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The Fifth Estate: A threat to national security

by Elijah Chihota
19 Jul 2019 at 07:26hrs | Views

The turn of the century has seen the evolution of various communication platforms. This development also saw the rise of citizen journalism. The bad side of citizen journalism is that the writer is also the editor and publisher at the same time with little or no verification of information being done.

Citizen journalism, which is facilitated by social media has come to be known as the Fifth Estate. Social media makes use of platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Skype, among others.
When wisely used, social media helps in sharing information in real time to avert disasters on time. Farmers have resorted to the platform to share farming literature and how to treat animal diseases, as well as prices of commodities on the market.

Sadly, the use of social media has brought more harm than good to society. The use of social media platforms poses a serious threat to national security. During the 2011 Arab Spring protests, protesters in Egypt used Twitter to mobilise people for the demonstrations. The converging of throngs of people in town took the authorities by surprise. From that point, the protests torch was lit leading to the ouster of the then Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak. It sparked a regional storm whose ripple effect spread to other countries such as Tunisia and Libya, among others.

Opposition elements in Zimbabwe are trying to borrow a leaf from similar scenarios were protests led to the toppling of governments. Examples which come to mind are the 2009-2010 Iranian election protests, also known as the Green Revolution or the Facebook Revolution; Euromaidan Revolution in Ukraine (2013) and Syrian protests (2011). When the MDC see how these revolutions unfolded elsewhere, they think they can also start a local one here thinking that it would be a walk in the park. When former Sudanese leader, Omar Al-Bashir quit in April, following weeks of protests, the MDC got very excited, but were disappointed as Sudan is not Zimbabwe. The political dynamics and cultures in the two countries are totally different.

Social media is being used to psyche people to revolt against Government. This was the case on the eve of the January 2019 demonstrations when messages were circulated, urging people to stay away from their workplaces until the price of fuel was reduced. Seeing that people had not fully taken heed of their calls, the organisers started demonstrating violently and destructively the Harare and Bulawayo Central Business Districts. Again during the weekend of 29 and 30 June 2019 ahead of the  much hyped 1 to 5 July 2019 national shutdown, the general populace started receiving messages  and videos on their Whatsapp, Twitter and Facebook accounts urging them to stay away from work.

A classical illustration of the above was how MDC Secretary General, Charlton Hwende used his Twitter handle, @hwendec on 31 December 2018 to set the tone for the January 2019 demonstrations. Hwende tweeted that "2019 is the year of rolling out mass action against the illegal regime of @edmnangagwa (President Emmerson Mnangagwa). We voted for @nelsonchamisa (MDC leader, Nelson Chamisa) and we must be prepared like the thousands of gallant liberation struggle heroes to die defending our right to choose the president of our choice #2019ChamisamuOffice". It was this message which psyched people to take to the streets destroying properties in the process.

Another sad development caused by the social media is that it spreads a lot of fake news which causes the general public to panic and make dangerous, as well as careless decisions which cause panic, alarm and despondency in society. When the country started to experience uncontrolled rise in prices of most commodities, some people reacted by taking to social media announcing non-existent high prices. Toll gate fees were "increased" on the social media which was not consistent with the obtaining scenario on the ground.

The Registrar General's Office was also targeted when social media-borne rumours started to circulate to the effect that passport fees were going to be increased beyond the affordability of many. The Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company (ZEDTC) was not spared either as a false tariff increase was announced mainly on the Whatsapp platform. Consumers were being urged by these unscrupulous people to purchase electricity tokens amounting to about $150 to cushion them ahead of the tariff increase. In these cases the Government Departments and the parastatals involved have to get into the unnecessary expenses of creating and publishing statements to correct the falsehoods.

More often than not, social media is used to announce national election results. Just after the 2018 elections, MDC Co- Vice President, Tendai Biti went on to falsely announce that MDC leader, Nelson Chamisa had won the presidential race. Chamisa had also lied on Twitter that his party had the majority of Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) V11 forms and were carrying parallel voter tabulation. When he petitioned the Constitutional Court over his presidential election loss, Chamisa failed to produce the much needed evidence to buttress his court case. This all turned out that Chamisa had turned to be a serial liar. He did not have the forms as the MDC had not paid polling agents.

These platforms are being used to castigate and demonise the country's leadership. Videos are being recorded and graphics are being designed to lambast President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his entire Cabinet, Presidential Advisory Council and even the ZANU PF Politburo.
On the social front, people are breaking the moral fabric. It is horrific to see that people have developed a tendency of announcing the death of people, especially during road traffic accident even before their next of keen have been informed. Traditionally the next of kin is first informed about the passing on of their loved ones before the information has been made public. Instead of assisting the injured during road traffic accidents, people concentrate of taking pictures of the scene including the dead. The reason for doing this being that they want to be the first to break the news complete with the gory images of the injured or uncovered bodies of the deceased. This type of heroism is not called for and has no room in our African culture.

There is nothing amusing about circulating such photographs. If positions could be reversed, these people would not want to see the same photographs if it involved their relatives. As the old adage they should "do unto others as you want them to do to you." They should be mindful of this whenever urge to post such photographs hits them.
In a typical bad joke, on 2 July 2019 some yet to be identified people took the joking very far and produced a fake letter purportedly signed by the Clerk of Parliament, Kennedy Chokuda announcing the death of Vice President General Constantino Chiwenga. Protocol wise when a Vice President passes on, the President makes the announcement on national television. It boggles the mind why someone would wish the VP to die to the extent of creating fake new about him.

In another mischievous way, yesterday, fake breaking news was penned and posted on social media, alleging that Vice President Kembo Mohadi had passed on at Kaarvours Hospital in Durban, South Africa after a long illness. Ironically VP Mohadi was having a meeting with traditional leaders from the Midlands Province.

Source - Elijah Chihota