Thursday, June 4, 2020

Public warned to be vigilant over coronavirus falsehoods

The public has been advised to exercise vigilance on issues relating to coronavirus in all media platforms before making any decisions or actions.

In the past few weeks government and the public have been overwhelmed by a vast majority of platforms all claiming to have the latest developments in news with regards to COVID 19 and its impact.

While some sources provided factual and verifiable truths, others have however not attempted to back up their stories with relevant authorities. Social media in Botswana has seen an increase in platforms or pages as they are called that claim to report on issues concerning Botswana, since the climax of the elections.

On some of these social media have circulated Facebook posts, Twitter hashtags and even audio recordings all claiming that Ministry of Health and Wellness is denying the presence of COVID 19 in Botswana.

Though government has denied some of these claims, it has been uphill battle for The Ministry of Health and Welness to convince the general public as Facebook is covered in some of these alleged claims.

This week in an effort to control the influx of information around, Botswana Communications Regulatory Authority (BOCRA) warned those who publish, forward or create false information using online platforms as an offence under section 59 of the Penal code. It reads any person who publishes any false statements, rumour or report which is likely to cause fear and alarm to the public or to disturb public peace is guilty of an offence.

Furthermore the public is advised to be weary of misleading advertisements from unscrupulous people who take advantage of the uncertainty and desperation caused bie COVID 19 pandemic. The delinquent individuals have been known to scam and cheat unsuspecting consumers with online products and services.

In an interview with The Telegraph Botswana Media Allied Workers Union President Phillimon Mmeso explained the challenges with sharing of information and verifying it in Botswana. He said: “The biggest challenge right now is for the public to differentiate real news outlets and those masquerading as news outlets on social media. This is how you differentiate original news outlets is that their articles are always short and straight to the point and quote relevant authorities when it’s online. However when it is the one`s masquerading as news outlets they do not try to have anyone who can qualify the allegations that they are sharing and we should look at those things and avoid those who do not have relevant authorities to verify what they say.”

Mmeso further shared how media practitioners should conduct themselves during times of pandemics, as they should not be excited about being the first to share the news developments and be more considerate of their health. He said “We need to do responsible reporting and report on facts and avoid trying to break the story. There are fake news and fake websites tryingto push a certain agenda.”

“Reporters should also be wary of their health and safety and make sure to sanitize as well as wash our hands.,” Mmeso said.

As mainstream media, Mmeso shared they have a responsibility to be wary of what people are telling them, as there have been incidents where individuals have misled some media organisations with unverified audio recordings and this resulted in a lot of fake news being distributed.

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