Misinformation helps nobody

Let’s share information by all means, but let’s share correct information

Let’s share information by all means, but let’s share correct information

Nick Mangwana  View from the Diaspora
They say misinformation is more dangerous than ignorance. It is better for people to know nothing than to know lies presented as the truth. Like very much elsewhere, Zimbabwe’s polity is fraught with information that is actively disseminated with a deliberate intention to deceive.

Whether people are ignorant enough to believe something which is clearly a lie depends on their culture. This type of thing has produced an interesting of study elsewhere called Agnotology. This is defined as the study of culturally induced ignorance. It is this ignorance which makes people to be ready recipients of lies, fake news, misinformation and disinformation. It is happening in Zanu-PF.

It is also happening in the Zimbabwean political discourse at large. We will see a build-up starting from now towards up to after the elections. Voter registration and the attendant education have started in Zimbabwe.

There is a noble effort to inform the public. But the problem is that most proponents of public information have a tendency to misinform. Every part of the process is now going to be discredited. For example, a head of Constitutional body is not expected to show deference to a Head of State without being accused of being too subservient.

One wonders whether people should leave their African ethos when appointed to an important office. If that same head of the institution is seen giving that deference, to say a chief or an elderly villager, those same people will venerate the person for not forgetting who they are.

But when they give the same respect to a senior citizen who is also the Head of State the same people cry that she has been compromised. What cacophony of misinformation.

A few months ago, a female leader of an opposition party was photographed kneeling before some village heads respectfully presenting some gifts. They were highly praised for their humility.

So are we saying village heads should be yielded to, but the Head of State should be shown discourtesy to prove “independence”? Those who have attended Gushungo clan ceremonies in Zvimba will tell you that the President yields to his head clansman. Now that is humility. It is misinforming the public to equate insolence to independence.

So let us choose the leadership we want without undermining the leadership we have. Be that leadership our judiciary, ZEC or the Presidency. Even the most vocal bloggers who are criticising the good judge, pause briefly at the door and take a bow when they enter or leave the courtroom as etiquette would have it.

So let’s share information by all means, but let’s share correct information. If our elections and democratic processes are going to produce good and accountable leaders and representatives, then the citizen has to be correctly informed. There is absolutely no reason why people should be made to make a choice without all the relevant information.

It is also a contradiction to advocate for empowerment, then the first thing people are starved of is the right information that empowers them. For what is empowerment without information? Information is the currency of democracy. There are no two ways about.

Anything else is contrary to the ethos of the liberation struggle. As we know, the liberation had a big mass buy-in because there was conscientisation of the people on why the liberation struggle was necessary.

Chief among all was the history of the country and the issues of public policy. This included information about why the system that obtained then was not good for the current and future generations.

By the same token the current contestations and internal contradictions within leading political parties should be a struggle of ideas. They should not be about personalities and certainly not a struggle for and of misinformation or who can keep away all the relevant facts from the people. It is disingenuous to expect people to make decisions on who should be their leader based on ignorance.

What is the political preference based on? Is it based on inane hate of the other guy or just his age or his or her ethnicity? Is it based on some misplaced loyalty to somebody? Is it based on actual facts that have been weighed? Elections happen every five years so that those who did not have the opportunity the last time can exercise it now.

They also happen so that those who made a certain choice are given an opportunity to consider or reconsider the decision they made in the last one. We want the next election to be based on correct information. The incentive for anyone to do so is so that only people with the best intentions, who have the best interests of the populace at heart with probity and integrity, can occupy offices of responsibility.

Our country groans when power is used to promote selfish interests at the expense of the nation. It is part of politics that manipulative rhetoric will be deployed. But with everyone occupying a positive media space, there is an opportunity for rebuttals as well as for putting the record straight. This is where the population should challenge all forms of misinformation and filter away theatrics.

We have already started to have a lot of dramatisation. Voters are being bombarded with all sorts things they are finding it difficult to distinguish fact from fiction. A serious effort is deployed to misinform and disinform. Inaccurate information, distortions are peddled as facts. It is very easy to come up with high sounding rhetoric like nobody in Zanu-PF, Politburo has ever been a beneficiary of corruption. It sounds clever, doesn’t it? But is it real? A high ranking opposition spokesperson even offers one of his maidens if he is shown a cabinet minister who is clean.

That again is just being dramatic for nothing because there are a lot of people in that category. That is just part of misinforming to deceive. This should not be taken to mean that this piece is suggesting that the Cabinet is full of clean people. Oh no.

There are extremely selfish and corrupt people in there that should be nowhere near public office.

But not all of them.
But when inaccurate beliefs are held as fact then we have a problem of misinformation. This is the same inaccurate information which tends to overlook opposition indiscretions. But if we wish to drive critical political participation then there is a serious need to inform correctly and promote such an endeavour.

That includes having debates between people contesting for the same positions. Zanu-PF has fiercely contested primary elections. Wouldn’t it be more informative if those contesting to represent certain constituencies would come together locally and debate their programmes and visions for their targeted constituencies? Incumbents have to justify their last five years.

Aspirants would show how they wish to better what the incumbents would have done. Some of the worst misinformation and sectarian whispering is within the Zanu-PF factional battles.

People are trying to bolster what they perceive to be their factional positions with lies. This is actually both sides. No single side is innocent of this. So instead of informing why non-factional members like this columnist should join a certain faction, what is said is why they shouldn’t join the opposite faction.

Why do you even bother? What is wrong with joining none of them at all?
Some of us follow ideas and not personalities. But these sectarians’ positions are either informed by selfishness, tribalism or the reverse of same, self-interest at the expense of national or some such misplaced loyalty. None is informed by a vision.

Because there is no vision all that is around is misinformation and disinformation about the other. There is serious negativity which generates unbelievable negative energy. Maybe it’s best to address the nation rather than sectarian narrowness in the columnist’s party of choice.

When the electorate is fed falsehoods and readily consumes it as fact because of their own biases that is understandable. What makes it sad is when national leadership is so vulnerable to falsehoods that serious decisions are made based on this fiction. Why are those in position of power not allowing critical evidence to inform their decisions?

The 2018 election is going to going to experience probably the biggest disinformation and misinformation ever experienced in the media sphere.

There are no gatekeepers anymore as some of the falsehoods are being proliferated by journalists using the hardly regulated internet. But there is also the positive that silly electoral pledges are quickly challenged and debunked. An example that comes to mind is a claim by a certain party that they would create a $100 billion economy in 100 days.

That was quickly ridiculed and died a natural death. Nobody would be spinning that one. That is the beauty of an informed electorate. This is what the nation should aspire for. There is no doubt that our democratic processes can easily be undermined by misinformation

People choose to believe lies because of what is called motivated reasoning. This is one of those cognitive biases people hold which pushes them to readily believe lies because the lies confirm their pre-conceived positions.

Getting accurate information during elections does not only bolster democracy. It also enhances society. The electorate needs to understand issues. It is a fact that political organisations distribute misinformation. This is not just political parties but third sector entities as well. Let’s not run our politics on superstition, rumour-mongering, misinformation and disinformation.

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