In an attempted fightback against a News24 investigation into disinformation website Mzansistories.com late last week, another “fake news” website owner has inadvertently identified himself.
News24 can reveal that Ntebatse Clement Sekgodiso (27) from Kgopane near Tzaneen in Limpopo attempted to retaliate against the News24 investigation that highlighted William Mahlatse Ramatseba as a fake news kingpin.
Sekgodiso unwittingly revealed that he too has links to at least 14 disinformation websites of his own.
His main website www.ABCNews.co.za (ABCNews), attempts to pass itself off as part of the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), even incorporating its logo.
After our investigation, content started disappearing from both websites.
News24 identified Sekgodiso through a complicated web of fake social media accounts, website records and even several Google Apps developed by Sekgodiso, after an attempted hit piece by his websites, against News24 editor-in-chief Adriaan Basson and investigative journalist Jean le Roux, backfired.
Questions sent to Sekgodiso remained unanswered. Following our questions, several changes were made to Sekgodiso’s website, However, the original version was archived and can still be viewed HERE.
The ABCNews website features familiar hallmarks seen on almost every fake news website. Sensational headlines about emotive topics featuring death, sex or racism are littered with out-of-context images and lurid, intrusive adverts.
Some of the more callous articles on the website features sexual acts between school-going minors and claims that celebrities were infected with HIV. On October 12 and 18, 2018, the website posted what it claims were the identities and photos of minor complainants in the rape trial of Nigerian pastor Timothy Omotoso.
So pervasive was the website’s fake news that the Washington Post published a debunking of one of the ABCNews articles claiming that China sends cans of human meat to Africa labelled processed meat.
The insensitive, hurtful and even illegal content published on the website could expose Sekgodiso to civil defamation lawsuits and even criminal prosecution.
Using the same modus operandi as Ramatseba, Sekgodiso’s website converts the traffic generated by these sensational stories into revenue through Google and MGID advertising banners placed on the website.
The ABCNews website was devoid of any contact details. All posts were made by an “Annemarie van Rensburg” and no physical address, phone numbers or email addresses for the owners could be found.
However, the website contained links to several social media sites with affiliation to the website:
- A Facebook group contained a link to the ABCNews website in its “About” section. It also frequently posted links to the website.
- A Google Plus account contained several posts made by the ABCNews website, as well as posts linked to Newsdaily.co.za and SABC.live – other websites we could link to Sekgodiso.
- An Instagram account never made any posts. However, the name of the account (christychristy7073) will become important later.
- A Twitter account displays a link to the ABCNews site in its biography and frequently shares their articles. It was also the main driver behind the hit piece against Basson and Le Roux.
ABCNews featured the same Achilles heel that laid low the Mzansistories website: its advertisements. While allowing the site to turn clicks into revenue, it also allowed News24 to trace the links between the various websites using the same digital fingerprint.
Viewing the source code of the website revealed that the ABCNews website’s MGID adverts still contained references to Dailypost.co.za, the website the ads were copied from.
ABCNews was one of 14 websites linked to the same Google AdSense and Google Analytics IDs.
This list of websites played a key role in determining the network since most of these websites would eventually be shared across the Google Plus, Facebook and Twitter accounts controlled by Sekgodiso.
Website registration records established that ABCNews was registered with similar details to three other websites. ABCNews.co.za, Newgear.co.za, Dailypost.co.za and newsdaily.co.za were all registered under the name of Thoko Promise, using a fictitious phone number and physical address.
The Dailypost website is the same website referenced in the Washington Post article in 2016. It also resembles the email address used to register ABCNews and the three other websites linked to the same fictitious person, Thoko Promise. These clues were, however, inconclusive to identify the owner of the website.
But it was Sekgodiso’s rushed attempt to support Ramatseba that eventually identified him.
Fake news fightback
Shortly after News24 published its investigation into Ramatseba, ABCNews retaliated with an article of its own labelling Basson and Le Roux racists who were out to defend the accused in the now well-known Dros rape case.
The hit piece was shared using several Twitter accounts before it was deleted later that evening. The article accomplished little: no one outside of Sekgodiso’s network engaged with the story at all.
The tweets, however, inadvertently identified a small network of Twitter accounts and websites previously only suspected of being linked to Ramatseba’s Mzansistories-network. Without direct evidence linking Ramatseba to these websites, News24 could not publish it as part of the investigation.
Social media mayhem
The revelation eventually came when Sekgodiso tried to post a link to the smear piece on News24’s Facebook page. A user, Christinah Magagula, posted the link to the ABCNews article in response to the investigation into Ramatseba.
A social media manager notified News24 investigators to the suspicious post.
“Christinah” sports a dodgy profile. She has no profile picture. Her only post contains a link to the ABCNews website and despite staying in Pretoria, “she” works for a United States-based fashion boutique.
The profile’s username, as seen on the web browser address bar, was “christy.christy73997”. This was remarkably similar to the ABCNews Instagram profile called “christychristy7073”.
Also, “Christinah’s” profile had one friend: Ntebza Clement – a profile later identified as one belonging to Ntebatse Clement Sekgodiso. “Christinah’s” friendship with the Ntebza Clement account was terminated shortly after News24 sent questions to Sekgodiso.
Sekgodiso provided several more clues on his Facebook page. He works as a web developer for Sekgodiso Family Holdings – a company that CIPC records confirm is registered in Sekgodiso’s name.
One of the websites linked to the same Google IDs as the ABCNews website was a site called Kgapane.com, Sekgodiso’s small hometown near Tzaneen. Company records also confirmed this as his address.
On March 2, 2018, he posted a link to the Botswana Group urging people to follow his page, ABCNews. This was the same Facebook group frequented by Ramatseba and his sister to lure visitors to their websites.
The Twitter account displayed on his profile (@TheWapWizard) frequently shared articles from multiple websites linked to several of his accounts.
What his Facebook account also revealed was his proximity to Ramatseba. On September 28, 2018 Sekgodiso posted a photo of himself and Ramatseba celebrating the latter’s birthday. In a parallel to how Ramatseba’s sister exposed him as her brother through a birthday message, Sekgodiso’s birthday message also identified him as a close friend of Ramatseba.
A credits trace of Sekgodiso confirmed that he was the director of a company called Sekgodiso Family Holdings. It also confirmed that he previously held a directorship over a company called Newgear.
Newgear’s website used the same Google ID as ABCNews, and Sekgodiso’s Facebook account was also seen advertising the website.
The loose ends
At this stage, News24 has identified the network of websites that comprise the ABCNews network, using Google IDs and website registration records.
News24 has also identified that the Ntebza Clement account belongs to Sekgodiso – both through the posts it made as well as company registrations records.
It also lead News24 to Sekgodiso’s Instagram account, “WapWizard“. He can be seen flashing bottles of Hennessy, his FNB Private Clients bank cards and several posts highlighting his wealth.
Importantly, he also reveals that he is a Google Play developer.
Through this, News24 identified his Google Play developer account, as well as the two Android apps it developed: Mzansi Chat and Newsdaily.
The store page for the developer reveals that the contact e-mail for this site links to firstname.lastname@example.org – the same website used to register ABCNews and Newgear, Sekgodiso’s company.
The Google Play Store page also shows that the developer’s website is Newpress.media – a site linked to the ABCNews website via their Google IDs. The @TheWapWizad Twitter account also previously shared links to all of these websites.
No response, but some reaction
Using company records, News24 identified Sekgodiso’s contact details, addresses and employment history.
He was the director of three companies: Sekgodiso Family Holdings, Newgear and Guru Mania IT Solutions. It also provided several of his cellphone numbers.
Using the app Truecaller, these numbers were identified as belonging to Ntebza Clement. It also provided News24 with another email address.
News24 sent detailed questions to all of the contact numbers and email address belonging to Sekgodiso, but have received no response.
However, after the questions were sent, several changes were made to the ABCNews website, most notable of which was the inclusion of a large banner indicating that the site was “satire”.
Sekgodiso’s Facebook account also terminated its friendship with the Christinah Magagula account.
A full summary of the investigation is here: