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EXPOSED: MEET THE UNISA STUDENT WHO DIVIDED SA WITH FAKE NEWS IN THE DROS RAPE CASE

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Photo: News24
On September 26, 2018, a Twitter account @Mzansistories tweeted a link to an article on its website.

The tweet, pictured below, featured the face of a black man next to a crying white girl under the headline:

Meet a man who raped a 6 years old girl at Dros silverton, Pretora in man’s toilet

The underlying racial inferences was clear from the tweet: a black man had raped a white girl.

Yet a short while later, it would be revealed that a 22-year-old white man was accused of the rape of the girl.

A News24 investigation can now reveal that William Mahlatse Ramatseba (29), an office administrator at the University of South Africa’s (Unisa) Sunnyside campus, is the author of Mzansistories.com, Allnews.co.za and several other disinformation websites.

– Fake News Exposed site

Ramatseba and his sister, Grace, use several Facebook groups to distribute the fake stories found on their websites.

The siblings, who hail from Tzaneen in Limpopo, have been operating these and similar disinformation websites from at least early 2016.

Undermining credibility

The Dros rape tweet was later deleted and replaced with a new article and tweet featuring the accused. But the damage had already been done.

Twitter users were quick to take a screenshot of the original tweet and amid the storm of the media’s alleged reticence to name the man, it was used as “proof” that the media was biased along racial lines in its coverage of rape allegations.

Some media houses were also guilty of this.

Daily Dispatch, an East London-based publication, came under fire after one of their journalists used an image of a pair of black hands behind bars next to an article about the arrest of the alleged rapist. While the image was replaced and the tweets removed, Twitter was quick to call out the subtle racism behind the images.

But Mzansistories went further. Beyond claiming that people could “meet” the rapist, alongside a black face, the website wrote several fake news stories capitalising on the incident.

Unlike the Daily Dispatch, Mzansistories.com does not have an editor who can be contacted and does not belong to the Press Council. There is no recourse for the aggrieved and the authors of stories are not even provided.

Erosion of trust

The particular tweet showcases how a fake news website can have a very real impact on the credibility of traditional media.

The long-term danger of online disinformation is the erosion of trust. Instead of critically appraising news, people start disbelieving everything they read. Traditional media, for all its faults, gets lumped into the same basket as the disinformation sites, though it has accountability structures – unlike these unscrupulous sites  

Said Anim van Wyk, chief editor at Africa Check.

Media Monitoring Africa’s William Bird adds that incidents like these highlight the need for credible media. Beyond the racist implications of the fake post, he says there are very real dangers to identifying people in a circumstance where real harm may come to them.

This isn’t to say that people should be protected if guilty, but we need to know at least that the correct suspect is shown. It also shows just how little value these sites really offer.  While perhaps not disinformation, which seeks to cause harm through spreading false information, this is certainly misinformation that is done to make money on the basis of others’ misery.

Faked: “She didn’t look like virgin.” 

The stories published on Mzansistories.com and Allnews.com bear the usual hallmarks of fake news websites: sensational headlines, emotive and often highly divisive content and very little evidence provided. The page is awash with fake celebrity deaths, stories involving sex (sometimes including minors) and popular stories plagiarised from other publications.

Both websites went further than just simply getting the identity of the perpetrator wrong. As the #DrosRape story developed it also published obscene and insensitive articles featuring both the alleged rapist and the survivor.

For example, in the days following the alleged Dros rapist’s arrest Mzansistorie.com published a fabricated article claiming that his parents blame their black neighbours for “bewitching” their son. It also falsely claimed that the accused told investigating officers that he raped the girl because he thought she was older and didn’t “look like a virgin”.

The clicks generate an income from the traffic by using a combination of Google Ads and a smaller advertising platform called MGID. These platforms “place” ads on the websites without the knowledge of the advertisers.

During News24’s recent visit to the websites, Takealot, one of News24’s sister companies, was found advertising on the site. Despite providing Takealot with a list of dodgy sites, including Mzansistories.com and Allnews.co.za, during an earlier investigation into the funding of fake news websites, their ads were still displayed on the website.

At the time of writing, Takealot had still not responded to enquiries regarding steps they have taken to avoid this. Their adverts are also still being displayed on the website, reports News24