By Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome
While no one is presently certain why or from where the rumor was started in Nairobi, that airline British Airways would be halting flights from London to Nairobi over security threats and concerns, be it ill will, be it incompetence, be it even accomplices of Al Shabab trying to use the social media to spread their terror messages, it did not take long to have the timelines of Twitter and Facebook awash with the false information. From across the region, airlines reported calls were coming in from passengers booked last night for flights to the UK after they were alarmed by the false information which spread like a mini tsunami on the social media networks.
Even well-reputed individuals fell to this urban legend and re-tweeted the patently false information, even after radio stations, TV stations, the national airline Kenya Airways, and leading Kenyan businessman Chris Kirubi went public, the latter through his Capital FM radio station, before he tweeted that it was just that – a rumor.
The UK High Commissioner was also swift to publicly announce that there was not a shred of truth in the rumors, and Kenya Airways’ Dr. Titus Naikuni had the following statement issued to also nip the mischief in the bud:
“Kenya Airways wishes to clarify that it is still operating normal flights to the UK, contrary to rumors over the status of this service. We are flying to London 7 times a week, as usual. Thank you for flying ‘The Pride of Africa.’”
It is understood from usually well-informed sources that the cyber crime unit in Kenya is actively following the trail of tweets and other social media messages to establish the origin of them, since such misleading statements are considered not just borderline but across the red line with such utterances aimed at causing public panic, despondency, and disruption. One source was candid enough to equate such behavior on Twitter and other social media with the shout “Fire, Fire” in a crowded movie theatre or a packed shopping mall and suggested harsh punishment for the culprits when found.
Whoever the nitwit was who started this rumor, Al Shabab and their Al Qaida cronies will surely be most grateful for the mess this caused. Tweet responsibly or stay the heck off of social media.