Fake news hampers Zimbabwe Covid-19 battle

29 March 2020 - 00:00 By NJABULO NCUBE
Fake news has threatened to undermining the fight against Covid-19.
Fake news has threatened to undermining the fight against Covid-19.
Image: Gallo Images/ IStock

Fake news and false information is undermining the fight against Covid-19, say media experts.

Officially, Zimbabwe has recorded three infections and one death, but social media has spread rumours that the figures could be much higher, some citing "information" from hospitals that do not even test for Covid-19 or admit those infected. There are also messages on preventing the spread of the coronavirus using traditional herbs and other unscientific methods.

"The influx of fake news has made genuine news hard to believe," said Settlement Chikwinya, a member of the parliamentary portfolio committee on the media.

"This puts people at real risk of exposure to the virus. People should verify with credible sources any news they receive so as to act accordingly."

Ray Matikinya, a media expert and activist, said disinformation led to loss of trust in the government. "[It] trivialises the devastating consequences of the virus."

Cris Chinaka, editor-in-chief of fact-checking platform ZimFact, said Zimbabwe has been hit by a deluge of fake news and information about the virus, much of it on WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook, and dealing with prevention, treatment and cures.

"Around issues of life and death, where people are desperately looking for help and survival, it is criminally irresponsible and extremely dangerous for people to peddle such information," said Chinaka.

"Some people believe this, get a false sense of security and share the information with friends and family. It gets viral."

Tabani Moyo, director of the Media Institute of Southern Africa Zimbabwe, said the pandemic has highlighted the need for local media to return to the basic tenets of journalism by verifying information.

"It is imperative during this crisis for the local legacy media, as the platform for informed decision-making, to invest in fact-checking before publishing social media posts. The local media should not be found wanting by spreading misinformation," said Moyo.

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