Hoax news websites are on the rise in SA – here's what to look out for

By Kirstin Buick
24 September 2016

Here's how to make sure you're not fooled.

All it takes these days for an article or news snippet to be shared worldwide, is one click of the mouse button.

Examples include the recent “news” that the public protector, Thuli Madonsela, was assassinated, or that the soccer player Mark Fish had died of a heart attack.

These are just two examples of recent false news articles that have been widely shared online. So before you click to share that juicy article with your friends on social media, first make sure it’s coming from a reliable source.

In South Africa there’s been a sharp rise in websites that call themselves news sites, but publish false articles. These sites post anything from pure propaganda and political fear-mongering to sensational and funny stories or simply gossip.

Other false news stories that have recently been shared on social media is that the DA will be providing free Wi-Fi to all residents of Nelson Mandela Bay, and that Julius Malema has apparently left the EFF and is now a member of the DA.

On Monday the “news” was shared on social media that Archbishop Desmond Tutu had passed away, and false allegations against former President Thabo Mbeki also gained momentum.

The South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) has strongly condemned this type of website in a statement, saying, “Such inaccurate reports by websites masquerading as credible news sources are highly damaging and hurtful to those involved and their families.”

Sanef also pointed out that many of these websites purposefully use names and logos similar to those of reputable news sites in order to deceive their readers, and that this practise was doing “a great disservice to legitimate news websites and the news industry as a whole”.

It’s irresponsible and damaging to spread these falsehoods on social media, and South Africans should take care to only share news from reputable media houses, Sanef says.

Websites are often created with the specific purpose of spreading the political views of its creator, says Professor Lizette Rabe, head of Stellenbosch University’s journalism department.

She says people should ask themselves whether they trust the website or not.

“Just as you wouldn’t visit a doctor if you didn’t know whether they’re a registered physician or not, South Africans should be fully aware of who and what your news sources on the internet are,” Professor Rabe says.

She adds it’s important to check if the news source is legitimate. If not, you should assume the content is merely someone’s opinion.

Watch out for these sites that have recently published false articles:

  • t1meslive.co.za. This site recently reported the deaths of both Mark Fish and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
  • citysun.co.za has been accused of producing a fair bit of ANC propaganda.
  • africannewsupdates.com describes itself as a “satirical news site”. This website previously spread the news that 80 000 ballot papers were found during the municipal elections that had been pre-marked with votes for the ANC.

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