Fake news was the subject of a discussion organized this Thursday by Civic Hive, a social accountability group based in Lagos.
The menace emerged as the central focus of a broader conversation on the role of the media in elections. Questions of media bias have featured in the build up to the 2019 elections, with Channels TV’s embarrassing cut one of some events that have raised distrust due to partisanship among Nigeria’s media houses.
But fake news – “misinformation with intention to mislead” according to Hannah Ojo, a panelist at the Civic Hive ‘Thursday Talks’ event – is a bigger and much more troubling type of news event. Because it channels very incorrect information with some features of reality, unsuspecting members of the populace may not know when they believe fake news.
Knowing the damage to decision making that could arise, what must be done to minimize and eradicate fake news? Here are five takeaways:
Everyone has to work on their sense of judgment, on an individual basis. While we trust journalists and media organisations to disseminate true information, citizens’ willingness to do the hard work of consciously evaluating the truthfulness of news stories cannot be neglected or outsourced. Forwarding chats on WhatsApp is a popular medium through which news spreads in Nigeria, impressing on everyone a responsibility to verify before sharing only what they have reason to believe is credible.
Call Out Bad Sources
Are there people on your social media timeline who are fond of sharing fake news stories? Jude Egbas’s prescription is first to alert them to the incorrectness of the stories they share. But should such people persist in doing so, calling them out and/or unfollowing/unfriending them on social media serves as a show of disapproval, according to Egbas, an editor for Pulse.ng
There may be a risk of shunning/disconnecting from friends or family on social media. If so, Jude says, so be it.
Creators of fake news have never been as equipped for their mischievous trade as they are in 2019, with many tech tools at their disposal. But the ability to fact-check claims is also more possible today than in times past. With mediums like Google Image search, you have a means of verifying the authenticity and originality of photos posted by Government officials as evidence of promises kept.
Check Multiple Sources
Any major news item that is not featured on more than one news website is probably false. In other words, do not be quick to share a story that comes up on your Facebook feed simply because it sounds sensational or is in line with your expectation. Search the internet for other sources bearing those claims and take note of where they obtained it from. Big publishers can slip too.
A five-step fact-check process, for journalists and citizens.
— Alexander 'nochie Onukwue (@nochieonukwue) January 31, 2019
Be The Light
David Ajikobi, the Nigeria Editor for Africa Check, observed that there are differences between manipulative stories and fake news, advising against lumping all presentations of misinformation as “fake news”. He particularly warned against a tendency by some Government officials to label dissenting views as fake news, thereby stifling meaningful conversation and diverting attention from real issues of intentional malicious misinformation.
Citizens can have this tendency too, especially when one has declared public support for a candidate. But elections are not a good excuse to lose one’s sense of objectivity. While it is perfectly within an individual’s rights to tout a candidate’s potential, there is no reason why that can’t be done from a basic foundation of informing and enlightening, not deforming and endangering.
As noted by Ms Ojo, Fake news will be easier to tackle if Governments at federal and state levels could be more transparent with public information. When everybody knows what is true, mass deception due to manufactured facts by rogue influencers will be under more control.
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