Citizen reporter
3 minute read
4 May 2020
2:31 pm

Mineral resources department warns against fake ‘free electricity’ message

Citizen reporter

The department of mineral resources and energy has warned against a circulating fake message urging people to dial a number to get free electricity from government.

Picture: iStock

The said message urges people to dial *130*869# to access free electricity.

The department said: “This is fake and is not part of government’s free basic electricity (FBE) programme.  Government’s FBE’s policy is aimed at providing support to indigent households to meet their basic energy needs.

“To access this provision, qualifying citizens are urged to apply through their respective municipalities or Eskom in instances where Eskom is supplying their area.”

This comes after social media experts warned against the distribution of false information, calling for prosecution against those sharing fake news.

Fake news, hoaxes and conspiracy theories have been ubiquitous since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. People have, in their ignorance, either unwittingly shared false information on their social media pages or via WhatsApp, while others have actively created fake news to serve various malicious objectives.

In a viral message that Covid-19 testing swabs were infected and used to spread the virus, which was later debunked by the Eastern Cape health department, a man in a video calls on South African’s to refuse Covid-19 testing.

With an earbud stuck up his nose, he claims he is giving South Africans “the most important message you will ever hear in your entire life”.

He then claims that the South African government will send 10,000 workers door to door, with the police, to test for Covid-19.

The DA has since pressed charges against the man, saying these criminal charges are “meant to send a strong message to South Africans that the spreading of fake news will not be tolerated”.

William Bird, director of Media Monitoring Africa, said there had been a significant spike in fake news and conspiracy theories since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

“This kind of thing is increasing. That specific complaint [about the contaminated swabs] was submitted to us several times. There are also several illegitimate WhatsApp voice notes being distributed. People are sending them around in the hope that they sound a whole lot more compelling [than they are] or that they connect with people – it’s a similar thing with videos.

“I mean, I don’t know what that guy [in the swab video] was thinking he was going to achieve. The levels of disinformation that we have seen are really worrying.”

Bird said fake messages were in the past predominantly shared on open platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, which made it easier to control, but that there has been a predominant shift to WhatsApp, where it is much harder to track or monitor.

Social media lawyer Emma Sadleir said that, as much as we are facing a health epidemic, we are also facing a fake news epidemic.

“Whenever emotions are heightened, it creates a breeding ground for fake news.”

In some cases, these spreaders of fake news seek to profit from it, while others are using it for political gain, particularly when they have a narrative, Sadleir said.


(Compiled by Gopolang Moloko, background reporting: News24 Wire)

For more news your way, download The Citizen’s app for iOS and Android.