The Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) in partnership with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) has expressed concern over the growing circulation of fake news through the social media and its possible threats on electoral integrity of Nigeria.
CDD keynote speaker, Jibrin Ibrahim, said this while addressing the representatives of different media outfits, INEC, SSS, the Minister of Information, and many other stakeholders, at the first day of the 2-Day Conference on Combating Misinformation and Disinformation in Nigeria, on Tuesday, in Abuja.
He said disinformation and misinformation have generated significant threat not only to the country’s democracy but human co-existence.
The conference is primarily aimed at equipping the stakeholders, which include Nigerians, on how to sort fact from fiction in some of the news that will expectedly be appearing on social media before, during and after the November 16 governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa.
In his address, Mr Ibrahim added that “misinformation, disinformation and fake news through the social media has created a serious crisis for nation-states.
“It has provoked a significant level of conflicts, it has generated hate speech which has been destructive for inter-community relations.
“The impact of social media has created a new world where democracy has been beckoned and where information has been continuously tinted. It has also been used to control and distort the outcome of electoral processes.
“The people that share information on social media do so because they believe that information to be true and that is known to people who receive that information. They believed the sender will not send fake news that gives such information credibility.”
Sorting fact from fiction
Deji Adekunle, a visiting fellow at the Nigerian Human Rights Commission (NHRC), expressed his dissatisfaction with “the late delivery of facts to the public on sensitive issues by the custodians of the information”.
He added that some politicians have mastered the arts of distraction and those arts are tested through the elements of fakes news spread on social media.
He said the obligation of the media is not to present an opinion before the public but to present issue/facts the way they are.
“There is a responsibility to verify before validating. If you cannot verify information, do not share it. That is a way to combat fake news. You can only fight disinformation and misinformation through the presentation of fact.
“Some of use do not care to verify sources of information we read on social media and those who verify never comes back deliberately to share. This is not a task meant for the Ministry of Information to tackle alone, other stakeholders should share that responsibility.”
Fake news ecosystem
The Director of CDD, Idayat Hassan, while speaking on the issue of disinformation and fake news ecosystem in the month preceding the 2019 presidential elections, said over 100 fake news was shared by the pro-APC and pro-PDP persons on daily basis against each other.
“Looking at over 3.1 million tweets, we saw that 19.5 per cent of those tweets were automated and not from the human beings. The way fake news works in Nigeria is not just on social media, there are also shared platforms.”
She, however, lamented how Whatsapp has recently become so prone to promoting fake news as it is possible for “people to congregate together to watch video on Whatsapp status.”
Mrs Hassan said though research has discovered that fake news is local in structure, there is so much of its prominence in the northern region than in the south. She said Kano has been alleged to top the list.
Jafar Jafar, a journalist, said “people tend to believe whatever they see on Facebook and Twitter more. And the tech guys such as Google, Twitter are not helping the matter.”
“They created monsters they cannot regulate, you cannot control over 40 million people in Nigeria, you ask a robot to perform the same function.
“We have less than 300 radio stations in the country which are regulated but on Facebook we have over 40 million people dishing out whatever they like, whenever they like at the demand of their political paymaster,” he added.
He lamented how Google gives prominence to media outfits who rewrite stories from media outfits who actually source for those stories on the google search engine.
He said such ranking undermines efforts of credible news dissemination platforms.
He called for regulation of social media with no political undertone.
During the panel discussion on Tackling Disinformation in Elections: Role of Stakeholders, a INEC National Commissioner, Festus Okoye, represented by Aliyu Bello, said the challenge of everyone becoming a journalist through the use of social media has placed the commission on difficult ground.
He, however, said that because of the threat of fake news in election processes and the commitment to its eradication, the commission had an interactive session with ‘social media influencers’ to keep them abreast of any development during and after the governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa.
He also said that with the support of European Centre for Electoral Support, “the commission has just established a full-fledged media monitoring section “where we will be following all that pertains to the election on social media and electronic (media).”
“We do at least 15 national dailies on what has been said about us or against us. Though social media is very difficult to fact-check.”
Speaking on ways to tackle disinformation, Dapo Olorunyomi, the publisher of PREMIUM TIMES, represented by Deji Adekunle, said the world has moved “from limited information to information overload and the world is yet to see the full consequence”.
He noted that social media has gone beyond an individual thing which is why tackling disinformation also needs a collective approach.
Garba Abari, Director of National Orientation Agency, said hate speech has been in existence for a while but “it has become more of a distraction in recent years because of social media.”
Others present during this discussion included Bayelsa and Kogi RECs and the spokesperson of the SSS.
The conference continues on Wednesday at the Transcorp Hilton, Abuja.