Social media awash with smear campaigns in 2018 elections

By Daniel Makamba

BINDURA-The 2018 harmonized election has been highly characterized by the use of social media platforms campaign with Twitter and WhatsApp being the most preferred for instant and speedy transmission of election news.

Of more interest is how political arch rivals have abused these platforms which were virtually existing as mere tools of smearing campaigns, character assassination, alarmist as well as fake news.

Social media platforms have also been used especially by those in marginalized areas who could not easily access traditional forms of communication like the radio, press and television to expose electoral offences by other political participants.

However, this election has also revealed challenges with credibility of news that is circulated on platforms like WhatsApp as some arguably dismissed the news as either fake and images as photo shopped.

 Recently Zimbabwe was awash with videos and pictures exposing the alleged meeting between the   MDC Alliance presidential candidates Advocate Nelson Chamisa with Former First Lady Grace Mugabe in a hotel.

Commenting on the state of social media use during the election, social commentator and Midlands State University student Liberty Mondietta in the department of Media said the veracity of information which was being transmitted via WhatsApp was difficulty to accept its credibility.

“We have witnessed devastating abuse of social media platforms by political individuals de-campaigning each other by spreading false news, malicious images and what made the whole scenario harder was to distinguish between truth and false news.

“Just two days before election we saw images and videos alleging Nelson Chamisa and Grace Mugabe in a conspiratorial attitude but it is difficult to prove the credibility of those media circulations, it is only after until the traditional media like radios and newspapers have confirmed WhatsApp news that social media circulations are accepted as true but in several instances we have witnessed a lot of news on social media dismissed as either being fake or a work of the enemy” said Mondietta.

The media are mandated with the duty to inform the electorate so that they make well informed choice however social media has been blasted for merely spreading malicious news which was not at all informing but rather an injustice on the part of the electorate who at times were left short of the real truth of things

“A lot of unconfirmed news has been circulating about ZEC and ballot paper offences with the worst news being the denigration of the image of ZEC commission Priscilla Chigumba who’s right to privacy was invaded by social media spreading all sorts of reputation damaging speculations,” commented young political analyst Mrs Elizabeth Roki.

However, others have managed to engage in fruitful political debates via the use of Twitter platforms mainly owing to the elitist nature of the platform which has been a tool of the professional elites for the spread of factual news.

Micro-blogging platform Twitter has also been a source of news for journalists who were using posts by certain political individual’s comments with exiled Prof Jonathan Moyo, Themba Mliswa and Fadzai Mahere being the most out spoken political figures participating on Twitter.

“the most remaining fear for social media after we have voted today is the announcing of fake results which can easily cause alarm and despondency if not well handled, otherwise there is a lot which still needs to be done in inculcating ethical considerations for citizen journalist for us to fully realize the power of social media as a tool for both democratic revival and transition,” said Twitter user, Mr Tanaka Zezai.