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Mali: Misinformation circulates on social media in aftermath of coup

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Security forces were pictured riding on trucks through the capital city, Bamako, on Tuesday.
Security forces were pictured riding on trucks through the capital city, Bamako, on Tuesday.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Baba Ahmed
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As Malian soldiers forced President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to resign in a coup attempt on Tuesday, misinformation seeped onto social media.

Hannane Ferdjani is the founder of #BeyondTheNoise, a news programme which delves into stories on the African continent.

Speaking to The Cube, Hannane Ferdjani broke down examples of the misleading information that had blurred the lines between fact and fiction in the aftermath of the president's resignation.

What misinformation trended online?

"On WhatsApp and on Facebook, in particular, we saw unverified stills, but also video footage, claiming that the then-president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita had been arrested by the French army," Ferdjani said.

Using reverse search tools to find where an image first appears online, analysis shows the photo depicts the Malian president accompanied by the French President Emmanuel Macron on his visit to the country in May 2017.

This was not, however, the only piece of misinformation to gain traction.

"There were widespread rumours that the president, his prime minister and his son, Karim Keïta, who is also a deputy, had been detained," Hannane Ferdjani told The Cube.

"His son has been at the centre of controversy in the last few weeks after videos of him vacationing in Ibiza surfaced on social media, but he took to Twitter to deny that he had been arrested".

"We also saw some video footage of people breaking and looting a house, claiming that it was the house of the deputy, that he was residing in."

"That was also not accurate and was later shown to be the B&B that the deputy owns but does not stay in."

Who is behind the misinformation?

"It is always difficult to pinpoint who is really at the origin of a particular misinformation campaign," said Ferdjani.

Ferdjani also found that some high profile accounts had shared unverified information, amplifying the spread of false claims.

But false information can be propelled out of a place of bias, with claims amplified along political lines.

"A lot of the misinformation and confusing information that we saw being spread online had a lot to do with where you sat in terms of political affiliation," Ferdjani told The Cube.

"If someone was sitting in the opposition camp, they would easily be inclined to share misinformation or any kind of information that is not verified that the Malian president had been detained or that the Coup d'état had been successful before anything official was announced - before anything had been confirmed".

Ferdjani also told The Cube that she received messages claiming that all information circulating on social media was false.

How can you avoid spreading false rumours?

"As the news cycle quickens and quickens with the advance of social media, I think many of us have become inclined to want to partake in delivering and disseminating the information ourselves," saif Ferdjani.

"When we receive images, messages, maybe we just want to share it with our friends, our family, and sometimes with our followers or whoever we have in our pool of social media people that we interact with."

"Generally speaking, I would say that we have to develop a healthy measure of scepticism towards anything that comes from social media channels."

"It can be confusing sometimes as a consumer of information to be at the receiving and of all of this but you do have an active part to play and be mindful not to automatically share what you receive in the moment."