SANEF considering action to bring down fake news sites

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South Africa has seen a scourge in the number of fake news sites in recent months which push false and sometimes malicious stories as fact, but the South African News Editors’ Forum (Sanef) says that it is coming after them.

Fake news stories very often pop up on Facebook, with many of the sites having similar names and web interfaces as popular sites such as News24.

Recently, the Department of Home Affairs fell victim to a story published by a site called EyeNews announcing that the department would be conducting DNA tests on babies before birth certificates are issued.

The department had to do damage control, announce that the story was a hoax and that any such news would be officially communicated via Home Affairs’ communication team and channels.

“Such inaccurate reports by websites masquerading as credible news sources are highly damaging and hurtful to those involved and their families. They also do a great disservice to legitimate news websites and the news industry as a whole,” Sanef said in a statement.

“We call on the publishers to desist from publishing these false and inflammatory stories with immediate effect as it is grossly irresponsible,” it added.

The forum also called on the public, often guilty of sharing the stories without verifying their legitimacy, not to perpetuate false news cycles by sharing the false stories on social media.

“Sanef encourages South Africans to ensure that they share from well-established, trusted and credible news sources that are a legitimate part of the SA media landscape,” it said.

As a way to deal with the scourge, Sanef said it will look for an appropriate course of action to take against fake news sites.

[Update The original title said that Sanef is considering legal action. The statement merely says ‘action’ however. As some Twitter commentators have pointed out, legal action would be tough as the constitution (thankfully) enshrines free speech.]