Reporting on Elections in Zimbabwe
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Zimbabwe’s 2023 election experienced increased activity of information disorder characterised by the spreading of false news and problematically inaccurate information engineered to influence the electorate, the outcome of polls and profit

A report compiled for ZNCJ

Information disorders infiltrated Zimbabwe’s information ecosystem during the 2023 election, with political parties, candidates, the electorate and the media responsible for the spread of false information.

Misinformation is information that is false but may not have been created to cause harm whilst disinformation is false information created to cause harm.

MISA ZIMBABWE ELECTION REPORTING GUIDLINES MANUAL 2023

The law enforcement and mainstream media had a lukewarm approach to disarming information disorders rife on open platforms including Facebook, X and messenger platforms (WhatsApp).

To a problematic extent, these information disorders during the pre and post elections period were able to thrive because of enablers, including commercial media organisations and every other person empowered to access the internet.

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.

Observations by ZNCJ at capacity building workshops and trainings by MISA Zimbabwe revealed that information disorders were systematically structured for three target groups, which are

  • Rural populations
  • Urban population
  • Digital community

Preliminary studies by ZNCJ which took over 400 days of monitoring the public media preferences and social media platforms during the election campaigns revealed that candidates from political persuasions communicated problematic, inaccurate information to misinform or cause harm to their opponents.

At a hybrid workshop by MISA (August 2023) to tackle information disorders across industries, 8 out of every 10 participants agreed to be exposed to misinformation on WhatsApp during the election campaign period.

Statistically, every internet user in Zimbabwe relies on WhatsApp as their messenger application of choice, which technically means that most of the misinformation is peddled on messenger applications.

It then becomes a chain reaction of unverified information spreading and being shared on a large scale.

This report will establish on a case-to-case basis where candidates, the media and electorate intentionally peddled mis-disinformation and how mobile journalism played a role in the corruption of Zimbabwe’s information ecosystem during the election period.

ZNCJ’s position

ZNCJ supports and advocates for freedom of speech, expression, and rights to impart ideas by the public through democratic participation in the media.

However, the freedoms of expression and rights to impart ideas must not amount to the production and distribution of information disorders.

ZNCJ takes note of malicious trolls on social media platforms who are manufacturing fake news whilst masquerading as Citizen Journalists.

Our community strongly condemns the spread of fake news about elections, and we ate a firm stance on the prosecution of malicious individuals and organizations who are found polluting Zimbabwe’s information ecosystem.

We strongly surge collaborations from civil society to disarm information disorders through capacity building trainings for journalists, activists,  and actors in civil society.

Malinformation against women in politics

Mahere vs. Kudzyi

CCC member of parliament and former spokesperson, Fadzai Mahere, was a victim of malinformation when social media was awash with allegations that she was having an affair with a married man.

This information attack sufficed when Mahere announced her political ambitions to take office as a member of parliament, logically alluding to the fact that the misinformation was deployed to discredit her character and make her a victim of cyberbullying.

Blame was apportioned to Edmund Kudzai, a former editor at Zimpapers who posted on X saying that he was to release evidence of Fadzai Mahere’s affair with a married man.

The so-called evidence did not suffice, and rumours of unverified claims of an affair had spread across social media platforms, damaging the personhood of Mahere.

In this case, malinformation was deployed against Mahere during the election campaign period to influence the electorate and discredit a candidate.

Impersonation of social media accounts

ZNCJ observed increased activity of fake news and misinformation following the announcements of election results since starting on 24 August 2023.

Fake social media accounts impersonating persons of authority during the elections have been used to peddle misinformation about the election and the outcome of the polls.

Social media and messenger platforms were awash with fake news and disinformation following the preliminary report by SADC Election Observer Mission (SEOM) head Dr Nevers Mumba.

A fake X account impersonating head of the SEOM, Dr Mumba was largely responsible for creating and sharing disinformation as illustrated below.

Misinformation in Zimbabwe

The case of Dr Nevers Mumba impersonation exposes the vulnerabilities in the information ecosystem regarding the outcome of the election.

The problem exposed the need for digital security and fact check capacity building for journalists, civil society, and citizen journalists.

Impersonation on social media accounts presents the need for laws that exclusively allow accredited persons to communicate information about national interest.

Deliberate misquotes during political communication

Opposition party leader Nelson Chamisa was quoted saying “the land issue will be resolved”, in a video clip that was less than 10 seconds long while addressing party followers at a rally in Midlands Province in June 2023.

Social media was awash with news spreading that Chamisa wanted to reverse the land reform programme if he were to win the presidential election.

As part of election campaigning, Zanu-PF’s Varakshi4ED, a contingent of social media trolls and propagandists, immediately issued an official statement on X that the opposition party leader had plans to reverse the land reform programme.

It was true that Chamisa made the utterances; however, the context was incorrect.

The spreading of click-bait headlines by online publications and other social media accounts was responsible for peddling the misinformation.

Moreso, the short video was not long enough to provide context, which then qualifies the spread of the fake news as misinformation that had no context.

It took the efforts of fact-checking media publications to search for the full video and give context to the video.

However, the intended purpose of spreading the misinformation was to discredit the CCC by associating the party with the unpopular policy of reversing the land reform.

Unsolicited political messaging by Zanu-PF

Since April 2023, targeted populations from various constituencies have received unsolicited political SMSs purporting to be from Zanu-PF leader Emmerson Mnangagwa.

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

The issue of unsolicited SMSs qualifies as misinformation because the origins of the messages and the sender are still unverified. The messages purported to be from Emerson Mnangagwa.

However, preliminary observations reveal that the messages were misleading and were sent by Mnangagwa himself. The intention of the messages was to mobilise for political participation.

Secondly, 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.

Information wars Varakashi vs. Nerorists

Zimbabwe’s information ecosystem is under threat from the information wars between highly polarised political persuasions.

Candidates have established themselves in the industrial production of information disorders to influence the electorate and outcomes of the polls.

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.

The #Howfar campaign gained traction on social media, where the middle class and elites were holding the government accountable for the promises made by the government.

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

Correctness of political campaign messages

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 misinforming the electorate 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 and unverified, as it was later confirmed that the power stations he was referring to had been rehabilitated and were already functioning.

Call to action

Media organisations and journalists have the collective responsibility to safeguard the information ecosystem and restore confidence in Zimbabwe’s digital identity.

Media organisations must invest in developing fact-checking technology to protect the information ecosystem.

Legacy media organisations continue to play an authoritative role in the information ecosystem, and editorial independence is crucial to safeguarding against information disorders and capture by politicians.

Civil society organizations must also play a watchdog to strengthen and expand information laws, particularly those that deal with the spreading of false information.

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 PayPal donation or contact us at zncj@yahoo.com

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By Richard Matthew Kawazi

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