Social media, like all creations of man, can be a source of both evil and good. There is no doubt that the men and women who gave us Google, Facebook and WhatsApp meant well.
As a result, we can communicate within seconds with friends and relatives thousands of kilometres across the globe, for a few cents. Unlike in the old days and their old ways, today research can be conducted on a small smartphone. Libraries as institutions of research are under threat. They might become redundant in the future. That is because we can conduct research and have our questions answered while driving, flying up in the sky or while herding cattle in the remotest corner of the country, so long as we have access to a network connection.
That’s the beauty of technology overall. We can find answers to almost all sorts of bodily ailments and their treatment from the comfort of our homes. Unfortunately there is also the dark side to technology, that it can be abused to achieve nefarious goals or simply to cause chaos or confuse people. Social media has thrown out of the window the age-old dictum that one shouldn’t shout “fire!” unnecessarily in a crowded room.
The reason for that dictum was the fear of creating pandemonium which might result in injuries and loss of lives as people stampede out of panic. In the past we have witnessed how reckless news about a financial institution running out of cash or that it is about to collapse has actually precipitated such a collapse as people rushed to withdraw their savings. Negative rumours can have deadly consequences, although motives for originating them often remain unknown to ordinary citizens.
Last Friday gave us the dark side of social media. Some idle mind originated a message claiming inflation would rise by 50 percent in the next 3-5 days, that there would a massive shortage of consumer goods and advising people to stock up for the impending catastrophe of biblical proportions.
We were told prices of commodities would double every day and that the bond note would be rendered useless. People were thus told to dispose of all the bond notes they had in exchange for US dollars and the South African Rand.
Thankfully, broadly, this damaging rumour was ignored. There wasn’t much by way of panic shopping. But we did notice unusually long queues at fuel service stations. People were not only filling up their tanks, but sometimes filling drums. As a result some service stations quickly ran out of the commodity. Others started limiting quantities one could buy at a time.
But we know how economically damaging such rumours can be. And there is no doubt that there are strong political motives to it. The primary one being to discredit the Government and the ruling Zanu-PF party as the nation hurtles towards harmonised elections next year. The other immediate one is to scale up the attack on the bond note currency as a medium of exchange.
Then there is the unintended risk of keeping fuel in the homes. People have lost their lives in the past when fuel containers exploded. It is an unnecessary risk to expose one’s family to.
The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe quickly moved in to dismiss the rumour of a looming catastrophe. RBZ governor John Mangudya, in a statement on Saturday, said more money was being allocated to the importation of fuel. There would be no critical shortages any time soon, he assured the nation.
We should add, however, that Zimbabweans should not join evil political forces out to sabotage the economy. In the past they have tried to take advantage of natural phenomena such as drought and food shortages to make political capital. That failed several times. Now it is to destroy the bond note in favour of other nations’ currencies.
It is the role of every Zimbabwean to conserve fuel. That is not something new. We have shared transport with neighbours in the past to take pupils to school. There are way too many vehicles on our roads, especially for an economy said to have collapsed long ago with a claimed unemployment rate of close to 80 percent!
The foreign currency saved from shared transport costs can then be used to import vital raw materials and medicines for our hospitals. This should be commonsensical.