Misinformation in Zimbabwe: The Battle for Truth in the Digital Age


In the digital age, the proliferation of misinformation and disinformation has become a critical issue worldwide, and Zimbabwe is no exception. With a significant portion of its population connected to the internet, the spread of false information poses challenges to media freedom, democratic principles, and public trust. This article explores the prevalence of misinformation in Zimbabwe, its impact on society, and the ongoing battle for truth in the digital landscape.

The Current Landscape of Misinformation

Zimbabwe, with approximately one-third of its population being internet users, relies heavily on social media platforms for news consumption. WhatsApp, Facebook, and Twitter are the primary sources of information for many Zimbabweans. However, the widespread dissemination of disinformation has eroded media freedom and led to restrictive policies and laws that infringe upon citizens’ rights. The credibility of journalism has also been compromised, especially with the rise of citizen journalism. The COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated the spread of conspiracy theories and false information, posing risks to public health and necessitating media regulation.

Political Context, Manipulation, and Coordinated Misinformation Campaigns

Zimbabwe’s political landscape is marked by polarisation and a constant battle for accepted narratives between the ruling ZANU-PF party and the opposition parties, particularly the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC). Misinformation played a significant role during the 2018 elections, with fake election results circulating on social media platforms, undermining the credibility of the electoral process. The dissemination of false information contributed to politically-motivated violence, resulting in casualties.

As Zimbabwe approaches the 2023 elections, the political arena has become a battleground for competing narratives. Key political actors resort to coordinated inauthentic behaviour campaigns to influence public opinion. Citizens form social media groups aligned with their preferred political parties, engaging in debates and promoting their views. However, these groups often foster a polarised information environment, characterised by hate messaging, threats, and the widespread dissemination of misinformation and disinformation.

The Role of Technology in Political Manipulation

Digital technology, particularly social media platforms, has revolutionised the dissemination and consumption of political information. In Zimbabwe, social media played a crucial role in mobilising citizens during the 2017 coup that led to the removal of President Robert Mugabe. However, the current government, led by President Emmerson Mnangagwa, has taken a different approach, cracking down on social media and arresting voices of dissent. Coordinated inauthentic behaviour campaigns have become prevalent among political actors, manipulating narratives and using propaganda to achieve their goals. Manipulated photos and videos are often circulated to create false impressions and divisions among citizens.

Manipulated Media and Distorted Messages

Both the ruling party, ZANU-PF, and the leading opposition party, the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), have been found to employ manipulated photos and videos to shape public perception. These doctored images and videos aim to project false impressions of overwhelming support or to undermine the credibility of their rivals. Editing and distorting campaign messages is also a common tactic, with clips taken out of context to misrepresent the intentions of political leaders. The state broadcaster, ZBC, has faced criticism for biased portrayals of political parties, further shaping public opinion.

Government Propaganda and Information Manipulation

The Ministry of Media Information and Broadcasting Services in Zimbabwe has taken propaganda and information manipulation to new heights. The government justifies its actions through various strategies, defending controversial appointments and ill-gotten wealth within the ruling party elite. Propaganda wars between the ruling party and its supporters, and the opposition, contribute to the consolidation of authoritarian rule and the regression of democratic principles. The government recognizes the importance of social media platforms for spreading its propaganda, given the high number of internet users in the country.

The Impact on Media Freedom and Democratic Principles

The prevalence of misinformation in Zimbabwe has had detrimental effects on media freedom and democratic principles. The government’s manipulation of information and propaganda campaigns stifles dissenting voices, leading to surveillance of civil society, human rights defenders, and the opposition. Journalists, both local and foreign, face challenges in reporting on elections, often being denied accreditation or receiving threats. The right to online privacy is violated, with unsolicited messages from political candidates invading citizens’ personal space. Overregulation of the media and the spread of disinformation erode public trust in journalism and compromise the integrity of the profession.

Combating Misinformation: Media Literacy and Fact-Checking

Addressing the issue of misinformation requires a multi-faceted approach involving various stakeholders. The government should prioritise media freedom and create an environment where journalists can operate without fear of reprisals. Legislative reforms should protect citizens’ rights and promote transparency in information dissemination. Media literacy programs and fact-checking initiatives play a crucial role in countering misinformation in Zimbabwe. Organisations like CITE have debunked myths during the COVID-19 pandemic and the by-elections, equipping citizens with the skills to identify dubious claims and access credible sources of information. However, challenges persist in fact-checking efforts due to the lack of data, credible expert opinions, and a polarised society.

The Impact on Democracy and Trust

Misinformation poses a significant threat to democracy and public trust in democratic processes. False information and disinformation make it difficult for citizens to make informed political choices, undermining the credibility of elections and inciting politically-motivated violence. Manipulation of information by political actors erodes trust in the media industry, creating an atmosphere of uncertainty and confusion. Restoring trust in media and democratic institutions requires collaborative efforts to combat misinformation and promote transparency.


Misinformation in Zimbabwe poses serious challenges to media freedom, democratic principles, and public trust. The manipulation of social media platforms, the use of propaganda, and the spread of disinformation have created a polarised information environment. Combating misinformation necessitates cooperation among the government, media organisations, social media platforms, civil society, and citizens themselves. By working together, Zimbabwe can navigate the challenges of the digital age and ensure the free flow of accurate and reliable information.

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