In October 2022, a Twitter post on an alleged terror attack by Al-Shabaab in Wajir went viral, triggering tension among residents. The tweet read: “Al-Shabaab militants have attacked personnel of a company drilling borehole in Wajir, burnt the vehicle and killed civilians at the site. It’s the first attack since William Ruto took over as president (sic).”
Some local media outlets published articles quoting the tweet that contained images of the alleged attack, further spreading fear of the resurgence of terror attacks. The original tweet, retweeted over 500 times in 24 hours, was false and misleading. A fact-check by French news agency, AFP, found that the said attack had happened a month earlier at a village in Somalia, not Kenya. This is one, and perhaps the least alarming, of the many cases of misinformation on terrorism-related incidents, and whose motive and consequences could be greatly curtailed by verification and fact-checking.
Similar misleading and fake news was rife during Nairobi’s Westgate mall terror attack in September 2013, some of which found its way into media headlines undetected. In the era of digital and social media explosion, there is the temptation among some media outlets to “publish first and verify later” in the race to “break” the news. This way, the media often plays into the hands of propagandists and terrorists alike, and at times help further their agenda. Yet, the media the world over continues to play a critical role in the prevention and countering of violent extremism. While mainstream media outlets are no longer the only source of breaking news, they still boast a huge degree of credibility. For instance, while we learn of breaking news largely on social media nowadays, many of us still seek to verify the credibility of the said news from mainstream media.
The Fourth Estate still plays a crucial role in shaping public opinion and that is a strength that the mainstream media must strive not to lose. Bad news sells. Perpetrators of violent extremism know this and understand the media’s obsession with negative and alarming news. They use this knowledge to get even mainstream media to spread their propaganda and hate messages. The media must, therefore, always remain alert to this fact, especially when publishing or broadcasting terrorism-related news. Media outlets can also actively challenge and debunk extremist narratives. They must, at all times, fact-check claims made by extremist to debunk their propaganda.
Source: People Daily by Veronica Mwangi