Defend Truth


Rolling in the Deep — fact checkers are hunted in the age of social media lies


Marianne Thamm has toiled as a journalist / writer / satirist / editor / columnist / author for over 30 years. She has published widely both locally and internationally. It was journalism that chose her and not the other way around. Marianne would have preferred plumbing or upholstering.

Media freedom is under attack globally, and social media platforms like Facebook and X are a massive threat to democracy. We need to do everything in our power to defend the truth.

Apologies. You might have to rinse out your eyes with Jeyes Fluid after reading a few of these choice comments, but they must be repeated here in the interests of what passes for modern civilisation.

Fellow South African, permanent recreational drug user and one of the world’s richest and most powerful men, Elon Musk, posted some time ago that he viewed X as the “repository of human consciousness”.

Soon afterwards, he challenged fellow billionaire and disinformation superspreader, Facebook tycoon Mark Zuckerberg, to a live cage fight.

Right there is the current zeitgeist.

British “influencer” and “King of Toxic Masculinity”, former kickboxer Andrew Tate, who holds millions of young men in thrall on social media, immediately offered to set it up in Italy.

Journalists, and particularly women, including many of my colleagues in the industry, have been threatened online: With rape, with having our breasts cut off with a carving knife, you name it.

Write about an issue in the news, the torture room at Wilgenhof, for example, and how these practices damage young men, and they will come for you.

Find evidence of massive hypocrisy in a villa in Camps Bay, including boarding passes identifying EFF members (oh, and don’t forget the used condoms’ DNA evidence), and they will come for you.

So much so that Daily Maverick’s Emilie Gambade and Malibongwe Tyilo’s documentary film Section 16, on precisely this, has been selected as an entry for several film festivals across the globe.

Open the sewage pipe

A week ago DM168 published a piece on those who fell on their own swords for Jacob Zuma in his 10-year wrecking ball of a presidency.

Clearly, our piece was “triggering” to the bloodthirsty who soon grouped on X for the attack.

Musk published these posts and, using the algorithm that facilitates the spread of this poisoned pabulum, spread it far and wide.

There is no well-reasoned argument here, folks, just grunts and threats and insults. Here we go:

@musangwe_2072 “used condom trash, zuma obsessionist racist p**s”. (Our edit – ed)

@Makhanyi Kubheka “And you think your likes are safe or you better devil’s zombies? Your turn is coming…remember every dog has its day”.

@PatrickFizzo “If I was president I would be unleashing black Apartheid shem. Level of disrespect”.

@RiseUpAfrica101 “The older you get, the more you understand why Mugabe shut down certain news publications. These are not media outlets, these are imperialist tools”.

@Tebogo Marips “Go F*ck Yourself”. (Our edit – ed)

And lastly, this gem:

@SMhleli “go check the zombie between your legs”.

Just earlier that week, in a province where in 2021 Indian residents were pitted against their black neighbours, Durban “businessman” Visvin Reddy, sweating like a drug mule at a functional border post, threatened violence and bloodshed should Jacob Zuma’s new little fake Putinesque MK not be allowed to contest elections on 29 May.

Musk published Reddy’s rant on X and the algorithm also took this malevolence to the four corners of the internet.

Not my problem

Media freedom is under attack globally. We are blamed and targeted for exposing the murderous and the venal in power. Donald Trump calls those of us who publish within the law “fake news”.

Fact checkers, the secret weapons of democracy, today are hunted and vilified by mobs of humans working against their own better interests.

This fight is way below the belt; it is in the limbic system.

Musk argues simplistically that free speech is sacrosanct. But what we have been grappling with is that human life seems not to be as sacrosanct in this neck of the electronic hood.

If you want deep insight into the current media landscape, the presentation by Daily Maverick co-founders Styli Charalambous and Branko Brkic to the Competition Commission’s Media and Digital Platforms Market Inquiry provides it.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Battle for the future of media — Daily Maverick’s submission to the Competition Commission

If you want to understand the environment in which we work and in which you, the reader, consume your media, it is vital reading. Those who want to know who funds us, how we survive, go and read it.

Charalambous and Brkic submitted that, while back in 2009 the publication had focused all efforts on digital technologies and platforms, this adventure soon led to the understanding that disruption had skewed the market in favour of social media platforms.

These were “unaccountable, amplified sensationalism and untruths, dominated advertising spend and failed to compensate media houses for their work”, said Brkic.

“We believe that truth is at the centre of every healthy functioning society. If you can’t differentiate truth from lies, you can’t maintain your value system. The Fourth Estate underpins every democratic society, which is basically crumbling right now.”

Facebook, X and others are a massive threat to this at present. When asked by acting deputy commissioner and chief economist John Hodge about “wrong incentives”, a lack of regulatory oversight and a code of practice, Brkic said Daily Maverick did not object to the social media platforms’ business model and the service they provided to their audience, but believed they needed to be treated the same as the other players in the market and to be subject to the same regulations as publishers.

“Social media should not have the freedom to amplify messages without any consequences.”

In our world we don’t threaten rape or defenestration, we seek to understand, to argue, to embrace complexity and the rule of law which works for society and not against it. DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

DM 168 front page


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Anthony Kearley says:

    I think that part of the solution would be to uphold freedom of speech but remove the anoninimity. Then individuals may be held to account for their words, freely spoken. Not perfect, but then nothing involving humanity ever is.

    • Middle aged Mike says:

      Hear hear. The anonymity and lack of accountability is what makes this stuff possible. I reject the idea that platforms should be made responsible for policing the speech of a big chunk of the human population as they can’t possibly do it objectively. “Fact checkers” are just as prone to bias as anyone else and even if they weren’t they couldn’t get to every post in time for it to be addressed in time for harm to be avoided anyway. If you feel aggrieved by what has been written about you the courts are the right place to remedy that. “Fact checking” by an unaccountable group of people/bots will invariably lead to mistrust and the amount of work and the level of discretion required to do it fairly and impartially is too large for it to be realistically achievable.

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