Misinformation

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By Kabelo Mollo

End of year fatigue has well and truly set in. It feels like we’re crawling toward the end of ‘22. And yet, end of year is such a busy time with wrapping things up and also planning for the coming year. There’s also the Christmas functions and festive calendar. This has been a long heavy slog. Many ups and of course the biggest down I’ve ever experienced. That said, we soldier on in spite of all that goes on around us.

Since last week Sky Alpha HD has been running a training workshop titled “Protecting democracy from Misinformation”. The American embassy has kindly supported us in putting the conference on, and we are greatly appreciative of their efforts. It’s been an insightful couple of weeks with lots of information gleaned and shared. All the speakers have been informative and painted vivid pictures of the global media landscape. The repeated messaging around fact checking and importance of not spreading dis or misinformation has been refreshing.  Here in the kingdom we have a particularly polarised media, which has been known to not only spread propaganda, but misinformation too. With any luck this will be the beginning of the journey towards a more fact based and accuracy laden fourth estate.

While in the middle of our training seminar there emerged a story on social middle alleging the Iranian parliament had taken the extraordinary decision that they would execute any and all members of the protests taking place in Iran currently. 15 or so thousand people. I call it extraordinary but in reality that would have been plain madness. The news broke out on social media, and was retweeted by CNN, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeaus account as well as many other seemingly well placed and highly regarded sources. It has since emerged that while the Iran government had planned to take action against the protestors, it was nothing like mass executions. However, because of the highly placed sources that shared the misinformation it’s going to take a while before the record is set straight.

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Here in the kingdom we have Facebook pages that are run by nameless, faceless bodies. They write all manner of inflammatory and sensational things about any and everything. Little of what they write is substantiated nor well sourced. It’s all innuendo and insinuations. Irritatingly for those in the business of journalism these pages have large followings and garner large reactions for their half-baked stories. We need as an industry to figure out how we deal with this matter.

Recently post elections, speculations began as has become the norm, and lists purporting to be the cabinet were circulated on social media. No one was spared. We all received different iterations of the incoming cabinet. We will never know the originator of those documents and their intentions but the frenzy and hype that was surrounding the new cabinet made it such that those documents were shared widely. It’s that kind of thing that we need to guard against at all times. I won’t even go in to the mess that was our WhatsApp messages during Covid.

We will conclude our workshop next week, and having preached to the converted we will pat ourselves on the back until another benevolent funder gives us a bit of budget to carry out another such conference pitched at a slightly higher level. But, in truth we have only scratched the surface! There is much to be discussed on this topic. We have to find a way to protect our democracies from mis- and disinformation. We have to find a way to guard the journalism profession from purveyors of propaganda and inaccuracies! The fourth estate must be as close to beyond reproach as possible.  We must strive for this excellence every day.