15 February 2017

Kenyans on Twitter Fall for Fake Post on Ben Carson

Kenyans on Twitter fell for a fake tweet on the ongoing doctors' strike alleged to have been posted by Ben Carson, the nominee for US Secretary for Housing and Urban Development.

With a persistent doctors' strike in Kenya and their union leaders jailed for contempt, a user created a fake post implying that the American surgeon, who has performed life-saving operations in Africa, was chiding the Kenyan government.

"Came across sad news from Kenya. Their judiciary jails doctors. Such a pathetic government," the supposed tweet read.

A screenshot of the tweet, spread by many users under hashtag #AsystemIsComingDown, showed it had been written and posted on Monday by Dr Carson's verified account, @RealBenCarson.

For many Kenyans on Twitter, especially the medics angry at the government for jailing their union leaders, it seemed that one of their own had felt their predicament.

FAKE NEWS PHENOMENON

An examination of the post, however, reveals that it is fake as it does not exist on Dr Carson's account.

The last message on his Twitter page was posted on New Year's Day.

In fact, as a nominee for a Cabinet post, the use of the word "pathetic" to describe another government was unlikely from a man who will have to deal with foreign entities, especially governments keen to learn about US housing policies.

But as the tweets started to fizzle, some users started to acknowledge the tweet wasn't genuine and alerted others that it was not legit.

In the internet age, fake news has become common online and people will go as far as screen-shooting a genuine tweet, editing out the message and date and replacing it with their own controversial dispatch.

Then it spreads like wildfire, with bloggers riding on users' misinformation to make money from advertising.

Last year in May, the Nation had to clarify rumours spreading online about the "death" of Kenya's ninth vice-president Moody Awori.

A crafty blogger created a false tweet and embedded it to create the impression that the Nation had posted the "news".

'NY TIMES' REPORTER FOOLED

The bogus blogger had gone on to falsify Twitter messages from prominent politicians appearing to react to the news. They all disowned the messages.

Social media platforms, including Twitter and Facebook, are awash with fake sites carrying non-existent quotations from Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe.

In November 2015, Jeffrey Gettleman, The New York Times correspondent in Kenya, found himself in an awkward position after falling prey to the fake Mugabe quotes.

The Times had to correct a story on Kenyan corruption that had initially carried fictitious comments about mR Mugabe chiding Kenyans' inherent tendency to steal.

Recently, both Google and Facebook announced they would crack down on fake news sites posted on their platforms, as a way of cutting the operators' access to ad revenues they don't deserve.

So next time you want to know what is fake or genuine, the power is in your hands.

There are several tools you can use to flag a false story. They include fact-checking websites that can help you determine if one's said comments are valid, such as Africacheck.org.

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