Disinformation by government in Zimbabwe
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A report compiled for Zimbabwe Digital Rights Academy .

A 2023 report by Research ICT Africa underscores that African political parties are in the market for commercial advertising tools to assist with campaigns.

MISA Zimbabwe’s election reporting guide defines misinformation as information that is false but may not have been created to cause harm.

Disinformation: false information created to cause harm.

During the pre- and post-election period in Zimbabwe, this report will establish the motives behind engineered information disorders and their influence in politics and the economy.

In the context of Zimbabwe, information disorders are a product of bad will and also a byproduct of commercial interests. The problem is both representative of profit and political power.

Information disorders on digital platforms are powered by irresponsible use of disruptive technologies, including generative artificial intelligence models represented by chatbots, deep fakes, and the recommendation algorithm.

Investigations by ZNCJ revealed that populations with access to the Internet are presenting a significant demand for information. As a result, the middle class and urban populations are targeted for information disorder campaigns.

How the middle class is targeted for misinformation

A data observation by ZNCJ shows that 8 out of 10 social media users agree they are exposed to information disorders and have also shared misleading information with the intent to influence their political persuasions with family and friends.

The survey sampled social media users to participate in polls on community WhatsApp groups for news and resident associations.

Zimbabweans on social media platforms, including X and Facebook, are continuously exposed to a series of misinformation spells during information wars between political party rivals.

Examples of these instances include

  • Information wars between political rivals on social media
  • Unsolicited political messaging through SMS
  • Misleading headlines on news aggregate groups on Messenger applications (WhatsApp)
  • Inaccurate political campaign messages
  • Targeted smear campaigns
  • Artificial intelligence-powered deep fakes
  • Victimisation of minorities as a deterrent to political participation

Political rivalry and information wars on social media

A 2023 report by Research ICT Africa underscores that African political parties are in the market for commercial advertising tools to assist with campaigns.

Candidates use platforms and use trolls, influencers, and microtargeting companies to influence polls in their favour.

Research ICT Africa 2023

In the race for political power in Zimbabwe, information disorders are manifesting on social media, where rival political parties have employed trolls and even deep fakes to push narratives and political campaigns.

Data analysts Team Pachedu and fact-checkers have taken to task to expose some of the deep fake images, misleading statistics, intimidation, and violence.

The #Howfar campaign gained traction on social media, where the middle class and elites held the government to account for the promises made.

The campaign resulted in polarised conversations between political rivals, creating environments for information disorders to thrive.

Such is the case of information battles between the ruling party ZanuPF and Varakashi, a contingent of social media trolls who call themselves the destroyers willing to defend the party’s info wars. On the other side, the main opposition party has the #Nerorists, a contingent of trolls who defend the CCC position during information wars.

Correctness of campaign messages between political rivals

Soon after launching the CCC’s manifesto, party leader Nelson Chamisa said his party will restore the energy crisis and rehabilitate Hwange power station to alleviate the energy crisis in Zimbabwe.

Chamisa has been criticised for misinformation when addressing rallies or even posting on social media.

He created an information environment that depicted the ruling government as incompetent, banking on the electorate’s emotions to draw closer to his party’s promises.

On the contrary, Chamisa’s information was problematically inaccurate, as it was later confirmed that the power stations he was referring to had been rehabilitated and were already functioning.

Misleading headlines on social media posts

A study among colleagues by Claire Robertson (2023) revealed people are more likely to click on a story with negative words in the headline. The study sampled more than 5 million clicks and revealed that negative news about politics and the economy is most likely to be clicked.

Zanupf Patriots was also flagged for peddling misinformation when they quoted opposition leader Nelson Chamisa saying that some beneficiaries of the land reform programme will lose land if he wins the presidential election.

The social media post can be flagged for misinformation aimed at engineering a narrative that opposition party CCC will reverse the land reform once they get in power.

In this case, Chamisa was quoted out of context, resulting in the creation of a view that would sway the electorate from an unpopular policy stance.

It is proven that information disorders can also be used to drive profit, political persuasions, and election outcomes.

Unsolicited political messaging SMS

Since April this year, targeted populations from various constituencies have been receiving unsolicited political messages from ZANUPF leader Emerson Mnangangwa.

POTRAZ, the Data Authority, has still not confirmed the origins of the messages or if the true sender is ZanuPF leader Emerson Mnangangwa.

The unsolicited political messages presented a digital rights issue where the sender of the bulk messages had access to personally identifying information about their targeted persons.

Assuming this could have been a result of a privacy and security breach where an unauthorised third party had access to personally identifying information, including the phone number and location of the data subject,

These vulnerabilities expose the target demographics to all sorts of information disorders created to gain profit or political mileage.

Victimisation of females in politics

Disinformation campaigns have been used by political rivals to discredit females and other minority groups from political participation.

Former Zimpapers Editor Edmund Kudzayi threatened to expose CCCs national spokeswoman and candidate for Mt. Pleasant Constituency Fadzai Mahere for having an affair with a married man.

The evidence of the so-called affair did not suffice, but Mahere had been discredited of leadership credentials and reduced to a woman of loose morals.

Call to action

The government and Civil society organisations must take up the task to disarm information disorders by first building the capacity of media.

It is clear that the information ecosystem in Zimbabwe is gradually corrupted by emerging disorders.

The middle class, with access to the internet and a high demand for digital products, is targeted for commercial or political reasons.

For the most part, misinformation campaigns by media organisations, tech companies, and media organisations are mainly used for interfering with election outcomes and creating narratives that discredit political rivals.

If you support independent community focused journalism in Zimbabwe, you are welcome to donate towards ZNCJ.ORG fund to provide reporting grants for investigative stories like this.

Click here to make a once off donation via PayPal or contact us at zncj@yahoo.com for enquiries

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By Richard Kawazi

Richard Kawazi is a media policy and tech enthusiast, also a multi award winning journalist with a keen interest in Experimental Media Development.

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