In order to combat the spread of the Covid-19 virus, a 21- day national lockdown across Zimbabwe came into force on 30th March 2020. Subsequently, Statutory Instrument (S.I) 83 of 2020 was issued which among other things has a provision to punish the publication or communication of false or fake news during the national lockdown period. Section 14 of the regulations says: “For the avoidance of doubt, any person who publishes or communicates false news about any public ofﬁcer, ofﬁcial or enforcement officer involved with enforcing or implementing the national lockdown in his or her capacity as such, or about any private individual that has the effect of prejudicing the state’s enforcement of the national lockdown, shall be liable for prosecution under Section 31 of the Criminal Law Code (“Publishing or communicating false statements prejudicial to the state”) and liable to the penalty there provided, that is to say, a ﬁne up to or exceeding level 14 or imprisonment for a period not exceeding 20 years or both.”
Of late, social media has been used to circulate information about developments of the Covid-19 in the country to raise awareness on good hygiene, maintaining social distance and essentially for people to stay home during this lockdown period. However, in equal measure, people have been circulating memes, jokes and fake news. A case in point is the wide circulation on social media of a fake press statement on 10 April 2020 allegedly issued by the President purporting an extension of the lockdown by 13-days.
Since this fake statement was circulated widely, it got the attention of the President who then announced on the 13th of April 2020 that the full arm of the law will be used to arrest those that peddle falsehoods and sentence them to the maximum jail term of 20 years.
Now more than ever, it’s important to have accurate information on social media as more people rely on it for news and information. It’s encouraging to know that digital platforms are now taking steps to tackle misinformation about COVID-19 on their services with the major players such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft, etc committing to work together. In addition, more has to be done to conscientize citizens on verifying information through taking the following simple steps, verify the source and double-check with authoritative and reputable news services before circulating news on social media.
By Tapiwanashe Vushe.