Two heads of state and a former head of state have been declared dead by fake news outlets and spread on social media platforms last week.
Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and former Ghana President Jerry John Rawlings were subjects of death hoaxes on Sunday.
Dos Santos was falsely reported dead on Sunday and quickly, messages of condolences and doubt spread like wildfire on Facebook and Twitter.
A tweet and an Instagram post from his angry daughter Isabel dos Santos dismissed the reports that were preceded by false ill-health reports.
“Someone stoops so low to the point of inventing death news to create confusion and political turmoil in Angola?” she wrote on social media.
About the same time, another false report was published saying Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari had died in London where he is receiving treatment.
Many embraced the false report on Sunday and continued to spread it on social media until the spokesperson of the president Garba Shehu tweeted same day that the reports were “baseless rumours”.
“If you have received this information on WhatsApp or Facebook, disregard it bcos it is plain lies spread by vested interests to create panic,” he said.
“Nothing unpleasant has happened to the President. No cause for apprehension. Thanks for the many calls,” he added.
Baseless rumors are trending again that an unpleasant thing has happened to our beloved President, Muhammadu Buhari.— Garba Shehu 🇳🇬 (@GarShehu) May 14, 2017
If you have received this information on WhatsApp or Facebook, disregard it bcos it is plain lies spread by vested interests to create panic— Garba Shehu 🇳🇬 (@GarShehu) May 14, 2017
Before these two death hoaxes died off, the same website that published that of Buhari said the former President of Ghana Jerry John Rawlings had died.
This also received the same prominence on social media like the other two but was dispelled on Monday – a day after its spread.
The office of the former president released a statement saying it “strongly cautions persons who have made it their preoccupation to publish such falsehood to desist from such reckless and insensitive actions”.
President Rawlings says he's not dead as rumored pic.twitter.com/yEdmnyi67U— Austine (@obiMpenaAustine) May 15, 2017
One regular victim of death hoaxes is Zimbabwe’s 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe who has been in the news several times for dying.
Heads of state are not the only victims of death hoaxes. Many African celebrities and influential personalities have been targeted.
Last year, Africa’s richest man and businessman, Nigerian Aliko Dangote was rumoured to be dead.
Dangote tweeted not long after the report was published that he was alive and people should disregard the malicious report.
I am hale, hearty and alive. Please disregard malicious report saying otherwise. Thank you.— Aliko Dangote (@AlikoDangote) September 25, 2016
Coincidentally, these fake news websites publish the articles on Sundays. The people behind the websites take advantage of the emotions of online users who also share these rumours.
No one has been arrested yet and most of these websites are still active with the fake stories online.