The dark side of social media is that in moments of great excitement and confusion, like Zimbabwe is going through, grapevine becomes the main source of information. People trying to play lead in the ‘attention economy’ create stories and paddle them as ‘latest’, typically for likes and shares, regardless of the potential harm. With very limited official sources of information, a lot of people are depending on social media, WhatsApp, Facebook, and twitter. So, the extend and impact of misinformation is far reaching the giggle and gratification from likes.
Social media platforms are unfortunately vulnerable to mistruths either shared in innocence or with malicious intend to add to the confusion. Over the past few days several stories have been circulated that have turned out to be false or unverified. Such stories as Grace Mugabe having left the country for Namibia, or the alleged photos of a severely beaten Jonathan Moyo, among others. These stories, including the whereabouts of Jonathan Moyo or Kasukuwere have not yet been confirmed. This has not done much but add to the anxiety.
Today, images of suitcases filled up with money allegedly found stashed in former Finance Minister, Ignatius Chombo’s residence are going around social media. In some cases, just an image of what is claimed to be $10 million, or $40 million depending on the source, and in other cases a photo grid with Zimbabwe bond notes and the suitcases.
On closer look, the money in the suitcases is clearly not Zimbabwean bond notes, South African rand, or US dollar, the major currencies used in Zimbabwe. The images are from one of the “Lost Treasure” operation raids conducted by Brazilian police in early September. Stories featuring those photos appeared in Brazilian media and in Bloomberg and BBC, among others.
Cumulative effect of rumors and misinformation could have serious implications especially in such times of heightened emotions. With all the questions still lingering: What will happen to Mugabe?; Who is in charge?; What will happen next; Are the elections still on? etc. It is better to look for verified or dependable sources of information than anything that shows up on social media. Importantly, while people would rather churn out ‘news’ and ‘latest’ it is rather wiser to verify the sources.