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Don’t fall for fake social media accounts said to be run by South Africa’s human settlements department

IN SHORT: Social media accounts claiming to be run by South Africa’s human settlements department are fake. Read on for tips on how to identify fake account.

Fake social media accounts are, unfortunately, common. And profiles impersonating public figures appear especially regularly.

South Africa’s Department of Human Settlements recently posted several warnings about social media accounts impersonating both its minister, Mmamoloko Kubayi, and deputy minister Pamela Tshwete.

How can we identify fake accounts, and which profiles are real? Let’s explain.


Does the account get the details right?

For more information on spotting fake government social media pages, read Africa Check’s guide to verifying government Facebook pages, and our guide to verifying Twitter accounts

One easy way to spot a fake page is that it may get important details wrong, or leave them out entirely. For example, many of the accounts imitating Kubayi are either out of date, or haven’t realised that she’s now the minister of human settlements. Multiple accounts imitating her still claim she’s the minister of tourism, one of her previous positions. 

The DHS also released a statement directing readers to Kubayi’s official Facebook and Twitter accounts. It also warned that Tshwete, her deputy, has no official social media account.

Tshwete used to have a Twitter account, as indicated by archived Tweets and an out-of-date government information page, which links to the now-deleted account

But the many accounts claiming to be Tshwete on Facebook are fake. Tshwete no longer uses any social media.

DHS could do more to identify official accounts

It is helpful that the DHS released this statement. But the department could do more to protect citizens from fake accounts, such as making its official social media pages easier to recognise.

Kubayi’s official accounts are not verified. The DHS’s official Facebook and Twitter pages aren’t either. Verification lets social media users easily identify official accounts, and makes them harder to imitate. (But it’s worth pointing out that this hasn’t stopped people from using emoji to imitate a verified check mark).

Kubayi’s Twitter account does include a banner that lists her official social media handles, but her Facebook and Instagram accounts do not. Nor do they identify themselves as official accounts.

While its statement on the false social media accounts does link to Kubayi’s official accounts, the DHS website does not. This is not unusual for a departmental website. The South African government contact directory is typically the site where official social media accounts are listed, but this directory is out of date, as are other official websites.

For example, many accounts impersonating Tshwete also used her old position as deputy minister of water and sanitation (a department which was separated from the DHS in 2021). This position is unhelpfully listed as her current position on the government contact directory. (Though fortunately not on the DWS website.)

On its website, the DHS doesn’t include her position at the DWS among Tshwete’s “previous positions”, in fact, the DHS doesn’t mention its fellow government department at all.

The out of date and contradictory information about Tshwete spread across several government websites makes it very difficult for an ordinary social media user to spot a fake account. While fake accounts often list incorrect information, it is much harder to verify an account when the correct information is not available.

There’s still plenty to suggest that accounts like these are fakes, and the DHS has taken an important step by identifying which accounts associated with the department are genuine. However, both the DHS and other sections of the South African government could do more to prevent confusion by making accurate and up to date information more easily available.

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