One of the common bits of fake news spread to create panic amid the pandemic was that the fart of a person infected with coronavirus could immediately infect those around them.
Another was a theory that Bill Gates would infect Africans with the virus through vaccines disguised to prevent coronavirus.
According to young researchers at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), between two and five fake news stories related to the coronavirus were picked up each day.
Speaking at a media briefing on fake news and cybercrimes during the pandemic, information and security researcher Nelisiwe Dlamini categorised fake news as either malinformation, which is false news that is shared but not to harm, and misinformation, which is based on reality but shared intending to harm.
One of the misinformed fake news that was identified as a form which circulated, stating it should be signed by authorities should one want to go out to buy essentials or receive medical attention.
“Another story was that testing kits were rigged and will give false-positive results. This is based on reality because we do have testing kits. But it’s malinformation because it undermines the efforts of the South African government.
“The other fake news was if [an infected] person farts then you will get Covid-19 immediately. Another is that Bill Gates is going to vaccinate Africans and that vaccine is going to give them Covid-19. People would panic out of fear and share this news,” she said.
Their research looked at scams, rumours, propaganda and conspiracy theories with suspicious content which were collected and verified using tools and methods such as fake news reporting site Real411, Africa Check, Google fact-checking programmes and finding details of the person who posted the fake news, Dlamini explained. The findings are then published on their fake news dashboard.
The spread of fake news was most common on social media platforms Twitter and WhatsApp. This was because it was easier to retweet or share the false news, Dlamini said.
“In terms of receiving fake news, you might get the urge to share [it]. But a person should be vigilant. Sharing fake information on Covid-19 is a criminal offence… We have also been working with law enforcement,” said Dlamini.
She advises using the following tips to identify false news:
– Check the headline first and the author of the particular author.
– Check the date when the information was published.
– Read the actual story and analyse if it could be genuine or fake.
– Consider the source. It could just be a blog of someone sharing their opinion.
– Look for supporting sources to see if the same story is shared and how true it is.