16 November 2018

South Africa: Unisa's Fake News Staffer 'A Bitter Irony'

A News24 investigation revealed on Thursday that William Ramatseba, 29, a University of South Africa (Unisa) employee, is the creator and owner of Mzansistories.com, a notorious fake news website.

Ramatseba and his sister Gracy Rams posted links to their fabricated articles using social media. The traffic generated by these stories generated revenue through adverts placed on the website.

News24's investigation tracked Ramatseba's digital fingerprints across 15 different websites and five social media platforms, eventually identifying him as an office administrator at Unisa.

Following publication of the article, Rams deleted her Facebook account, and Ramatseba posted an attempted hit-piece on the News24 journalist Jean le Roux and his editor, Adriaan Basson.

The website frequently posted fake news stories about celebrities. In one of its more recent articles, it claimed that former minister Malusi Gigaba's now famous video was meant for his underage girlfriend.

Social media law specialist and author Emma Sadleir says the people targeted by Ramatseba's website might have civil and criminal claims against him.

Employer brought into disrepute

"The website and its stories are obviously, blatantly fake, but they do generate a lot of hatred. So certainly if anyone in those stories could make a case against him for defamation, or criminal charges of crimen injuria. One could even go as far as lodging complaint of hate speech with the human rights commission for some of his articles.

"Certainly, if you are incorrectly identified as a rapist, you have a case for crimen injuria. " Sadleir told News24 in reference the fake claims that the website identified a black man as the Dros rapist.

She also pointed out that Unisa as an institution had suffered because of his actions.

"I think there is no question that he brought Unisa into disrepute. Even if he didn't use Unisa computers or resources to create fake news article, it would still be against his contract of employment. Most contracts contain a clause that prohibits 'moonlighting' by employees."

A bitter irony

Media Monitoring Africa's William Bird also welcomed the investigation.

"It reveals a few things, the first is that like those who abuse partners they can be in any occupation, and seem to be just like any other person. It is a most bitter irony that this person knowingly set out to misinform people based out of a university."

Bird voiced his particular concern about the publication of fake news stories concerning underage children. He used an example where the minor victims in the Tim Omotoso rape trial were identified.

"Before people start to assume that it was merely an alternative income through sensationalism they need to consider that he actively stoked racial hatred, he defamed people in his stories, and preyed on vulnerable children.

"In a recent series on the Omotoso case several children were identified when it was clearly not in their best interests and when it violated their rights.

"While it was his greed for money that made him slip up it also shows that we need to take greater, more consistent action against brands who allow their content to be shown on these sites and in so doing contribute to misinformation, defamation and degradation of some of our most vulnerable citizens."

At the time of writing, Unisa had not responded to requests for comment, but had indicated it would do so on Friday.


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