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The Use of Social Media in the Propagation of Falsehood in Crises Situation

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Social media have been welcomed as important tools that contribute to satisfying the daily information needs of citizens in today‘s global society. To many, they  serves  as  an  open and alternative source of information especially where the conventional media fail to play their role of  serving the public‘s interest first.

Notwithstanding, there has been serious and legitimate concerns about the  spread of fake news over social media  especially during the 2016 US presidential elections  (Allcott&Gentzkow,  2017).

This  coincided  with  the Cameroon Anglophone  Crisis (CAC)  in which  the Cameroon government blamed social  media  users for spreading false information  about  the crisis  to the extent  that government shut down the Internet in the two affected Anglophone regions of the country for 93 days in 2017.

This article therefore, examines the content of information (graphics, audios, videos, texts) posted on two widely used social media platforms  (WhatsApp and Facebook) during the  Anglophone Crisis, in  order  to understand how falsehood is propagated especially during crisis situations.

A qualitative approach to analyse data of falsehood during the crisis was used and three major ways were identified through which falsehood was propagated. Principally, social media activists used computer software to distort pictures and superimpose content that depict the messages they wanted to pass across.

They also spread rumors using texts, audio clips and distorted videos. The conclusion is that social media have been awash with falsehood in the Cameroon Anglophone Crisis.

The major recommendation therefore, is that users of social media should make efforts to verify the authenticity of information obtained from such media before consuming and disseminating to others.  The  December  2014 Law  on  Terrorism  in  Cameroon  treats  such  offences  seriously  and defaulters are severely punished with heavy jail sentences and fine.




The media as one of the most important institutions of modern society are witnessing dramatic transformation.  The advent of the Internet, the rapid growth of mobile technology and the move towards digital convergence have greatly altered the norms of information researching, gathering, processing and dissemination (Ngange & Tchewo, 2017).

With the use of digital equipment, ordinary individuals (citizen journalists) have hijacked the role of conventional journalists by spontaneously reporting news of crisis and other forms of disaster, especially when they happen to be present on the scene, through social media platforms (Allan, 2013).  

The excitement to tell the story first has witnessed the non-respect of the norms and basic elements of a profession which demands its practitioners (journalists) to be committed to reporting the truth and the essence of verifying their facts before publication. 

While presenting speed as an additional pressure in the digital age, Kovach and Rosenstein (2001, p. 59) argue that ―speed is almost always the enemy of accuracy‖ that journalists face in the news gathering and dissemination process. 

They  further  explain  that this  pressure  is a  setback  against  truth  and accuracy  and  that  it increases  the likelihood  for  rumour and  misinformation  to be  transmitted  through such  an  opened  network  media environment.

Bal and Baruh (2015) also share the opinion that the need for immediacy increases the likelihood of spreading false information more quickly on social media.  

The social media, especially WhatsApp and Facebook, became major sources for receiving and transmitting information during the 2016 to 2019 crisis rocking the two Anglophone Regions of Cameroon.

A greater proportion, especially of the youthful population, depended on these platforms for information when the crisis went violent from November 21, 2016. The social media became saturated with information in texts, graphics, audios and videos purported to be updates surrounding the crisis as it unfolded. 

It  did  not  take  long after  the  crisis  erupted  for  the Cameroon  government authorities to  point  accusing  fingers  on  advocates of the  Anglophones problem  in Cameroon and  journalists for  the publication of misleading and unverified information especially on social media, which stirred and provoked sentiments in favor of the crisis.

The accusations were followed by the complete shutdown of the Internet in the two Anglophone Regions of Cameroon on January 17 to April,  20, 2017  (93 days). The Rambler newspaper edition of Wednesday, January 18, 2017 had on page three a meeting between the President of the National Communication Council, NCC, Mr.

Peter Essoka and journalists in Bamenda. Mr. Essoka cautioned journalists to avoid social media propaganda and on the need to draw lines between factual and fictional writing. It is on this background that this paper content analyses social media platforms in other to understand the propagation of falsehood in such mediums.

The objectives are to establish scientific evidence on how falsehood was manifested on social media content during the Cameroon Anglophone Crisis (2016-2017 laps) and to give an understanding of how this was propagated. To understand how information was distorted and lies were spread, the researchers focused on one main question: how was falsehood manifested and propagated on Social media in crises like the Cameroon Anglophone Crisis?

The history of Cameroon is complex. The country was annexed by the Germans in 1884 (Fanso, 2003) and was later divided into two parts in 1916 when the Germans lost the First World War. 20% was under British control and 80% under the French as mandated territories by the League of Nations. Fanso (ibid) claims that the Anglo-French partition of  Cameroon in  1916  created  separate nationalist  aspirations  and movements  in the  two  territories. 

After gaining independence in 1960 (for French Cameroon) and 1961 (for English Cameroon by joining the French part), Fanso (2003) adds that it soon became obvious that the cultural, social and political divides between the two linguistic groups were more  fundamental and  more  difficult  to  bridge than  the  initial aspirations  of  the nationalists  whose  aims were  to establish a united and independent Cameroon.

The Federal Constitution arrived at in 1961 by the fathers of reunification kept the  two linguistic groups  distinct with the  people  of each community firmly attached  to their colonial  cultural heritage in terms of education, judiciary, politics and other social aspects.  

Notwithstanding, Konings and Nyamnjoh (2003) report that even under the Federal Constitution, the English speaking parts (Anglophones) complained of being marginalised by their French speaking (Francophones) counterparts.

The first president of Cameroon, AhmadouAhidjo (1960-1982), succeeded to kill the spirit of multiparty politics practiced in English  Cameroon in  1966 after  convincing  leaders  of political  parties in  both  French  (East) and  English  (West) Cameroon into a one-party system  and created  the Cameroon  National Union,  CNU, (Mbu,  2006).

The  Cameroon Federation (of West and East Cameroon) survived till May 20, 1972 when the country became a United Republic and later The Republic of Cameroon in 1984 through a Presidential Decree (Ngalim, 2014 and Echu, 2004).  

The  dismantling of  federalism  by Ahidjo  in  1972 is  believed  to have  been  the major  setback which  exposed  the marginalisation of Anglophone  Cameroonians. Nkwi (2004) holds that the replacement of federalism with a unitary state in 1972 brought a systematic erosion of Anglo-Saxon institutions and traditions that were established in West Cameroon.

Wuteh (2014) adds that Article 1 sub 3 of the constitution of the Republic of Cameroon that provides for English and French as official languages of the country (as a measure to promote and guarantee bilingualism) has been violated due to political bad faith.

Wuteh further points out that article 59 in the constitution which states that…the revised constitution shall be published in French and English, the French being the authentic version‖ gives English an inferior status.

Anglophone Cameroonians have, on several occasions, made calls for the return to federalism as a solution to check their marginalisation. Such calls have always been rejected. For example it was reported in Cameroon Post No 104 of April  2-9,  1992  that  the  Anglophones‘  proposal  for  Federalism  was  rejected during  a  meeting of  members  at the Constitution Drafting Technical Committee in 1992.   

Cameroon Post No 157 of April 7, 1993 also carried a cover story on the All Anglophone Conference that was held in Buea where the Anglophones demanded the recreation of the state of West Cameroon.

Before the crisis rocking the two Anglophone Regions of Cameroon went out of control in November 2016, Common Law lawyers (of English extraction) from the two regions had expressed their frustration to the government in what they termed ―marginalization of Anglophones in the publication of  the  OHADA Laws, especially  the ―Green Book.‖

In a newspaper article published in The Post No. 01763, October 03, 2016, the lawyers claimed to have forwarded numerous complaints  to the  OHADA Secretariat  in  Yaounde on  the  need to  have the  law translated  to  English  but  that the government maintained silence and instead kept circulating the French version. They claimed this act undermined the constitution that prescribes the bilingual and also the bi-jural nature of Cameroon.

Teachers  from  the  English  part  later  joined  the  striking  lawyers  on  November  21,  2016;  thereby,  paralysing  the Anglophone sub-system of education in the two English speaking regions of Cameroon from basic to higher education.

This day was marked by heavy confrontations between protesters and security officers especially in the streets of the North West Regional capital, Bamenda. News concerning the crisis went viral on social media provoking sentiments.

Many individuals without basic knowledge on journalism practice started sharing news contents that were consumed by the masses with few of them questioning the authenticity of the information.

This only led to the escalation of the crisis which  later on  (in  2017)  metamorphosed  into  an arms  struggle  between  separatists who  now  call for  a  complete independence of Anglophone Cameroon (the Ambazonia State) and government military forces fighting to maintain the unity and peace of the country.

In the process, over 2,000 people have died, 200,000 internally displaced and 50, 000 as refugees in neighbouring Nigeria (International Crisis Group, 2018).


Concerns about the presence and spread of falsehood or fake news on social media have been expressed by both global politicians and technology leaders around theworld  (Moore, n.d). 

Moore quoted Barack Obama  in November  2016 saying that ―if we are not serious about facts and what‘s true and what‘s not and particularly in an age of social media when  so  many  people are  getting their  information  in sound  bites and  from their  phones, if  we can‘t  discriminate between  serious  arguments  and  propaganda,  then  we  have  problems‖.  Moore goes further to  state  that  German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has expressed similar views on the subject of fake news.

Finally, Moore (n.d) noted that even the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg who had first dismissed the idea that fake news influenced the 2016 presidential elections in the USA, later published a manifesto of 5,700 words acknowledging the role of social media in promoting fake news, and proposing ways in which Facebook can help deal with it.

Silverman (2016) sited in Allcott and  Gentzkow  (2017)  confirms  that  there  were  lots  of  falsehoods  spread  on  social  media  during  the  US  2016 Presidential elections with the most popular fake news stories being widely shared on Facebook than the most popular mainstream news stories.  

Apart from the 2016 US presidential elections, research on misinformation and the spread of falsehood on social media during the recent Ebola crisis in West Africa countries revealed several widespread rumours that circulated on Twitter (Jin et al, 2014). They noted that falsehood was in the form of lies, half-truths, and rumours. 

It is based on the foregoing that the researcher has embarked on this research to find out the root causes of these problems and to propose policy recommendations’ to address the issues raised.


The researcher seeks to answer the following questions which can be categorized under general questions and a set of specific questions.


The general question is, how was social media used for the propagation of falsehood in crises situations, case study Anglophone crises?


  • What is social media?
  • How was falsehood manifested on social media content during the Cameroon Anglophone Crisis?
  • What methods can be used to combat the use of social media in the propagation of falsehood in crises situations?


The objectives are divided into general and specific objectives


The goal of the research is to critically assess the effectiveness of the laws and institutions in granting divorce in Anglophone Cameroon.


  • To discuss the concept of social media.
  • To examine the influence of social media in the propagation of false news in crises situation
  • To assess the methods that can be used to combat the propagation of falsehood with the use of social media.
  • To make policy recommendations that can address the issues raised and proffer possible solutions on the way forward.




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