Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the South African government introduced a law that prohibited the spread of fake news. This came after a flood of COVID-related fake information and photographs were spread on WhatsApp, SMS, and email – causing significant panic and anxiety for South Africans.
Before President Cyril Ramaphosa officially announced the lockdown, there were various text and voice messages, as well as documentation and images, doing the rounds about when lockdown would begin and what the rules would be. These fake warnings included the need for citizens to stockpile, as shops would be closed. Of course, this led to many empty shelves as those who could afford to buy in bulk bought as much as they could out of fear.
A list of what you could and couldn’t do during the lockdown also started spreading, causing even more uncertainty as we approached an unprecedented period in our country’s history. It was discovered that most of the information came from other countries’ lockdowns, and locally, we received legitimate news soon after by watching our government departments’ media briefings.
By that time, though, the damage was done, causing significant confusion, anger, and anxiety. Government stepped in to try to stop the spread of this falsehood, introducing legislation that made spreading fake COVID-19 information a prosecutable offence.
Despite this, fraudsters know how to play on people’s emotions. They also know that people easily trust the content they receive from people they know. So, if your mom sends you a message that she got from her brother, surely the information is factual, right?
While information may look and seem real, it might not be. Always verify the information before sending it on, because you don’t want to be part of the chain of fake news, and you definitely don’t want to spread material that fraudsters use to manipulate unsuspecting victims.
To help in the fight against COVID-related fake news, visit the South African government’s official site to check what information is real and what is actually fake: https://www.gov.za/coronavirus/fakenews