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Social media instigators of ‘nationwide shutdown’ under investigation

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The National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (NatJOINTS), which co-ordinates all security and law enforcement operations, says it is investigating those on social media platforms who are disseminating inflammatory messages and advocating for a national shutdown today.

On Sunday, Twitter and Facebook were abuzz with posts calling for a nationwide shutdown and protests to be held across the country today.

The online uproar comes more than a month after unrest and destruction descended on KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) and Gauteng, which resulted in violent looting of over 40 000 businesses in the provinces, costing the economy an estimated R20 billion.

The wave of violence, which was initially sparked by the incarceration of former president Jacob Zuma, descended into days of chaos.

Over the weekend, many social media posts called for a similar wave of unrest across the country by mobilising violence.

In a statement, NatJOINTS has issued a stern warning to those responsible for calling for civil disobedience online, noting it has put measures in place to ensure the safety and security of all South Africans.

“NatJOINTS is aware of inflammatory messages on various social media platforms advocating for violence. Those behind these messages are warned that inciting violence is a criminal offence. Members of the public are cautioned against spreading such divisive messages,” says NatJOINTS spokesperson lieutenant-colonel Robert Netshiunda.

The public is urged not to respond to calls for violence and criminality, and are discouraged from participating in activities that seek to defy the rule of law and undermine the authority of the state, he adds.

“Law-abiding citizens should be at ease knowing NatJOINTS is not taking these threats lightly. Security forces are on high alert and ready to maintain stability in the country and ensure the safety and security of all South Africans,” he reassured.

Instigators will be exposed

Meanwhile, in an interview with eNCA news, KZN premier Sihle Zikalala said authorities are monitoring social media posts and tracking those who are inciting violence, noting they will be brought to book.

“We are not going to be complacent; we are not going to be caught napping – we know that there are information-peddlers wanting to instigate and use social media to create instability, and some of them disguise themselves and use false names. The police are investigating accounts that are used to instigate violence and disorder. These accounts are known and the instigators will be exposed and they will come to the fore,” said Zikalala.

As far as government is concerned, today is a normal working day, and employers and society in general should conduct their business as normal but exercise extra vigilance, he added.

During the previous looting and violence, social media experts told ITWeb how Twitter, Facebook and Instagram were used by rioters as a treacherous and sophisticated tool to mobilise these violent acts.

Videos, images, texts and voice messages were used to inform and mobilise people to participate in looting sprees, while others opted to use it to spread misinformation, or further inflame the situation.

According to Leandri Janse Van Vuuren, MD of social media company Social Media 101, while some social media messages served a genuine purpose to alert people to dangerous situations and places, many were fake news, out of context images or videos repurposed to incite violence.

“It’s frightening to know that social media can be used as a tool to incite violence in the ‘real world’. There are people that are looking to exploit and manipulate the current situation by spreading misinformation and inciting violence to forward their own agendas.

“Some social media users shared content showing what appears to be the recent protests; however, when fact-checkers took a closer look, they found that some of the videos and images were not from the current protests but from years ago,” says Janse Van Vuuren.

According to the Cyber Crimes Act, those who engage in such acts on social media will be liable for criminal charges, and can receive a fine or be sentenced to imprisonment for a period up to three years.

The law stipulates that: “Any person who unlawfully makes available, broadcasts or distributes, by means of a computer system, a data message to a specific person, group of persons or the general public with the intention to incite violence, or call people to be involved in the destruction of any property belonging to people, is guilty of an offence.”

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