Be careful how you read

For a long time I felt that Facebook had nothing to offer to someone of my age, as its main users seemed to be noisy exhibitionist teenagers, but I was eventually persuaded to try it. Five nieces and two nephews, scattered across three continents, with no indication that they were conspiring together, all invited me to join in the same fortnight. If that was the way to keep in touch with the younger generation, it seemed worth a try.

What I find there still sometimes alarms me. I can ignore the brashness and vulgarity of a lot of what appears there, because most of that seems to come and go again almost before you can read it. If it's gone down some electronic equivalent of a rubbish chute, I won't miss it.

On the other hand, a lot of material passes before you there and vanishes, if not down a chute, into a pile already so big that you will never be able to recover it long enough to read it properly and ask yourself a few relevant questions about it.

For example, a few weeks ago I saw a "list of the 50 richest Zimbabweans" but I didn't note where it came from before it escaped from my view. It would have been very important to know who compiled such a list because it could influence how we, the public, view some of the players in the increasingly dirty struggle to take over power when Our Dear Leader goes to his reward, an event that comes nearer every day for each of us, even though we don't know when it will arrive.

Before I believe this list is accurate, I need to know who compiled it and how they got their information. I cannot reclaim it now, and internal evidence suggests we are not meant to. The few successful legitimate business people are there; Masiiwa, Chanakira and co.; the Mujuru family have a place in the list, but four names of people you and I would put alongside them do not appear. Does anyone think we will believe that Nkosana Moyo (remember him?) is richer than those four missing names?

Who would want to spread that idea around? I don't remember seeing any figures for how much each of those named owns. We need full statements of all their local and overseas bank accounts and of the property we have heard they own. If Cde X doesn't actually own such-and-such a mine farm or mansion, maybe we need to know who does?

If this list is incomplete or inaccurate, who stands to gain by its publication?

If it is accurate, why did it appear so fleetingly that we could not ask important questions about its author and his sources?

Either way, who is trying to besmirch whose reputation, and what does he stand to gain from doing that?

Are we the author's target audience? Maybe he's aiming it at some potential outside supporters, from East or West. There are plenty who are looking for excuses to back a candidate for the top seat and secure some tokens of his or her gratitude before our Chinese friends make away with all our mineral wealth. Don't forget the Chinese can defend themselves too.

Keep those questions in mind and ask them about every story you hear in the coming weeks: who says this? Where did they get their facts? Can they prove what they say? Who gains by spreading this story? What do they gain? Who is meant to lose by the spread of this tale?

If you can't verify a story, it's best to label it "rumour", maybe adding a name it seems to promote or to undermine and put it aside. My guess is that most of those rumours will remain in your "rumours" file.

This is all getting too complex for me to make sense of it, but remember the price of freedom is constant vigilance.

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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