Adding fuel to the fake fire

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Adding fuel to the fake fire

Social media gives we consumers a powerful voice; a means to expose how we’ve been wronged by companies; and to warn others of dodgy practices and rip offs. And you’re safe – legally – if what you say publicly is true. Factual, real – not fake.

Sadly, the facts tend not to have the shock value of the fake stuff, which is why those fake food videos go viral.
And they get people nicely stirred up; stirred up enough to go on a violent rampage, as we saw with the recent looting of foreign-owned shops in Soweto.

A Durban woman, Zaheera, watched one of those social media videos claiming that plastic rice is being passed off as real rice.

How can you tell if rice is fake, that is plastic? Well, you cook it up and then you roll into a little ball and then you throw it against your kitchen wall, and if it bounces that means it’s plastic.

So a week or two ago, Zaheera decided to go one better than just sharing that video on all her platforms. She decided to do the plastic rice test on a locally sold brand of Basmati rice, Golden Delight, film the whole thing and then share that video for her few minutes of fame.

And what do you know  – her little rice balls bounced – proof positive Gold Delight rice is actually little pieces of plastic.

What she should have done, of course, is spend a couple of minutes online, to establish whether plastic rice is a reality or not.

And in just a few seconds she would have discovered that it’s a hoax that’s been doing the rounds in Africa, especially up north where rice is the staple food, for a few years now.

But no, Zaheera told people that Golden Delight rice was plastic.

Enter Naeem Adam of Durban-based company Gold Keys, which has sold Golden Delight rice for 25 years.

“To our horror,” he told Consumerwatch, “we woke up to the post being shared by friends urging us to urgently respond to the false allegations being made.”

The company reached out to Zaheera via Facebook and asked her to get in touch, which she did.
I asked Naeem whether they considered legal action, given that Zaheera’s video was very clearly defamation, being totally untrue.

“The legal route was one of our options as protection of our brand is of paramount importance,” he said. “We also wanted to dispel the falsehood that was being spread and ensure that our loyal consumers were re-assured that they are receiving premium quality rice.”

In the end, the parties agreed that Zaheera make a second video, an apology video.

The Gold Keys people have come away from the experience with a new respect for the power of social media.

“Rice has been consumed for generations and as brand owners we sometimes assume that the general hoaxes out there don’t need to be addressed as it “can never impact us”, Naeem said.
“But the power of Social Media is certainly much greater than most of us realise.

And Zaheera has learnt the most important lesson of social media.

If what you post is not true, and not in the public interest, it’s defamatory. And you’re opening yourself up to legal action from the company or individual you have defamed.

[This article was originally published on East Coast Radio’s website on Sept 27, 2018.]