Fake News Derail Progressive Social Media Activism Campaigns

In the past week and into this week,South Africa again experienced a wave of xenophobic attacks ,the target being foreign nationals from African countries like Nigeria and Zimbabwe as well as Middle Eastern nationals from Pakistan and Bangladesh.Targets were harassed,with some even losing their lives,and their businesses were also looted,a repeat of the deadly 2008 wave of attacks.

As always and rightfully so,social media users were quick to call out and shun the violence,with the hashtag #SayNoToXenophobia trending worldwide and famous personalities also rebuking the violence. Apart from calling out the violence,videos and other form of media were also shared on social media sites like Twitter,Facebook and Whatsapp to show the extent and raise awareness of the violence to the general public.

However,as i mentioned on this post,social media is rife with unconfirmed tweets and posts being masqueraded as facts so telling the real from the fake can prove to be quite a challenge. Some of the videos posted of the apparent xenophobic attacks turned out to be from totally unrelated events,colloquially referred to as "fake news".

After the debunking of the fake videos,the conversation on social media shifted from addressing the severity of the attacks on foreign nationals and their property to sympathizers calling out every report about the attacks as fake and made up and even non-sympathizers wondering whether they should keep the belief that the attacks are as bad as they are said to be on social media platforms.The fact that some celebrities also fell victim to the fake news also went a certain extent in shifting the narrative and conversation from the grave issue at hand that needs addressing to a game of "what is fake and what is real".

The South African xenophobic attacks are not the first instance of social media fake news regressing the efficiency of positive campaigns. A few weeks back when the Amazon fires were rife, several fake photos and videos were widely distributed on social media apparently showing the devastating effects of the fires.Again,several celebrities including the president of France fell for such and as a result,deniers of the fires ensured that they focused their energy on calling out these fake news and ensuring that the public viewed every report about the fires with a shadow of doubt,a situation which led to the diminishing of public interest in the ecological tragedy.

As much as social media activism goes a long way in raising awareness about burning social issues,if not done right,as witnessed with the aforementioned examples,it can end up defeating its own purpose. It is therefore of utmost importance for social media users,especially celebrities with huge followings and influence,to ensure that they do not partake in the sensationalism of trending issues by double checking the accuracy of whatever they post regarding the issue at hand.

Apart from celebrities,the general social media population should also verify the legitimacy of these photos and videos and other forms of media before sharing them. Tools including reverse image search and pages like Hoax Eye go a long way in helping people to separate the grain from the chaff of fake news.