Fake news is not just a threat to the peace and security of a nation but a threat to the existence of the media itself, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, has said.
Mr Mohammed, who has been championing a campaign against fake news was the chairperson of a conference to address the rise of fake news in Nigeria ahead of the 2019 general election organised by the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD).
Themed: “Democracy and Disinformation: How Fake News Threatens our Freedom and Democracy in Nigeria”, the two-day conference kicked off Tuesday in Abuja.
In his opening remark, Mr Mohammed said the immediate victims of fake news is the media.
“If Nigerians see a particular media outlet as a purveyor of fake news, then it means the outlet is no longer credible and its fellowship will drop significantly making them to run out of business.”
The minister said fake news is the “greatest threat to the 2019 election. This is why this workshop organized by the CDD and other CSOs to tackle fake news is timely and necessary.”
Mr Mohammed further blamed the 1994 genocide in Rwanda to fake news and hate speech.
The Rwandan genocide, also known as the genocide against the Tutsi was a mass slaughter of Tutsi in Rwanda by members of the Hutu majority government. Over 500,000 Rwandans were killed during the 100-day period from April 7 to mid-July 1994.
“While Vanguard Newspaper recently reported that the electoral body has come out with facts that the alleged under aged voting in the February elections in Kano emanated from fake news, the BBC also reported that fake news fuels the herdsmen/farmers clash in Nigeria,” the government spokesperson said.
“Fake news in Nigeria has become so endemic that it goes from sublime to ridiculous and the most ridiculous I have seen so far was when last week the social media was full of news that my driver abandoned me in the middle of the road and decamped to PDP. I say its ridiculous because my driver is a civil servant who I inherited and even if he has political leaning, he should let me know. Why would he now be so irrational to drop me in the middle of the road just because he wants to decamp to PDP.”
Mr Mohammed accused opposition parties of alleged planing to use fake news to influence the outcome of the 2019 elections.
“In Nigeria, some opposition leaders are already visiting Georgia, Ukraine and other countries an a mission to use cyber war to influence the outcome of the next election. That is why we must all stand up against fake news. ”
He however expressed hope in the fight against fake news in the social media space.
“Google put aside $300 million to fight fake news in the next three years, Facebook has deleted about 600 million fake accounts. Twitter deleted 70 million fake accounts in the last three months. Whatsapp has created a software to ensure fake news is tackled. It’s not only in Nigeria, fake news is a threat to the world.
“Please if you see a story, ask yourself how credible it is and don’t share unless you believe it is true,” he said.
The minister also declared the workshop open.
Earlier in his remark, Jibrin Ibrahim of the CDD said the emergence of the social media gave rise to unrestricted influx of fake news in Nigeria.
Mr Ibrahim cited many examples of fakes news that emanated from the social media such as the monkey pox scare last year, when the army was alleged to be injecting school children with the deadly disease in the South-eastern part of the country.
“We tend to focus too much in this country by what is said by the traditional media but that the fact of the day is that the social media has taken over a lot of production and distribution of news. Facebook, with 25 million Nigerians commenting every second is the largest newsroom in the country and when such huge newsroom is manipulated, it’s a huge problem. With 2019 election coming we do have a serious crisis before us and its in this context that we feel it’s very important to understand the tactics and strategies used to divide this country through fake news.”
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), experts, renowned journalists, civil society actors, academia and government officials all participated in the conference supported by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) and MacArthur Foundation.