“Fake News,” Confusion: The Coronavirus Allies

The fight against Covid 19 (the New Corona Virus) is one of the most complex efforts the world over. The virus is spreading like a veld fire, leaving a trail of destruction. However, not only the virus that is spreading with destructive force. It is accompanied by ‘fake news’, a vigorous ally that is subduing one of the most effective weapons against Covid 19 – information.

Peddlers of false information stalk prominent people, ready to pounce on any utterances that fit into their manufactured narratives to twist them or simply spread them verbatim as validation of their stories.

For this reason, everyone must be vigilant in filtering not only what we listen to but also what we say.

When Covid 19 was reported to be ravaging countries in Asia, Europe and America, the ‘fake news’ mill churned out a consoling message that Africa was safe from this plague. Many theories why the virus was impotent in Africa were put forward from high temperatures to melanin while others even said it was a preserve of the affluent.

Unfortunately, our Defense Minister – advertently or not- fed into this narrative by claiming that the New Corona Virus was God’s punishment to the west for illegal sanctions against Zimbabwe. Such utterances, underlined by a slackened approach towards the virus, saw Zimbabwe seem to wait for the virus. As such, citizens and tourists alike arrived from areas with declared Corona Virus infections and walked into the country to mix and mingle.

In the face of this sloppy approach, the ‘fake news’ mill started testing and diagnosing Corona Virus patients on paper. For example, people of Asian descent were either falling ill or dying daily. To counter these rumors, Government custodians of information decided to deny everything. And deny they did to the extent of becoming blatant liars.

This was the case when someone leaked information that Zororo Makamba, a well-known broadcaster, was admitted at Wilkins Hospital as a Covid 19 patient. Health Minister Obadiah Moyo denied knowledge of any Zororo Makamba and his admission at the Hospital, a stance he maintained until he had to announce Zororo’s death a few days later. Such scenarios gave relevance to black market information, a grapevine that unfortunately also houses ‘fake news’ entrepreneurs.

Such lies also give power and credibility to fake news because it can poke holes into official – usually recommended – narratives, allowing people to rely on unverified information. This is our reality in Zimbabwe, a dangerous development in the fight against a virus that has claimed over a million lives globally.

So, when Zimbabwe went into a 21-day lockdown on March 30, many still questioned the feasibility of the directive and some even believed it was unnecessary because, in the process of managing information about the virus, the local situation seems to have been watered down.

This inability to manage information has caused so much confusion that while some are rushing to buy face masks, others are coming with advice from ‘medical experts’ to say they are not effective. One narrative says hand sanitizers are essential, another says it’s a waste of money and advises handwashing with soap as the best protection.

Meanwhile, as if reading from a separate lockdown guideline book, the police are arresting people for breaking lockdown rules but keep them crowded while under arrest, despite the social distancing advice that is being preached everywhere. The confusion gets worse, with the police destroying farmers produce and one officer in Mutare bragging on video that they intercepted farmers breaking lockdown rules but there is a Presidential exemption from the lockdown for farmers.

To top it off, while we need as much true information as possible, journalists are being arrested for gathering news without press cards, completely disregarding a blanket Zimbabwe Media Commission waiver. Where information is stifled and skewed, the risk of doing the wrong thing is immense and while we worry what we can or cannot do, the virus is lurking.

As we enter the second week of lockdown, there is increased risk of lockdown fatigue. Many theories will emerge, a lot of information will find its way to the world wide web and the urge to loosen up will grow by the day. The confusion will also grow by the day but what remains constant is the safety of our homes. So, may everyone take heed and please stay at home as much as possible!

Source: Batanai Mutasa

*Batanai Mutasa is a development communications practitioner