Fake news is not just a Western problem

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Fake news is not just a Western problem

Fake news is not new, writes Nanjala Nyabola.


Cambridge Analytica tried to influence the 2015 election in Nigeria. (Photo: Reuters)

Everyone knows that Cambridge Analytica (a data analytics company that people say used its software to create and spread bad messages) affected votes for Trump and Brexit. But the company also spread fake news in Africa.

In Nigeria, it tried to influence the 2015 election by showing, in images, that a candidate supported Sharia law (according to The Guardian); in Kenya, people say the company helped the government win in the 2013 and 2017 elections.

George Santayana wrote that people who can’t remember the past will probably repeat the past.

And events are never completely new. All new communications technology has used fake news, a long time before the internet.

For example, in 1929 an American magazine called The Forum published a debate with the title ‘Radio: Blessing or Curse?’. One person said the radio is ‘just another medium for advertisers to bother us… [where] there is now very little danger that Americans will resort to… thinking’. But by 1937, a commentator warned in The Atlantic that television audiences would be easier to influence than radio audiences.

And this was true. Television was an important part of spreading McCarthyist propaganda in the 1940s. People used print too, for example the anti-Jewish propaganda papers in the 1930s that made people in Europe hysterical, and then allowed people to agree to the Holocaust. Mass media has always been very important to the process of spreading hate, violence and fear.

In the West, the regulations have slowly stopped this. But not in countries like Kenya, where the government needs to control the press. In the late 2000s, there were many more local language radio stations, and a lot of texting. This had an effect on the violence after the 2007/8 elections, when more than 1500 people were killed. But maybe the best-known example is Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines in Rwanda. This station was only working for a little more than one year (1993-94), but it spread so much anti-Tutsi hate speech that it was one of the things that started the 1994 genocide, when about one million people were killed in three months.

The most important lesson from history is that we cannot trust mass-media platforms to control what they do. Also, we cannot allow governments to control them without checks. We can learn about how to find the balance from countries like Kenya.

The free flow of political information is mostly good for democracy, and we can’t stop the progress in communications technology. But we can learn from the past about how and why we can stop these platforms having such bad effects.

Nanjala Nyabola writes the ‘View from Africa’ column for New Internationalist magazine.

Now read the original: https://newint.org/features/2018/11/01/fake-news-africa

(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed)