PEOPLE’s emotions trump reason when it comes to sharing news, the BBC’s in-depth research project Beyond Fake News found in 2018.
This rings true for some towns on the Copperbelt where innocent people are now losing their lives because of being suspected to be ritual killers.
What began as public concern over criminal activities that rocked Chingola, is now on the brink of becoming a full blown crisis owing to unfettered and reckless spread of fake news on social media platforms.
Today, we have carried a story from Chililabombwe where a Lubambe Copper Mines employee has been brutally murdered and his body burned by an instant justice mob which mistook him for a ritual killer.
The deceased, who stayed in the district’s Mine Township, had gone to visit his girlfriend in PP Zambia area on Wednesday night when he met his fate.
The man was attacked by the mob which was armed with assorted missiles on suspicion that he was a ritual killer.
He was beaten to death and his body set ablaze.
On Tuesday this week, a mob attacked a family in Kalulushi, stoned one man to death and seriously injured three of his relatives who were suspected of being ritual killers.
The family was attacked in JVC area where the group suspected them of being ritual killers who were on the run from Chingola for fear of getting arrested.
That brings the number of innocent people killed in the last three days to three.
In the meantime, countless warnings and chilling details of fake ritual killings and suspected killings continue flooding social media platforms, prompting the Inspector General of police to threaten arrest of those behind the falsehoods.
Although investigations instituted by the police to establish the truth about reports of ritual killings have yielded nothing, the rumours and fake reports have intensified, leading to the recent eruption of riots in four townships in Kitwe.
The country has not seen the last of these disturbances because the situation in some townships has remained volatile and more innocent people may lose lives.
So, rather than wait for the situation to deteriorate further, there is need for authorities to restore public confidence in the security institutions by taking decisive measures.
Additionally, we urge the Zambia Information and Communications Technology Authority (ZICTA) to work closely with the police cyber crimes unit to quickly deal firmly with perpetrators of fake news.
We should not wait for the situation to become as bad as it did in India in 2018 when the spread of fake messages on social media created an unprecedented crisis that spurred lynch mobs, often prejudiced against certain minority communities and incensed by fake news, to start taking lives of innocent people.
Time has come for this country to seriously consider establish infrastructure to police the public’s use of the Internet in the same way the physical space is regulated.