OPINION I How Social media ‘distort’ reality and can mislead


Social Media logos from Internet.

By Odongo Lango

I have come across sensational messages on social media sympathetic to Hon Francis Zaake, the Mityana Municipality Member of Parliament (MP), who was allegedly arrested and tortured by the Security Forces for alleged violation of government public health directives against private distribution of food to vulnerable groups as precautionary measures to prevent possible spread of Covid-19 among the population.

Pictures of the MP have appeared on social and traditional media, showing him apparently immobilized on a stretcher. To his army of angry fans and social media trolls, these pictures confirmed the allegations of torture and state culpability. All sorts of condemnations were made, although no one seems to have bothered to establish the facts of his injury, if any, who did it and why.

Uganda has over 400 members of Parliament, for crying out loud; and all are going about with their legislative business in Kampala without any hindrance. These include legislators who are some of the harshest known critics of the President and the NRM government.

This begs the question: Does Hon Zaake pose the greatest existential threat to the NRM government, so that the state and the security apparatus should devote so much time and precious scarce resources in pursuing him?

My answer is an unequivocal no.

There is no evidence to support such viewpoint, nor the claims of torture. Which leads me to the issue of hasty conclusions and rash judgements without critical examination of all the available facts.

The late Prof. Hans Roslings wrote “FACTFULNESS”, a book, which examines the progress that we, as humans, have made on our common welfare, since our appearance on earth millions of years ago.

He devoted a whole chapter on the biases of stereotyping and making rash judgements. To illustrate his points, he often used colourful anecdotes.

He recounted a story of how he, as a young doctor, was presented with an air crash pilot who spoke a dialect that he immediately thought was Russian. He thus hastily convinced himself that the victim must be a Soviet Russian fighter pilot; and what immediately sprang to his mind was the thought that Third World War had begun.

But on closer attention and more critical examination, it turned out that the airman was a Swedish Air force pilot, who had crashed landed into a frozen lake and had difficulty speaking intelligibly because he was cold, shivering and his teeth were clattering.

This story reminds me also of otherwise intelligent people who, after watching Michael Jackson’s 1981 epic musical video, “Thriller”, swear, pejoratively, that The King of Pop was a wizard or practice occult. Try as one may, to point out that this was all acting and computer or cinematographic illusions, they are stuck to their guns.

These are precisely the dangers social media is fraught with: rushed judgements and hastily drawing conclusions based on scant facts, unverified images, stereotypes and illusions. And it is probable that the Hon Zaake saga suffers from some or all of these follies.

The cautionary tale, as Prof Roslings’s crashed airman anecdote illustrates, is that we must be critical consumers of information — especially in this age of the social media with their fake news, “alternative facts” and information overload.

The author in an NRM party member hailing from Minakulu sub-country, Oyam district.

Disclaimer: Views expressed herein are not of the publication, but the author’s.


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