With barely three months to elections, there is no denying that the country is gripped with election fever. One thing that is quite clear now is that Malawians are more than eager to hear what the aspiring candidates have in store for them. Apart from that, it seems everyone is anxious to know who will be partnering the presidential candidates as presidential running mates. Add to this, it is also clear that Malawians expect political parties to form political alliances.
Despite such high levels of anticipation and hunger for information that Malawians are demanding, there is still a yawning gap in information that would enable the public make an informed electoral decision. This in turn has led to speculation, rumour-mongering and in worst cases, fake news and disinformation—all intended at filling the information gap.
Oftentimes when a discussion about the widespread of fake news ahead of elections is brought up, many are quick to question the possible impact of fake news: Will fake news sway opinion and decide electoral fortunes? And then there are those who outright dismiss the impact of fake news.
Those who craft and spread fake news often have an intention of changing people’s mindset towards a product, a political candidate or a political party. The intention is that you either view the product negatively or positively.
Citizens as well as politicians are culprits of fake news. There are those who trying too hard to prop-up the image of their candidates and then there are others who are also trying hard to tarnish the image of other politicians.
Politicians are harnessing internet stories and websites to mislead voters because users are less discerning over what is real and fake. Take for instance, the “180km” Chapananga bridge that President Mutharika has repeatedly talked about as the longest bridge in the history of Malawi.
It is not entirely correct that the bridge is 180km rather it is 180m long. And it is not correct that it is the longest bridge in Malawi. Often politicians are using all manner of platforms to mislead voters and woo them to their side.
Fake news ahead of elections apart from swaying opinions, also has a potential of causing political instability and violence which would in turn result in voter apathy. It has been well documented that political violence shrinks political participation space.
There is a lot of unverified, fake news and disinformation going around as the elections fever heightens. But, every Malawian, including politicians, has a role to play in stopping fake news. One sure of doing this is by not sharing information that is unverified.
The other sure way of stopping fake news is by learning to give information as and when it is needed to avoid rumour-mongering. Fake news flourishes where there is high demand for information, whether from government officials and yet that information is not forthcoming.