While social media has proved to be an effective medium of communication, the Zimbabwean government is worried that some people are abusing it with the intention to cause political chaos and prop up the opposition ahead of the 2018 elections.
The recent panic buying of basic commodities where some shelves were literally emptied in retail shops while prices of some goods skyrocketed has been attributed to false social media, with the Minister of Finance and Economic Development Patrick Chinamasa warning that the government would take drastic measures against “economic saboteurs.”
Chinamasa said while Zimbabwe had its challenges, there were attempts by some forces to destabilize the country through triggering economic turmoil, New Ziana reported Thursday.
He said false messages on social media had spurred panic buying which had resulted in artificial shortages of fuel and goods as people rushed to hoard the commodities.
“It came to most of us as a complete surprise and in fact it was like a bombshell because there were no shortages in the market and what happened was not in sync with the prevailing situation in the economy at all,” the finance minister told a media conference Wednesday.
“The developments in the economy are very positive and all indicators are in the right direction, the trajectory is on the right path,” he said.
Chinamasa said the government would follow the direction of the European Union in introducing strict laws that deal with abuse of social media and other new technologies to spread lies.
With the impending elections, the government suspects that some people will use social media to prop the opposition by highlighting purported government failures.
Police on Sunday arrested a pastor who is well-known for using social media to express his discontent with government failures after he posted a video of long queues of motor vehicles waiting for fuel at some filling stations in Harare.
The state wants to charge Evan Mawarire with inciting members of the public to revolt against the government through the comments he made in the video clip.
The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe has also had its fair share of false media and has been forced to make advertisements refuting various policy pronouncements seen on social media.
The government is drafting a law to penalize the “abusive” usage of social media with five-year jail terms to be imposed on offenders as it seeks to regulate the cyber space law and order.
According to the draft, any person staying either in Zimbabwe or overseas can be found guilty of intentionally generating, possessing and distributing an electronic communication with the intent to coerce, intimidate, harass, threaten, bully or cause emotional distress to another person.
The Computer Crime and Cyber Crime Bill, together with two supporting bills on information technology, is intended to manage the cyber space following various acts of civil disobedience triggered by social media messages on WhatsApp, YouTube and Facebook.
Zimbabwe has seen a sharp rise in mobile internet penetration rate thanks to the proliferation of affordable smart-phones and cheap data packages.
The country’s telecommunication regulator Potraz reported in 2016 that active mobile internet subscriptions rose to 6.5 million by the end of 2015, which is nearly half of the entire national population.