True story: Fake news can kill people

08 September 2017 - 06:07 By The Times Editorial
Paramedics carry the badly injured man to an ambulance at the Pinetown Taxi Rank.
Paramedics carry the badly injured man to an ambulance at the Pinetown Taxi Rank.
Image: Jackie Clausen

Mlungisi Nxumalo was killed by a mob in a Pinetown, KwaZulu-Natal taxi rank on Tuesday evening. He was brutally beaten and succumbed to his injuries while being rushed to hospital.

His crime? Sitting in a car and watching over his best friend's 11-year-old mentally disabled son while the father went to buy the child a bite to eat.

As the child started screaming and crying - as his illness made him prone to doing - the crowd got angry. The anger built up to a frenzy. The car was overturned as the crowd bayed for blood. Nxumalo, and a person who tried to come to his aid, were murdered.

The crowd acted the way it did because they were told that foreigners were "kidnapping our children". There was no truth to this. None. It's a hoax that even a security company in Durban perpetuated in a press release claiming that a girl was found in the car's boot, citing sources at the scene. The sources were wrong.

The release was used by a community newspaper for its online editions, without verification. As details emerged, these accusations were proven to be baseless - as we reported on TimesLIVE.

This rumour had been circulating on social media for months, if not years, but was given new life by these reports. On Thursday morning, the story was still on that community paper's website. The fake news of abductions by "foreigners" is still being propagated on instant messaging groups.

This misinformation led to xenophobic protests in Durban in May.

Yet people ask why fake news is dangerous. It helps create an environment like that which fuelled Tuesday night's mob murders.

We all have a responsibility to ensure that what we share is true because, as the deaths of Nxamalo and his Good Samaritan show, fake news can kill.