misinformation is removed from social media. Where we could have problems though is on what constitutes misinformation. 

The data experts that exposed the voters roll irregularities could have been labeled misinformation peddlers and we would have never known about the authenticity of their claims.

Other solutions offered

The opposition is not amused by ZEC’s solution. They feel it is just a ploy to censor any and all criticism.

The president of Labour, Economists and African Democrats expressed it best,

Zimbabweans must be allowed to exercise their right to freedom of expression to raise grievances and openly criticise where they feel Zec will be going wrong so that it can use that input to correct and reform.

Linda Masarira

That sounds like, uh, sound reasoning. However, it is not a solution to our misinformation problem. Fortunately, the Election Resource Centre programmes manager has a ‘common sense’ solution,

It will be more appropriate to be proactive in providing information which is complete, accurate and on time rather than to wait and respond after citizens have looked for information elsewhere.

Solomon Bobosibunu

How about that ZEC? Just give us accurate updates in a timely manner and you won’t need to censor social media. 

ZEC’s attitude towards social media

There was a voter registration blitz which ended in April and it has been reported that there was low turnout. Everyone and their mother have explanations for why that was. 

ZEC of course blames social media for that too. They think misinformation on social media which says that there is election rigging is responsible for the lack of motivation to register. Were it not for those lies, Zimbabweans would have registered to vote en masse. 

As regards election rigging, ZEC has some assurances for you, as quoted by Newsday,

…it’s also important for people to know that as we get into these areas, let’s go and demystify the misinformation on election rigging which is not a reality in most cases.

Jasper Mangwana of ZEC

I wish ZEC would share what they mean by ‘in most cases.’ Are they talking about 51% of elections or 99%? I hope for our sake that it’s closer to 99 than 51.

Anyway, here ZEC is assuring Zimbabweans that election rigging only happens in a few cases. It is not as widespread as social media would have you believe apparently. 

Most times we get free and fair elections, they say. I can’t speak for ZEC but I think they mean to say we should suck up and accept the few times there is some rigging. 

So, I think you can see how social media is the problem for ZEC. It is the reason for low voter registration turnout and the misinformation that sometimes turns out to be true.

If ZEC get their way, parliament would regulate all election-related material posted on social media ahead of the 2023 elections.

Just how that would work practically is beyond me. ZEC says ‘all’ election-related material and I imagine that includes what even you have to say. And of course that would include posts by people like the data experts that alerted us to voters roll irregularities.

For some reason I don’t think we would have heard from those data experts if it was up to parliament to decide on it. 

Opposition parties believe that ZEC is trying to intimidate critics. Said Mogern Komichi of one of the 1 million MDCs,

Zec is trying to close the democratic space. It wants to be a police force and use intimidation to suppress constructive criticism. Social media is used to educate voters and raise awareness.

Mogern Komichi

There is misinformation on social media

ZEC is not wrong that there is misinformation and disinformation on social media. We have all seen the ugliness that lives on Twitter and Facebook. 

We have seen some jokers that love to watch the world burn, lie through their teeth, causing mass hysteria in the process. 

You have no doubt encountered the fake extreme weather warnings which have cost lives across Africa. Some are pros at repurposing protestor-police clashes from years past or even from different countries to exaggerate the actual situation on the ground.

All these are examples of the evils of social media. However, I don’t believe for one second that the solution is to let parliament regulate social media in the manner ZEC is proposing.

We live in a world where people expect minute by minute updates on anything. One of the antidotes to misinformation spreading is for the affected entity to improve their own activity on social media. 

There is more that can be done to combat fake news but no solution will be acceptable if it gags the public. The people’s voice won’t be censored and so they won’t accept anything that limits their ability to criticise anyone, from the government to a small shop owner. 

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7 thoughts on “Social media exaggerates and so should be regulated, says ZEC. No election rigging in most cases.

  1. Aaah l wonder how the ruling party influences a whole team yeZEC to partake in tempering with nhaka yevanhu 😂😂exposing their children and relatives to poverty haaa, even the police force too some action they display in thwarting freedom of speech makes one think on combating real crime we all know they put extra effort like that but its the real opposite thing…or one may think they get their salaries with a helmet

  2. Look we all know that…
    But according to ZEC sometimes during elections…
    And the people of Zimbabwe should just accept this and move on instead of talking nonsense and spreading misinformation on social media about how some one/people at ZEC can’t even do basic mathematics. So ZEC has taken upon itself the burden of crafting a law to ensure that this happens.

  3. I don’t know why ZEC, Zanu and the government are so hell bent on shutting down the internet. Suppressing freedom of speech. We’re living in the Ian Smith days but instead of white coloniasts we’ve our own black totalists. Power hungry maniacs. Smh

  4. Just because the person in charge of communication has some internet knowledge he should not waste his time trying to fight it and social media, ZEC will never win such a war. They should also not waste time trying to get laws and regulations made to make their work easier, their purpose is to work with what is in place and produce credible elections. Instead, they should harness social media and use it to their advantage, it is very possible.

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