While the 2020 general election campaign is underway, there is a notable intensification of news stories that are fabricated with no verifiable facts, sources, or quotes that may make them even slightly trustworthy.
The fake news trend, that analysts fear may mislead people ahead of the polls, has been noticed in both online and traditional media outlets.
While the motive of those who spread these fabricated news items remain unclear, analysts are concerned sharing such kind of stories amidst the campaign season risk distorting the real message portrayed by political parties, their candidates for various levels of public leadership as well as their supporters and organisers.
According to an analysis carried out by The Chanzo, there have been numerous examples of scenarios where fake news item is being shared on social media and earns a significant circulation.
One such story is the one which claimed: “The President has stopped small entrepreneur identification exercise; all cost will be returned to citizens.” The story was purported to be a quote from a speech given by the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) presidential candidate John Magufuli during one of his campaign rallies.
It turned out, however, the message was twisted something which prompted Mr Gerson Msigwa, State House Communications Director, to issue a statement on Twitter refuting the quote and urge people to disregard it.
Another fake news item which made round on various social media fora claimed that the Central Committee (CC) of opposition Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (Chadema) supported the decision by the National Electoral Commission’s (NEC) Ethics Committee to suspend the party’s presidential candidate Tundu Lissu from conducting a campaign for seven days.
The decision was made on October 2, 2020, as punishment for alleged ethics violations following remarks he made while on the campaign trail.
But according to Chadema press secretary Tumaini Makene there was never such a decision by the party’s CC. Mr Makene said in a Twitter post: “Continue to ignore this fabricated information.”
But the fake news has not been limited in featuring political parties or their leaders only.
Reputable organization and institutions have also been featured in various fake news items. One such organisation is the Tanzania Women Lawyers Association (TAWLA) which a local newspaper JAMVI LA HABARI, in its issue No. 1144 claimed that the organization was shocked by the statement made by Mr Lissu that he supported homosexuality.
But the statement was disowned by TAWLA’s Executive Director Ms Tike Mwambipile on October 3, 2020. In a press conference, Ms Mwambipile said: “I would like to take this opportunity to state that the statement is not true and should be ignored. I also urge Tanzanians to stop circulating incorrect and unconfirmed information because it is a criminal offence.”
Another type of fake news that has been seen circulating on social media concerns the opinion poll purported to be on the October 28th election. The poll results were published by Fahari Yetu (issue No. 485) and Tanzania Perspective (issue No. 235) newspapers on September 22 and October 1 respectively.
Fahari Yetu newspaper had a front-page story which read: ‘EU: Magufuli, Mwinyi to win in a landslide.’ The paper cited the European Union (EU) as a source.
On its part, the Tanzania Perspective newspaper carried a story which read: ‘European Union officials in Italy issued a statement with their facts regarding the upcoming General election in Tanzania. Speaking at the online summit with the press EU Chief Ursula Von Der Leyen confirmed the results come from local sources and five years of intense data collection. CCM is leading in most of the poll.’
The Chanzo followed-up some of the details shared by the Tanzania Perspective newspaper. It found out that while it is true there was a European Union Foreign Affairs Council meeting on September 21, 2020, there was no mention of Tanzania in the meeting’s agenda or in the press conference made subsequently.
Even Mr Ursula Von Der Leyen, the current president of the EU, who was quoted by the Tanzania Perspective newspaper was not a participant in the meeting, according to the document listing the names of all participants to the meeting seen by The Chanzo.
This was the reason why EU delegation Office in Tanzania issued a statement refuting the fake news, stating: “the European Union affirms that it does not support any specific candidate or party and that any declaration by any elections stakeholder claiming either EU support for or criticism against, participants in the elections is completely unfounded.”