As the novel coronavirus spreads, so does fake news, rumours, hoaxes and false documents.
Following President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement of a 21-day lockdown, people have been panic buying consumer goods and food – despite calls not to – and sharing unchecked or fake news on social media.
This past week, there have been claims ranging from helicopters spraying disinfectant, to a social media post that said government would only assist companies that were 51% black-owned.
A document of unknown origin has been rapidly shared by South Africans in which it is claimed, among other things, that only one person will be allowed per vehicle, and, should there be a passenger, that person should sit in the back seat. Both should wear masks, the document claims.
The document, which has no reference or context, further claims that people will not be permitted to travel to second residences.
While it appears to contain information relating to a lockdown, it does not apply to South Africa.
Government Communication and Information System spokesperson Chrispin Phiri confirmed that the document was fake.
Kate Wilkinson, deputy chief editor at Africa Check, also told News24 that the document was fake.
“It’s difficult in a time like this because we can’t fact-check everything. People need to start changing how they think and react to the information they receive,” she said.
“We have to acknowledge that people are scared, but we can make sure that that fear doesn’t affect the decisions they make, and that includes the information that they share. If you receive a message on WhatsApp or you see something on Facebook about the novel coronavirus, don’t share it if you’re not 100% sure that it’s accurate.
“Sharing false information can mislead people. We’re talking about people’s health – all our decisions about our health should be based on accurate information.”
Wilkinson said people could report suspicious messages or information to Africa Check via Twitter, or receive a free message every Friday called “What’s Crap on WhatsApp?” by sending a message to 082 709 3527.