National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure has confirmed that law enforcement agencies are on high alert following rumours of a national shutdown on Monday.
This comes after a similar campaign last month led to widespread unrest in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, claiming more than 350 lives and billions of rands in losses.
Unconfirmed statements have been circulating on social media sites around the alleged shutdown. In a statement from the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure, Major General Mathapelo Peters, says the renewed threats are not being taken lightly.
She says security forces are on high alert to maintain stability in the country.
“The 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. A different set of messages is also doing the rounds where people are mobilising to respond to the supposed shutdown. The public is urged not to respond to calls for violence and criminality and are thus discouraged from participating in activities that seek to defy the rule of law and to undermine the authority of the state.”
The Centre for Analytics and Behavioural Change at the University of Cape Town has studied social media campaigns geared to misinform. They say they are again seeing calls for a shutdown and for violence from a sophisticated network of Twitter accounts promoting the ideas of radical economic transformation.
The centre’s Stuart Jones says several suspicious accounts were used to amplify the social media coverage, by retweeting it more than 100-thousand times. He says at least 12 fake accounts were used to spread inciting messages like wildfire on social media.
“If we just stick to those 12 accounts, in a single month they authored over 100-thousand tweets, and of these, 14-thousand contained hashtags and keywords that we considered to be associated with incitement to violence. On average each of these accounts posted 526 times a day. And the highest of these accounts posted 1 254 times a day hashtags associated with the incitement to violence in a single day on the 12th of July – which is on average a tweet every 43 seconds.”
Jones says they have noted that the so-called RET Twitter network is once again involved in calling for shutdowns, marches and violence this week.
“Yes, social media has been pushing these messages out, the network that we reported on has been pushing these messages out. And there is a push for a shutdown on the 23rd, along with calls for marches and calls for violence. Whether it’s going to materialise is a completely different matter.”
He says these types of misinformation campaigns are bad for democracy.
“What this does is it effectively radicalises people around particularly socially divisive issues. Which leads to electoral outcomes, that people may want to manipulate. But also social outcomes that divide us and therefore have material benefit for people that benefit from division within our country.”
TThe eThekwini Municipality has confirmed that law enforcement agencies have been placed on high alert. The ANC in KwaZulu-Natal has distanced itself from a poster circulating on social media, falsely using the party’s logo.