Fake news peddlers can be traced - Hawks

2017-01-23 20:16
Ferial Haffajee.

Ferial Haffajee.

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Cape Town - Fake news peddlers and Twitter impersonators can run with fake information, but they will not be able to hide, the Hawks said on Monday.

“We do have that capacity to track them down,” spokesperson Hangwani Mulaudzi warned after Talk Radio 702, Sunday Times, and Huffington Post SA editor-at-large Ferial Haffajee were targeted in a bizarre Twitter campaign against Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan over the weekend.

The tweets were made to look as if they came from established media houses and journalists.

The cyber crimes unit, crime intelligence, or the Hawks, could track them down. International mutual assistance agreements, such as with the US's Federal Bureau of Investigation, could also help locate IP addresses of offenders.

However, Mulaudzi said a workshop might still be needed to teach officers at police stations how to handle complaints from lesser-known victims of online smears. Cases had to be escalated to the relevant unit.

“Everybody has got the right to open a case. They should not be dismissed,” he said.

On Saturday, Haffajee was linked to a tweet purporting to be from the Huffington Post (@HuffingtonPostZA) which said, "Ferial Haffajee: #Gordhan is clearly WMC stooge, going out of his way to clip wings of #Guptas #OakBay".

The acronym WMC means “white monopoly capital”, a reference to the mega corporations headed or owned by white people.

The SA National Editors’ Forum wanted an investigation into fake news because it was creating confusion.

“It changes how the consumer approaches news now. People won't be sure of what is news and what isn't,” Sanef’s ethics committee chairperson Sam Mkokeli said.

The difference between the fake and the real thing was sometimes subtle. The Sunday Times Twitter handle simply got an extra “s”. The sites featured catchy headlines and clean copy, which made it easier to fool people.

A fake City Press website had a picture of a woman sitting on a man's lap. Haffajee’s and business tycoon Johann Rupert's faces are photo-shopped onto the bodies.


Haffajee vowed to take on the trolls, which she said started gunning for her in December, after she wrote a column in City Press titled “4 days in December - the year of State Capture”.

This report traced the history of claims that the Gupta family may have had a hand in some of President Jacob Zuma's ministerial appointments and could have influenced the awarding of state contracts, notably for Eskom.

These formed the basis of former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela's State of Capture report.

The Guptas had filed papers against Gordhan over his refusal to get involved in the “big four” banks' decision to stop doing business with them and close their bank accounts.

Haffajee said that after her column, she noticed a proliferation of real media handles or designs to defend themselves.

Black First Land First leader Andile Mngxitama said the mainstream media was getting what it deserved.

“It is karma. Mainstream media is in fact the main manufacturer of fake news,” he said.

It did this by ignoring stories inconvenient to white business interests, he continued.

He claimed half of all Twitter accounts in South Africa were fake because black users were afraid they would lose their jobs if they voiced their opinions. He denied being part of any paid Twitter campaign against publications.

“I might be many things, but I am still in control of my own judgment,” he said.

Twitter does allow parody accounts, such as the popular IG: Barry Roux, purporting to be former blade runner Oscar Pistorius's lawyer. However, its policy states the user must indicate the account is a parody or a fake. Twitter does allow for complaints of impersonation, which are to be made by the affected person.

Work is continuing on a new Cyber Crimes and Cyber Security Bill, which aims to form divisions within government dedicated to cybercrime.

Oakbay had not responded to requests for comment at the time of publishing.

Read more on:    twitter  |  sanef  |  hawks  |  ferial haffajee  |  media  |  social media

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