Alt-Media is once again being manipulated by infowar practitioners into spreading fake news, with the popular outlet South Front republishing a false report about a Chinese base in Zimbabwe because it seemingly satisfied their “wishful thinking” confirmation bias about the People’s Republic forcefully challenging the US in Africa despite the allegation itself being a cleverly crafted attempt to discredit both Beijing and the new government in Harare.
One of the dogmas defining the Alt-Media Community is the belief that Russia, China, and Iran are always doing whatever they can to confront the so-called “New World Order” and undermine the US’ unipolar control over global affairs, with this notion capturing the imagination of millions and oftentimes making them naively susceptible to believing any report that seemingly satisfies their “wishful thinking” confirmation bias. This is especially the case it’s something as dramatic as either of these three Great Powers secretly setting up a military base in the “Global South” to defend a partner from America’s aggressive geopolitical expansion of proxy influence. With this psychological context in mind, the popular outlet South Front republished a false report about a Chinese base in Zimbabwe because it seemed to meet all these criteria, though they unwittingly bestowed credibility upon an infowar weapon that was cleverly crafted to discredit both Beijing and the new government in Harare by not debunking this discredited narrative when they had the chance.
The Fake News Fabrication
South Front cited an obscure blog called “Spotlight Zimbabwe” that’s run by a team of only three people, two of whom live outside the country in Canada and Germany. This should have been the first indication that the report wasn’t credible because it’s difficult to believe that an outlet of such little stature would be privy to such globally significant “exclusive” news as the creation of China’s first military base in the African hinterland. South Front should have also sensed that something was wrong right from the get-go when “Spotlight Zimbabwe” claimed that former President Mugabe warned about his now-successor conspiring with the Chinese for his removal and collaborating with them to pillage the country, two interconnected narratives that were previously spread by the Mainstream Media in order to discredit both of them. Nevertheless, South Front took these claims at face value and republished them on their site without question, apparently being unaware of how politically sensitive they are in the national and continental contexts.
To explain, China’s role in Africa is already extremely controversial among many ever since the country’s clumsy missteps in the early 2000s damaged its reputation and provided ammunition for its American rival to use in attempting to continually discredit its activities there since then. Generally speaking, Africans appreciate China’s large-scale infrastructure projects in their countries but are concerned over their governments’ growing debt to the People’s Republic and are also developing a dislike of Chinese traders for displacing local businesses. Combined with preexisting socio-cultural friction from the early 2000s and the US’ incessant infowar attacks against Chinese activity in Africa, especially the narrative that it’s obsessed with neo-colonial resource extraction and intends to build bases all across the continent to suppress local opposition to its businesses, and it’s clear to see that the political environment is becoming increasingly hostile to China. Unfortunately, this background was lost on South Front, which unknowingly spread a false report reinforcing those weaponized narratives.
The Reality Of Chinese-African Relations
China’s 21st-century grand strategy sees Africa as indispensable to the continued growth of the People’s Republic for resource and market reasons, the first of which is self-explanatory for all Great Powers the world over while the latter is related to the country’s need to obtain reliable markets for its overproduced low-cost goods. The Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) is all about building physical infrastructure to facilitate both of these objectives while also encouraging sustainable development so as to ensure the long-term economic reliability of China’s partners in a win-win manner. Like all strategies, this one isn’t always perfectly executed but the aforementioned description explains its overall intent. Instead of directly protecting its investments like other countries have done in the past, China depends on the national militaries of the BRI host states and aspires to have as little of its own military footprint as possible, with the emerging option of possibly contracting Russian “mercenaries” in crisis scenarios.
Exposing The Infowar Provocation
With the reader now having a more solid grasp of the strategic dynamics underpinning Chinese-African relations, one can better understand just how pernicious “Spotlight Zimbabwe’s” infowar attack was that South Front ended up republishing. The piece is carefully crafted to portray China as an aggressive neo-colonial power aided and abetted by corrupt national proxies that it helped put into power through a military coup, all to extract even more resources than before from Zimbabwe and to exploit the country as a military playground. The author’s intent is clearly to stir up anger against Beijing and the new government in Harare, but this obvious motivation was lost on South Front, whose editors only saw what they wanted to see, which was the overly simplistic view that China is challenging the US in Africa by supposedly building a super secret base in the continental hinterland, something that must have piqued their imaginations and made them think that their audience would be receptive to it to.
Alt-Media’s Achilles’ Heel
Therein lays one of the many Achilles’ heels of Alt-Media, which is the Community’s predisposition to believe anything that conforms to their “wishful thinking” confirmation bias of non-Western powers spreading their influence across the world in every dimension (especially military) in order to confront the so-called “New World Order”. The average person, especially one outside of Africa, has close to no knowledge about the continent’s dynamics and is therefore prone to naively falling for whatever they come across that feeds into their worldview, which explains why South Front was so receptive to the superficial message of “China challenging the US in Southern Africa through a military base” despite it actually being a cleverly created infowar weapon designed to incite increased opposition to the People’s Republic and the new Zimbabwean government. Without having meant to, South Front therefore ended up spreading a false report whose very purpose was intended to contradict the outlet’s multipolar aims by discrediting the two countries that it’s about instead of celebrating them like they thought.
The case study of the well-respected South Front Alt-Media outlet unintentionally spreading fake news about China is extremely instructive because it highlights one of the Community’s many Achilles’ heels, namely its members’ inclination to believe whatever seems to align with their “wishful thinking” confirmation bias. In this instance, it was the false report by an obscure blog mostly managed by people outside of Africa purporting to have received “exclusive” information about the establishment of a Chinese base in Zimbabwe, which South Front’s editors enthusiastically republished and therefore imbued with a sense of credibility . This showed precisely how fake news usually spreads and infiltrates into the prevailing discourse – otherwise responsible outlets irresponsibly publish false reports without realizing it and then the weaponized narrative takes on a life of its own after virally spreading throughout the information ecosystem until people naively take its claims for granted. South Front should be forgiven for what it unwittingly did, but hopefully it learns its lesson and this doesn’t happen again.
DISCLAIMER: The author writes for this publication in a private capacity which is unrepresentative of anyone or any organization except for his own personal views. Nothing written by the author should ever be conflated with the editorial views or official positions of any other media outlet or institution.