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Western Media Duped by Gambia's Fake Facebook Page
Gambia is Africa's smallest nation. It has little Internet presence and not much ever newsworthy happens there. But, in December, a small group of discontented soldiers tried to overthrow the eccentric leader, Yahya Jammeh, in the city of Banjul. The attackers attacked the palace along the Gambia River causing panic. They were unaware the leader was not even there but in Chad. The small group were all killed or captured. Two Americans with Gambian descent have been charged among others with the attempt in the USA.
Gambia is a dictatorship. Its dictator claims he can cure HIV, diabetes, asthma, hypertension, strokes, infertility and impotence by using natural forest products such as fruit, leaves, branches and tree roots. He is seen always wearing aviator sunglasses and loves motorcycles. He took over the country in 1994.
So, when the coup occurred, many Western news agencies tried to verify the information about the coup. Most of their calls went answered to the Gambian officials. As a result, they turned to what all thought was the Gambian official Facebook page. It did look legit. It proclaimed the coup was defeated. The reality was that the page was fake, created by two Canadians in their 30's. The page was created by Jay Bahadur, a journalist, living in Kenya. He and his friend created the page as a joke and spoof. It seems in a rush to get the news first, BBC, Bloomberg, Al Jazeera and others failed to vet the information on the page. Bahadur states that if read carefully, certain things would never appear on an official government page, like, "wearing sweet aviator" sunglasses. The official Gambia page does not have this as a hobby of its dictator.
In part, the news agencies had been duped because the FB page had been around for sometime and while they tried to verify the information, no one answered the phones. This is still the case. But, even a week after the event, media outlets still referred to the fake Facebook page. Even the dictator was amused and said he was surprised agencies would go to Facebook because he does not have such a page. The two journalists have both been arrested according to the dictator. however, both journalists state they are free, have not been detained and Gambian officials have not contacted them about the page.