Kaunda Selisho

By Kaunda Selisho

Journalist


Police and Cogta may struggle to trace alcohol ban prankster

Police may even have to get Facebook - the company that owns Whatsapp - involved, and even then it would be difficult to find the person who had thousands queuing outside liquor stores in this week's panic run on liquor stores.


Tracking the prankster who created panic around the possible reinstatement of the liquor ban on Tuesday may be harder than we think. 

This is according to Helene Swart, Operations Manager at Intertel Investigations – an investigation company that specialises in the digital arena and can assist on matters of fraud, extortion, theft, harassment and even infidelity. 

Both the South African Police Service and Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs department have confirmed that they will be investigating the matter, following Tuesday’s panic buying of increased amounts of alcohol, prompted by a voice note  on social media claiming that another alcohol ban would be instituted with immediate effect.

The spread of fake news was declared a criminal act when the Disaster Management Act was first used to institute a state of disaster months ago, and remains so as long as the state of disaster is in effect. 

According to Swart, the short answer is that It isn’t possible, from a voice note itself – or any metadata contained in the voice note file, to track the originator. 

“But by working backwards, tracing the path of sender/receiver along the timeline of that voice note’s lifespan, one could theoretically trace a route to the originating number.  From there it would be a short hop to identifying and locating the sender,” explains Swart. 

Swart further notes that this would be made even more complicated if persons along the timeline have since deleted the message.  

“That said, it may also be possible for WhatsApp – or Facebook – to expedite the process algorithmically.” 

Swart’s view is echoed by Craig Pederson digital forensics specialist and a certified cyber crime investigator at TCG Forensics who said, in his professional opinion, that tracing the origins of a voice note would not be possible. 

“I’m familiar with the voice note and am quite confident that without a voice-sample of a suspect that tracing of it will not be possible.”

“The technical consideration is that when voice notes and photos are transmitted via WhatsApp they’re stripped of any usable metadata that might have been of value in identifying the point of origin. The sound clip itself gives no definitive information that can be used to trace the original clip,” added Pederson before illustrating the lack of meta data attached to the file that was circulated. 

From a forensic perspective, Pederson concludes that there is no chance of tracing the voice note back to its origin and that the police’s only hope is that someone recognises the voice in the clip and comes forward with information. 

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Whoever is behind the hoax has been the subject of interest for many South Africans who believe that the hoax was a ploy by either a single liquor store owner or manufacturer or a group of such individuals who spread the fake news in order to push sales. 

Even rapper Nadia Nakai is a proponent of this theory.

While there is no way to confirm this belief, liquor store owners certainly did benefit from the spike as they saw increased foot traffic on Tuesday afternoon. 

Mike Mavundla, branch manager of the Checkers grocery store in Emmarentia, which also houses a Checkers Liquor shop confirmed that their store experienced unprecedented levels of foot traffic on Tuesday. 

According to Mavundla, staff at the store soon began to question the increased amounts of traffic which were unusual, even for payday. Staff were then notified by customers of the voice note in question.

A customer’s vehicle is packed with alcohol at the Makro Liquor Store in Roodepoort, 18 August 2020, as South Africa allows the sale of alcohol and cigarettes again as the country moves into level two of lockdown during efforts to curb the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Picture: Michel Bega

A branch manager for Liquor City who does not wish to be named also shared a similar experience after he says a customer played him the voice note while doing their shopping on Tuesday. 

Said branch manager confirmed that they were able to meet the demand experienced by their store, which far surpassed what they are used to seeing around payday but added that it may be a while before they are able to replenish stocks. 

How to spot fake news

Africa’s first independent fact-checking organisation Africa Check has published a number of handy guides for fact checking information and spotting fake news across various social media platforms.

One can ask simple questions like who wrote it? Can I verify the claims? Does the info make me scared or angry? Does it include shocking pictures, video or audio? and am I sure this is not a hoax? to determine whether ot not to believe news and share it with others.

Click here to read the full guide

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