The term ‘fake news’ has made it big! Infact, it may be safe to say, following the Donald Trumps win in the United States Presidential Election in November 2016 ‘fake news’ probably remains the worlds most popularised, debated and confusing terms. As internet access continues to increase on the African continent , it is more apparent the influence it has in activating the population. Africans have become more demanding of news in realtime, and at the same time, have stepped in to produce counter narratives, to those peddled by the mainstream on behalf of a political and economic elite. Clearly, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, news content and opinions accessed over the internet, and particularly on social media platforms, has led to an undeniable upsurge in levels of clicktivism. Today audiences are mobilised on varying issues of national, regional and global movements in a manner never anticipated. Social media is no longer kids play! Particularly as it has caused a stir in the production, circulation and impact of opinion and ‘news’. While speaking at the Freedom on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFA) conference earlier in September last year, Malawi based media and communications lecturer, Jimmy Kainja opined that there is a huge difference between news produced by a trained journalist and that produced by an opinionated person. He attributed fake news to the latter and insisted that there should be a way to stop it. This position remains popular amongst trained and mainstream practising journalists, who to a larger extent, seek to ‘preserve’ a profession whose ethics and standards are grounded in their base training. Rightfully so! But, not completely realistic in this new digital dispensation. ‘Fake news’ is a reality that exists across the globe and finds its way on results of popular search engines more often than news from mainstream. Who says its fake news? But who exactly determines whether news is fake, credible or dodgy? If a fake news item goes viral on Whatsapp, Twitter or Facebook –who is responsible and can it be taken down? Infact, what is fake news? While fake news is a term that can mean different things, depending on the context, fake news is plain old and simple mis or dis information. Which misinformation is not new, but has over centuries been sold to us in the form of newspaper articles, adverts, cartoon strips and radio or television broadcasts. Only this time, through social media especially , ‘fake news’ knows no bounds, as there is very little means of gatekeeping and/or regulating under the guise of ethics and editorial standards. There is more to ‘fake news’ than just lies. Sometimes fake news is dissent presented in a totally different style, by a not so ‘credible’ individual whose unpopular opinion, goes against the norm or is offensive to the status quo. What is perceived ‘fake news’ may not completely be a fabrication. Can we truly say that the announcement made by the military in Zimbabwe on the morning of 15 November 2017 was more ‘real’ news than the social media posts that citizens shared on popular social media platforms the day before on the occurrences? More often than not, warnings against fake news are made by those in authority or public office, and in those instances, demonstrate their fear in losing control on the flow of information. However, in assessing the risks associated fake news, it is important to assess the different forms that ‘fake news’ takes, and be clear from the onset that not all forms of disinformation are harmful. Utterances that the demands for and promotion of internet freedom to an extent promote the problem of fake news, cannot be sustained, as talk of fines and bans of fake news are to a larger extent a form censorship. Fake news frenzy! There is evidently a frenzy around fake news by both mainstream news media and top private sector companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter that host a significant proportion of the worlds connected users. Last year, Facebook’s interventions to combat fake news during Germanys election included publishing full-page notices on identifying fake news in German newspapers and working with fact-checking organisation, Correctiv, to deal with fake news flagged up by users. The introduction of its “i” button, to give detail on articles shared on its platform in order to gauge credibility is yet another effort still being tested. Earlier this year, I read that Google came under fire for selling ‘fake news’ as news snippets and that efforts are being made to update its search quality to enable human as opposed to bot raters to deal with false information. Closer to home, the Media Monitors Africa, last year launched a Google Chrome extension, NewsCred, to help identify whether a news website is dodgy or credible. In all these efforts, the intention is clearly to increase audiences media literacy by giving context on the issue, sources or history of the platform they are getting their news. Ideally, a person can decide if articles or news from that source can be trusted and if the actual news itself is credible. This is how far governments, ‘established’ news media platforms or intermediaries can go in challenging these alternative narratives, which whether we like it or not, are more appealing and accesible to the public. There has to be a level of trust that the public can determine whether a story is true or false. Moment of truth? The harsh reality is that the mainstream print and broadcast media have failed to adapt and keep up with the fast paced changes in the production and distribution of news content – verified or unverified. After watching a demonstration of Mobile journalistic (Mojo) techniques at last years Global Media Forum, held in Bonn, by former CNN Senior Social reporter, Yusif Omar, it was more apparent that the major challenge of the mainstream media is its failure to diversify news coverage. For African mainstream media, the challenge is that of immediacy and the creative packing of news for documentation and demonstration of different perspectives, angles and realities of everyday interactions. Africa’s mainstream media landscape remains highly polarised. In a significant part of the continent, the mainstream does not offer the people affordable mid-point alternatives that offers widespread consumption on issues that are important to them. The media must wake up to the demand for a more responsive audience-centric media. Key to this is the acceptance that audiences have an alternative. They have counter–balance to the traditionally ‘licensed’ opinions and perspectives of the political and economic elite by finding a way to ‘make news’ – verified or unverified – and share it with such ferocity. The debate on ‘fake news’ has to move from being about its ‘perceived’ impact on society and or ethical journalistic principles. It should focus on the dynamics of highly active pronsumers of news in a ‘digitalised’ environment. The mainstream media should think of survival in a digital era by being more objective in its agenda setting and more responsive in its reportage of events as they unfold. This means social media is a strategic place to be for the media. In order to mote with the digital times, the media should use social media to analyse trends of audiences consumption, mine their opinions in order it map priority for analysis in the public ‘interest’.
The Internet has changed the way that the world works. It has given humanity freedom to be able to share their views, ideas and opinions across platform.
published by DW AKADEMIE
After messaging services and social media helped fuel protests earlier in 2016, the Zimbabwe government is clamping down on cyberspace. With elections due in 2018, online rights are expected to erode further.
On July 6, 2016, Zimbabweans across the social, political and economic divide heeded an online call to stay away from work. Spurred on by hashtags such at #zimshutdown2016 and #shutdownzimbabwe, the action was the biggest show of public dissatisfaction with the government of 92-year-old president Robert Mugabe for more than a decade. With the streets virtually empty in many cities across the country, most schools, hospitals, business and shops shut their doors.
Those calling for protest action included a social movement united under the hashtag #ThisFlag, led by pastor Evan Mawarire, and a youth campaign #Tajamuka/Sesijikile (which means “We have rebelled” in the country’s local languages of Shona and Ndebele).
Another significant contribution to the success of the shutdown was the mobilization of civil servants who stayed away from work to protest the non-payment of their salaries. Zimbabwe has been facing a severe economic crisis and is struggling to pay its government workers.
Social media played a big part in publicizing and mobilizing people to take part in the July 6 shutdown (as it did in earlier protests, such as demonstrations against the ban of imports on essential household goods and the proposed introduction of bond notes to ease a cash shortage).
Government clamp down on the Internet
The government’s immediate response to the July 6 shutdown?
To create a shutdown of its own – WhatsApp was unavailable for several hours on the day of the protest.
The government’s next response? To curb Internet use by hiking mobile data prices. Following the day of action, Zimbabwe’s mobile network operators announced they had been ordered to wind down cheap mobile data promotions by August 31, 2016. The promotions had allowed call, data, SMS, WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter bundles for as low as 4.50 euro (US$5.00).
This move is a huge blow to digital rights in Zimbabwe.
Buying mobile data without taking advantage of a promotion is expensive in Zimbabwe. In fact, according to the think tank Research ICT Africa, the cost of 1GB of prepaid mobile data in Zimbabwe is the third highest on the continent.
In the recent past, the Zimbabwean government has defended this high price, citing the need to expand infrastructure and the generally high cost of providing Internet access in a landlocked country. However, mobile data promotions often ran for lengthy periods, indicating that data prices were sustainable at the cheaper, promotional prices. Therefore, it seems unlikely the stoppage of promotions following protests is sheer coincidence.
Zimbabwe, whose press is ranked as ‘Not Free’ by Freedom House, already has tight controls on the media and also limits citizens’ ability to access information. In the past, Internet has been subjected to fewer controls than the press; the fear now is that Robert Mugabe’s government is seeking to bring the Net under its control too.
In 2016 alone, 27 people have already been either arrested or charged for political opinion deemed as “ridicule” to the person of the president, according the Media Institute of Southern Africa’s Zimbabwe Chapter. In another case, which generated much discussion on Facebook and Twitter, the leader of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe, Shingi Munyeza, was questioned by police after he published a three-part series of articles online about the state of the economy entitled, ’10 point plan to run Zimbabwe Limited.’
As a result of the current climate, people in Zimbabwe have become more cautious in their social media interactions, even when sending private messages.
This self-censorship and fear of surveillance curtails the Internet’s potential to increase citizen engagement and participation in national discourse. Even more worrying is the current default surveillance and policing of opinion by citizens among themselves and on behalf of the state, a status likely to worsen as the country moves towards national elections in 2018.
Internet service providers have little leeway
Another factor that further weakens digital freedom in Zimbabwe is the legal vulnerability of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and telecommunication companies. Two pieces of legislation, the Interception of Communications Act (ICA) and the Statutory Instrument on surveillance (gazetted in 2014) clearly leave no room for ISPs to protect the rights of their users.
The laws obligates providers to facilitate the interception of user information by installing hardware or software that would provide call-related information in real time, as well as after the call. The laws also obligate providers to allow access to decrypted user data flowing through their networks. The ICA criminalizes non-compliance or refusal to cooperate by the service providers.
We have already seen this vulnerability at play twice in 2016.
Firstly, the July 6 WhatsApp shutdown can’t be explained away as a WhatsApp technical fault. WhatsApp was definitely working because Zimbabweans masking their physical location with VPNs (virtual private networks) were still able to access the messaging service. This lays the blame for the shutdown firmly at the door of the Internet providers, presumably responding to government pressure. And although Zimbabwe’s government denied ordering the shutdown, it was unusual that the ISPs made no effort to explain why WhatsApp was suddenly unavailable. Also, the telecommunications regulator POTRAZ made no attempt to hold them to account for the service failure.
Secondly, during #zimshutdown2016, POTRAZ issued a warning about “the gross irresponsible use of social media”, saying it would arrest users circulating abusive information. The warning contains a chilling sentence that highlights the cooperation of ISPs with the government: “All sim cards in Zimbabwe are registered in the name of the user. Perpetrators can easily be identified.”
These examples illustrate how in Zimbabwe, as in a number of other authoritarian states, ISPs will actively slow down, throttle or shutdown Internet services or give out customer information when instructed.
But being custodians of such critical data, ISPs should be in a better position to protect customer information, privacy and rights to free expression, association and access to information.
Following the United Nation’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, Internet governance processes must ensure ISPs are able to assert their responsibility to protect and mitigate against human rights violations via their operations, products and services.
In addition, on July 1, just five days before WhatsApp shut down, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution condemning countries that intentionally disrupt citizens’ Internet access in violation of international human rights laws.
Published by: GenderIT.org on 07/09/17
Maggie Hazvinei Mapondera is a Zimbabwe born hybrid feminist, perching at the intersection of grassroots feminism, feminist communication and movement building.
In this interview, Maggie reflects on the current status of technology and the internet in relation to the feminists movement building and women’s everyday organising and participation globally.
Koliwe Majama: Lets talk about your feminist activist journey. What is your passion and drive?
Maggie Mapondera: It’s been a strange journey; And I think what makes it strange is that I have never really restricted myself to one sector or place. My feminist activism dates back to my Undergraduate years as student at Yale University in the United States of America. There I started organising with homeless women who were either struggling or recovering from substance abuse and poverty. The experience was the first synergy between my writing and my creative side as an activist. I organised creative writing workshops with and for the women. It was then that I discovered that creative writing can, in fact be an integral part of how women can build voice, identify the root cause of their issues and find ways to organise around them.
I organised creative writing workshops with and for the women. It was then that I discovered that creative writing can, in fact be an integral part of how women can build voice, identify the root cause of their issues and find ways to organise around them.
I then moved to a feminist movement-building organisation Just Associates (JASS) where I did communications. There was a connection there for me because JASS was focusing on Her-stories as a means for individual women and women’s communities to tell the story of their struggle, and not only telling them to make their experience visible to others, but to analyse them and collectively organise themselves and fight for change. Today I find myself with Womin, an organisation that organises frontline peasant and working class women across Africa around land rights and climate justice. Everyday I interact with the challenges women face as the climate changes their livelihoods, land and capacity to provide for themselves and their families. My passion is about women’s stories and the power those stories have to change the world. If we could find a way to collectively tell a different story of the world we live in, then maybe we can change things.
KM: What do stories contribute to the movement?
MM: The women’s movement is rooted in women’s stories. A lot of women are at the cross cutting edge of some of the deep issues that the women’s movement is challenged with today. They face patriarchy daily and in some cases have to deal with even more dangerous issues – such as the consequences of the pursuit of capital by governments and corporates at the expense of their bodies, their lives and their rights.
They face patriarchy daily and in some cases have to deal with even more dangerous issues – such as the consequences of the pursuit of capital by governments and corporates at the expense of their bodies, their lives and their rights.
So the women’s movement has to challenge itself, and think outside silos and search for the interconnectedness of these stories so that we have a full story. Otherwise we keep going two steps forward, and five steps back, as we continue thinking that issues such as the political participation of women is important because we think representation in government will take us where we need to go. But it is not enough to have the story. Her-stories need to feed our activism, action, advocacy and analysis and we have to keep growing that analysis, sharpening it and nuancing it. Otherwise what is the point? We begin to look like we are telling stories and sharing stories for the sake of stories as though that is the end. It is not the end. Across the board as a movement, we need to push ourselves and ensure that these stories are not just in vogue, but make a difference.
it is not enough to have the story. Her-stories need to feed our activism, action, advocacy and analysis and we have to keep growing that analysis, sharpening it and nuancing it.
KM: In general, is there a fair representation of women online?
MM: I don’t think it is fair at all. Especially when you look at countries like Zimbabwe and the realities of inequitable access between men and women. A huge proportion of women are not represented in online spaces largely because of their socio economic status. I am not convinced that our goal should be to get those women online. Rather what we should do is broaden the way that we connect our conversations online with the traditional and ‘conventional’ ways such as radio and television so that our messages filter through to corners we do not usually reach. That way we would have brought those critical voices on board. We cannot allow ourselves to think that the internet is the ‘Be all and end all’ of communication. We have to be context appropriate, and appropriate to the people that we are speaking to. We must think about whether the woman who tells her story, her geographical and/or interest community will have access to it. What is the point of getting her story on the internet if it cannot change her immediate and country context? We have to be strategic about how we communicate in order to fairly represent women online.
We cannot allow ourselves to think that the internet is the ‘Be all and end all’ of communication. We have to be context appropriate, and appropriate to the people that we are speaking to. We must think about whether the woman who tells her story, her geographical and/or interest community will have access to it.
KM: What is the best way of connecting the ‘unconnected’ especially in repressive states?
MM: We always have to be creative and sharp about our class analysis because it informs how access to the internet is different for all women. Access to the internet will vary based on geographical location, race, class and age. Given this reality, the women’s movement must organise itself so that, as much as possible, we reach each other as best we can and have the ability to share our experiences horizontally. For instance, I don’t think women use popular social media platforms, like WhatsApp, to their greatest potential. In Zimbabwe today, you will find that WhatsApp is the most popular mode of communication and accessing information. The sheer number of chain messages my mother sends me everyday about the most random things – whether religious or political, is amazing. Most of the information that I received about the street protests against bond notes, the nationwide stayaway, arrests of activists last year, organised by under the #ThisFlag and #Tajamuka movements, for instance, I got from Whatsapp. So that is the platform where Zimbabweans share opinions, mobilise and organise. This has exposed them to a lot of insecurities, and as the women’s movement we need to recognise and appreciate this. What I see as critical in times such as these is to find a way of getting women that are connected to understand how vulnerable they are when they are online. We also need to prepare ourselves to support them to understand their individual responsibility to consciously protect their rights to privacy, and consciously respond to safety and security online.
What I see as critical in times such as these is to find a way of getting women that are connected to understand how vulnerable they are when they are online. We also need to prepare ourselves to support them to understand their individual responsibility to consciously protect their rights to privacy, and consciously respond to safety and security online.
KM: Do you see potential for women to organise online?
MM: It has been and remains really exciting to see my mothers and my grandmothers using WhatsApp – being so proficient and sharing information- I mean they use it more than I do! So there is something there, obviously -organising opportunities. However they come with their own complications such as security, which is something that we should begin to talk about. It is also clear from the crackdown that the people in power in Zimbabwe have identified WhatsApp as a politically dangerous terrain. It says something is going on in this WhatsaApp, you want to call it – revolution, that is dangerous to those in power. So given that the people in power across the African continent see the dangerous side of the internet, we need to see what is and what is not possible in order to use, especially social media, strategically and in a way that is useful for our movement. There are possibilities and there is potential everywhere on different platforms. The movement just needs to harness these opportunities if that is the way more people can get the message.
Given that the people in power across the African continent see the dangerous side of the internet, we need to see what is and what is not possible in order to use, especially social media, strategically and in a way that is useful for our movement.
KM: Can the internet enhance African women’s participation in very contentious women’s rights issues?
MM: The internet has limits. To be honest, there is nothing better than opening up spaces and getting women together physically so that they see each other face to face and talk. However, it is not practical given the fast shifting context, which has made the terrain so fraught and dangerous for feminist activism. Therefore if we are to venture into the sensitivities of our womanhood, we have to be agile and ready with an analysis to deal with and respond to threats quick and effectively. The other dangerous aspect in as far as women’s participation, and closely related to inequality of access, is that those with access seem to be talking to themselves all the time. I have observed that, across the different social media platforms, be it Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr, the same people follow and interact with each other. In the end, it becomes a bit of an echo chamber. This, I think, can be detrimental to one’s activism and feminism; especially if those women are not forcing themselves to grow by challenging themselves enough to reach out to, or be in solidarity, in real ways, with women on the ground. So as the women’s movement we must challenge ourselves not to get trapped in the echo chamber of ourselves.
I have observed that, across the different social media platforms, be it Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr, the same people follow and interact with each other. In the end, it becomes a bit of an echo chamber. This, I think, can be detrimental to one’s activism and feminism; especially if those women are not forcing themselves to grow by challenging themselves enough to reach out to, or be in solidarity, in real ways, with women on the ground.
KM: Do you see the women’s movement benefitting from the internet?
MM: There are examples where movements have harnessed the internet, and especially social media to amplify, magnify and voice out an issue so that it gains traction. For instance, South Africa’s #FeesMustFall obviously did not just start online. There was students’ activism on the ground around the issue for a long time. Students in South African universities were passionately angry about the injustices in university institutions for a long time, and yes! the hashtag really caught fire. It gave visibility to the students activism that has continued offline meaning the hashtag was not the sole reason that the campaign was ‘big’. The hashtag allowed the movement to gain a presence beyond the South African borders, which it may not have had without social media. The same can be said of #BlackLivesMatter. People have been organising against racism in the United States for a long time. This is not to say that the hashtag is insignificant. No!
It is important that long after that the hashtag has gone or been changed to something else, those movements remain and continue to grow. All these online movements were informed by the real and lived experiences of the people on the ground.
It still is a powerful moment and movement that has given birth to other movements. However, it is important that long after that the hashtag has gone or been changed to something else, those movements remain and continue to grow. It is not possible for something that happens in isolation online to be sustainable. There has to be the on-going conversation because things always have to be that grounded. People always make reference to, for instance, the Arab Spring, as a phenomenon that happened online. But those people had been organising against oppression for many years. All these online movements were informed by the real and lived experiences of the people on the ground. So even for the women’s movement, it is such experiences that should prompt us to connect with other women. This can be done ether online or in other ways, so that when social media comes along, it is just to amplify and spread the message.
Audre Lorde. Photograph contributed by Rooturu. Source:Wikimedia Commons. Creative Commons License Attribution Share-Alike.
KM: What role(s) do social media play in movement building?
MM: We must not see one strand of the strategy for any movement as the end. Everything must be a means. If we reach an end then what are we doing? We will never reach an end in the struggles against oppression. We have to continue going back, wait, something happens, then we come back and analyse then we move forward. Otherwise we become static and stagnant. Social media becomes a part of the strategy and it plays a complimentary role.
KM: What challenges (if any) are women facing online?
MM: Unlike men, most women do not have the confidence of masculinity or advantage of patriarchy to say whatever we want without fear. We have to build a support base for women to share more online, and to feel more confident to speak out. It is hard, especially with social media, as there can be a lot of backlash. People will jump on you if they feel that you are wrong or that your analysis is weak. As you can imagine, for women its even more dangerous So imagine being a radical feminist, deal with radical opposition politics as a woman – backlash and criticism cannot be avoided. What is important to protect each other by creating both private and public platforms of different kinds to foster conversations among ourselves and with other people that we do not ordinarily interact with daily.
Personally I do not see analysis of class, race or sex and sexuality of different contexts in conversations online. Instead, most times, there is a narrow mainstream line of womanhood and what it means to be a woman in the world today.
We must sharpen one another like we sharpen knives by having the courage to say, ‘Hey my Sister! You need to step up on this one’. From there, we need to put ourselves in spaces where the backlash will be inevitable because our voices need to be heard there. This is where our challenge lies now. Only certain groups of women get their voices heard in those spaces and I am not sure that the agenda they push is indeed the ‘politics’ that we can confidently say represents the women’s movement. Personally I do not see analysis of class, race or sex and sexuality of different contexts in conversations online. Instead, most times, there is a narrow mainstream line of womanhood and what it means to be a woman in the world today.
KM: How do you think the feminists movement can touch base with the different constituencies and make their presence online more representative?
MM: We must interrogate each other on the extent to which, as individuals, we are ‘representative’ of the constituencies that we say we represent. On this one we have to be honest with one another and appreciate that it is necessary to be critical if we are to move forward. Sisters in JASS Meso-America use a Spanish term, ‘Critica Amorosa’, which, translated, means to love criticism. So, for instance, if you saw Maggie on Twitter speaking to the women’s situation in Zimbabwe as the country heads towards an election, you can be more upfront and remind her that her work is mostly based in the capital city, Harare and outside the borders of the country. That way Maggie will be clearer that maybe her scope is not deep enough as she cannot really speak on behalf of the experiences woman in rural Murehwa and their concerns about the upcoming election. So how do we bring the women from Murehwa and make them part of the conversation? That is the work we have to do and its hard work, but it is important work.
We have to be honest with one another and appreciate that it is necessary to be critical if we are to move forward. Sisters in JASS Meso-America use a Spanish term, ‘Critica Amorosa’, which, translated, means to love criticism.
KM: Describe the way women’s movement works online
MM: I struggle with the ‘performative’ nature of conversations online as women posture and say things that they actually may not believe. We see multiple identities online that conflict with those we interact with offline. Agreed, it can be quite liberating to have all these different identities, but once in a while, one has to step back and ask oneself what it is exactly that they believe in. People do and say things just for ‘clicks’ and they use this to prove the success of their moment or movement. This is not our success. Our success as the women’s movement lies in what we have done to change the lives of women on the ground. Sure, the fact that we have had conversations on sensitive issue that we are passionate about, is a success. You can mark it as a ‘little outcome’, but that cannot be it.
KM: So is a feminists internet possible?
MM: Weeeellll! [Laughs] I have had had time to reflect deeply on this since the City Conversation on the Feminists Principles of the Internet here in Harare. Having principles is a powerful thing as it gives us something to look towards and fight for. The principles are key in that they will give us a code in which to function as feminists. We can try and create the space of a feminist internet, knowing though that the reality of a feminist internet is quite far in the future – and that is still okay.
The principles are key in that they will give us a code in which to function as feminists. We can try and create the space of a feminist internet, knowing though that the reality of a feminist internet is quite far in the future – and that is still okay.
In general, my take way, and this is purely based on my current work with community activists, is that the internet is not the ‘hugest’ of priorities for the majority of women on the African continent. My major concern for feminism in this digital era is the failure to reach the relevant audiences. Everyday stories are told and discussions are held that only a certain set of people can access. This is the dilemma of Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs). I see the possibility of the extension the ‘NGO-isation’ of movement online if we do not take heed. Being online gets us funding because of the exposure and visibility, but the communities who are the reason we can produce this content and for whom this content is supposed to serve, don’t always have access to it.
KM: Thank you Maggie for your time MM: Thank you
I could provide insights, coordination
to impact your next project/event.