The Unisa employee exposed as the source of scores of fake news stories with the potential to divide South Africans along racial lines will be subjected to internal investigations, the university has said.
The employee is in hot water after a probe named him as the man responsible for numerous fake news websites that generated income through advertisements.
The websites were not registered with any media regulator body and had no contactable editor.
For a while the websites were guilty of spreading fabricated and insensitive celebrity deaths stories and other misleading stories.
With the country experiencing a scary wave of fake news and misinformation, fake news sources have been condemned numerous times by the SA National Editors Forum (Sanef) and various public figures.
Unisa spokesperson Martin Ramotshela said: “The university has already initiated an internal investigation into the alleged conduct by the employee and it will take appropriate steps informed by the facts established during and post the investigation.
“Unisa views this matter in a very serious light and will deal with it without fear or favour.”
He said Unisa could investigate and discipline the employee because it expected all its employees to conduct themselves in a manner that was beyond reproach and consistent with its policies and values, and did not bring the university into disrepute.
The hunt to expose the employee intensified in the wake of the controversial #DrosRape story.
One of the accounts he is accused of having authored tweeted a photo showing a black man and a white girl crying under the headline: “Meet a man who raped a 6-year-old girl at Dros Silverton, Pretoria, in men’s toilet.”
Sanef fake news expert Chris Louw said the phenomenon was a big problem that was spreading and often existed outside mainstream narratives, but still attracted a significant audience.
“This is due to the unbelievable and fantastical nature of fake news. These attributes ensure it goes viral on social media, further spreading the misinformation. Elections around the world have been affected in one way or another by misinformation and it going viral on social media,” he said.
He said Sanef, the Interactive Advertising Bureau and Media Monitoring Africa were working on ensuring that the next year’s general election did not suffer the same fate.
“The best way to distinguish between fake news and real news is to be informed. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that many people won’t be fooled, and thus the concern at the moment.
“Reading from various sources, checking the “about us” section on a website as well as logos of industry bodies like the Press Council and the Interactive Advertising Bureau are all methods that can be used to verify a website.
“When users encounter fake news they must report it.”