Mali's Fake News Ecosystem: An Overview

This study aims to better understand key facets of the ecosystem of fake news in Mali. It argues that the deteriorated political context in the country has facilitated the proliferation of fake news. The Malian fake news ecosystem is also thriving in the traditional media which is dominated by the political and economic elite who sponsor narratives to serve their own ends. Four of the top five newspapers in circulation in Mali mid-2021 are privately owned by politicians. While radio remains the most important source of information in the country, Facebook and WhatsApp are growing in popularity as the main channels for the dissemination of both accurate and misleading information. The possibility to send and receive audio and video communication on WhatsApp and Facebook allows non-literate users to connect, produce, consume, or share content. Fake news circulating on these social media platforms permeates all spheres of offline life by becoming topics of conversation at social and religious gatherings. It is also true that viral social media conversations can shape traditional media content. The key actors and enablers of fake news include politicians, cultural figures, non-state armed groups and even terrorist organisations. Increasingly ‘cyber warriors’ are paid to peddle fake news. The impact of these ‘cyber conflicts’ are felt on the ground. Fake news has contributed to, and exacerbated, community conflict. Crime perpetuated against members of one ethnic group is often attributed to members of another ethnic group leading to retaliation. There are also some external actors, such as the French military and the Russians, who engage in propaganda and fake news sharing. With the recent decision of the new Malian authorities to sign a contract with Russian private security company, Wagner, fake news related to France military intervention is once again circulating widely. To address this proliferation of fake news, the Malian government legislated a cybercrime law in 2020. While this law does not explicitly talk about fake news, it provides punishments - including steep fines and jail time - for various offences committed on electronic media. The law also gives the state power to cut or slow down internet access during events deemed as a threat to security such as protests or election. Civil society activists remain sceptical about this legal framework and warn that it may be misused to curb freedom of speech and press freedom. Organised fact-checking media platforms are at a nascent stage although media professionals are becoming more and more aware of the important role it can play in countering fake news.