Election monitor, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) has asked youths to stop spreading inaccurate election related information on social media in an effort to deal with suppressed political participation.
The election watch dog insists that hate speech and misinformation has contributed to voter apathy among the youth.
ZESN made the clarion call in a statement to commemorate the National Youth Day celebrated every year on the 21st of February.
Zimbabwe is set to hold elections in a few months, although youths constitute 67.7% of the constitution only a few turn out to vote or participate as candidates.
While the reasons for non-participation range from physical violence, cost associated with participating as a candidate, the struggles associated with obtaining an identity document among others, ZESN maintains that spread of misinformation and hate speech online plays a part.
“ZESN is saddened by the levels of improper usage of social media to mis-inform, dis-inform, mal-inform citizens regarding electoral issues and to character assassinate through hate speech and derogatory comments.
“These are crimes the youth have perpetrated and/ or fallen victim to, which in turn has led to young voter apathy and youth disassociation with the need to take up leadership positions.
In an interview with Open Parly ZW, FactCheckersZW director Lifaqune Nare said fake news is a popular term used to describe any information that people don’t like but further explains that in fact checking the three terms used are misinformation, dis-information and mal-information.
“Misinformation is information that is false, but the intention is not to cause harm. Usually this is for instance a journalist who wrote a story thinking the information is true yet it’s not.
“On the other hand, dis-information is information that is produced and shared to cause harm. Somebody sits down and produces information that they know is not true and goes on to share it.
“Then mal-information is information that is true but is true but shared with the intention to cause harm. It is information that is true but is not intended for public dissemination”, said Nare.
In agreement with ZESN, Nare pointed out that the spread of misinformation, disinformation and mal information had a negative impact on political participation.
“People use information they get to make informed decisions about their lives and choices. Whether to go register to vote, where to go register to vote and who to vote for.
“So when they get information that is not true this impacts the way the decisions are made so online disinformation can amplify voter confusion.
“This can lead to low voter turnout, suppress political participation and degrade trust in democratic institutions”, she added.
Guarding Against Exploitation
However, ZESN has encouraged the youth to do away with antisocial behaviors that hinder their participation.
“The Zimbabwe Election Support Network urges young people to uproot vices such as drug and alcohol abuse, violence and the abuse of social media that threaten their existence as responsible citizens, limiting their full participation and positive influence in the electoral processes which in turn erodes trust, credibility and slows the democratic momentum of
“The Network reiterates its call for youth to foster peace and not to allow themselves to be used to cause violence in the coming harmonized elections.
Fake news has been around since the dawn of the internet, but the rise in social media has made it easier for false information to spread quickly.