By Wanangwa Chafulumira:
President Peter Mutharika said: “Anthu ena a chiwembu akuti ineyo ndafa. Mwandiona ine? Kodi mukuona mtembo pano? Ine ndafa? Iwo ndiamene ayambe kufa. Ayamba kupita ndi iwowo kumanda [Some have been speculating that I am dead. As you can see, I am alright. Do you see a dead body? It is them who will die first first. They will be the first to be buried].”
Mutharika was Tuesday reacting to social media reports over the weekend that he had died.
The rumour was compounded by the presence of an air ambulance at Kamuzu International Airport over the weekend.
The C17 aircraft had flown to Malawi to bring back to UK the body of 22-year-old British soldier Matthew Talbot who was killed by an elephant while on anti-poaching operations in the country.
Guardsman Talbot, who was serving with First Battalion Coldsteam Guards, died in Malawi’s Liwonde National Park on May 5.
On May 13 this year, the Kingdom of eSwathini released a statement refuting malicious reports about King Mswati and his monarchy.
“In the wake of several poisonous reports published in some foreign newspapers, social media platforms and other forums purpoted to be official statements by His Majesty King Mswati III, Government wishes to state the following:
“The current dispatch titled “Marry more wives or face jail” quoting the King, and all other related reports, are not only an insult to the Monarchy and the culture of Eswatini but a disgrace to journalism. His Majesty has not made any pronouncement to that effect as it has never been an issue raised by Emaswati,” reads the statement signed by government spokesperson Percy Simelane.
Recently, the United States Embassy in Lilongwe dismissed as fake news reports that were circulating on social media alleging that the US has added Malawi on the list of countries whose citizens are exempted from entering the country on a visa.
The social media reports connected the alleged development to the US government being impressed with the achievements of Mutharika.
“The US Embassy has seen false reports that Malawian citizens will no longer require visas for temporary travel to the United States. These reports are untrue. While we welcome visitors to the United States, Malawian citizens travelling to the United States must apply for and receive a visa prior to travel.
“We caution the Malawian public to be wary of potential scams and misinformation about US visas, and to visit the US Embassy website’s visa page, at
mw.usembassy.gov/visas/ for accurate information about US visa policy,” reads the statement on Twitter and Facebook.
There are many such false rumours that have taken centre stage on the social media.
Surely, this might be the trend in the Tuesday’s elections.
Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) and electoral stakeholders ought to think about fake news and misinformation through social media platforms such WhatsApp and Facebook seriously.
Will the fake news and misinformation not be a catalyst for violence during and after election?
“It’s possible that rumour can create anxiety among the general public, stir discontent and apathy towards elections depending on the gravity of the lies and the sources. If false information is peddled by trusted sources like conventional media houses and leaders holding positions of influence,” says Media and Publication Relations Director Sangwani Mwafulirwa.
The thinking across the sweeping ranks is that social media may not play a significant role in garnering support from voters in an election.
However, looking at partisan comments and groups on Facebook and WhatsApp, there is no denying that political parties in the country are even relying on social media as a way of increasing the number of prospective supporters.
Recently, Malawi Electoral Integrity Programme released report saying Lilongwe and Nsanje are leading on occurrence of electoral conflicts and violence in the build-up to the May 21 polls.
Imagine in the two districts followers of different candidates go into street celebrating a fake victory propagated by their social media source. What would be the resultant?
Would these followers have the patience to wait for verification to realise that the results they were fed were false?
But Mwafulirwa is upbeat.
“The commission is giving out as much information as possible to all stakeholders so that there is no vacuum to be occupied by fake news. We are making ourselves available to our stakeholders at all times so that if they have anything to cross check with us it should be easy,” he says.
However, if fake news and misinformation is not checked, it could be a catalyst for violence. Mec must, therefore, must think out of the box to tame the problem at its infancy.
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