Curbing Fake News and the Excesses of Social Media, by Zeenat O. Sambo
The rise of social media has offered numerous advantages, including the ability to make money, networking, and developing professionalism by breaking barriers, creating content, business growth, and other opportunities.
For these reasons, people around the globe have leveraged social media platforms as the most pervasive technological development in the world. Given the ease of citizen engagement, social media platforms have offered increased access to citizen participation.
Unfortunately, social media is also used for the spread of fake news and hate speech.
Fake news refers to the deliberate propagation of false information with the intent of causing harm to a person’s reputation, manipulating people’s perception of real facts, inciting the populace against the government, and most disturbingly, causing mayhem in society.
There are where some netizens (users of the internet) have used social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram to cultivate disreputable means to gain clout by fabricating stories without any verifiable sources or facts. Sometimes these stories are propaganda by users with ill intentions or satirists mischievously creating disruptions to mislead the reader and serve selfish reasons that could be detrimental to society.
The first social media uproar that generated a massive wave of fake news was the #EndSARS protest in October 2020. This witnessed a mass movement of Nigerian youth online and street protests generating about 28 million tweets within a week. The protest erupted following weeks of outrage and anger with videos and pictures showing police brutality, harassment, and extortion in Nigeria.
It started as a peaceful protest but turned violent due to fake news that threw the nation into a state of anarchy.
Although evidence of abuse by SARS personnel surfaced, a variety of misleading information was also spread via social media platforms and other means by some sections of the masses that were angry and obsessed with provoking crisis using such incidents as a trigger.
The voluminous rumors spread in the heat of the #EndSARS protest prompted, award-winning journalist and media strategist, Mohammed Dahiru Lawal, to compile the book titled “101 Fake News on EndSARS” to inform the public on how social media fake news can turn peaceful protests into a national crisis.
For instance, the death of Oke Obi-Enadhuze, said to be killed by a policeman was debunked by his brother who clarified that he (victim) was attacked by thugs. The arrest of protesters in Abuja was debunked by FCT Commissioner of Police (CP) Bala Chiroma, rumour of Katsina woman protesting against SARS, and most disturbing the alleged killing of a young man in Ughelli by SARS which triggered the EndSARS protests across the nation were all discovered to be fake news by persons and groups that manipulated images for ulterior motives.
The recent condemnable jungle justice meted on Deborah Samuel, the 200-level student of Shehu Shagari College of Education in Sokoto over a blasphemous statement made via her WhatsApp group chat was another violent incident that engulfed the social media.
While blasphemous statements are disrespectful, offensive, insightful, provocative, and frowned upon in every religion, it is also prudent to seek the advice of legal counsel instead of resorting to jungle justice.
However, the increasing incidence of fake news has triggered many reactions and could have triggered another wave of antagonism and mayhem throughout the nation.
Still grappling to calm angry youths in the heart of Sokoto, it became a challenge for some media outlets like PRNigeria to ensure that fake news does not have a say in propagating more religious violence that could affect law and order in state affairs.
According to PRNigeria report on fake news, one of the false reports was shared by the Catholic Broadcast Commission Nigeria on its Facebook page which has over 90,000 followers. The CBCN posted a story that the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Matthew Kukah’s house was set ablaze by rioters.
The post read: “Carnage in Sokoto today: Aftermath of violent protest in Sokoto today. Holy Family Catholic Cathedral, Bishop Kukah’s house, and Catholic Pastoral Centre which were built with over N1 billion have been burnt down by hoodlums who are protesting the arrest of those who murdered Miss Deborah Yakubu.”
However, Bishop Kukah debunked the claim, stating that no life was lost in the said riot. According to him, “Contrary to information in circulation, we wish to disclaim that there was an attack of any sort on the residence of Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah.”
Meanwhile, there was in circulation another case of a trending video that claimed that northerners were attacking southerners living in those parts of the country.
But PRNigeria’s analysis of the comments and reactions under the post indicates that the claim is not accurate. Some responses to the tweet claimed that it was an old video of a suspected child trafficker who was arrested for abducting a child.
Beyond the fake news, the medium further noted that the attendant reactions are contributing to the hate speech that is further enraging already frayed nerves. Those expressing contrary views are being disparaged, threatened, or attacked.
Fake news peddlers creating false parody accounts on social media during a crisis is another warning to Nigerians. These social media accounts are often created by ill-minded people impersonating high-profile personalities to take advantage of the situation to direct traffic to their blogs and incite crises for selfish motives.
Although detecting fake news remains a challenge considering the time factor, labour, logistics, and technological resources, it is necessary to curtail its spread before it causes more carnage to lives and national development.
Thus, the exceptional works by other media platforms to curb the spread of fake news through fact-checking are commendable and should be sustained to foster peace and unity in the country.
The National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) through its subsidiary the National Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, can help to develop more simplified and user-friendly fact-checking tools to enable people to detect or verify information broadcast over social media and traditional media. Also, it can utilize artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies to identify and block fake or parody accounts on social media.
In addition, security agencies need to re-strategize their efforts by partnering with NITDA and indigenous innovators to develop technological solutions to aid intelligence gathering and detection of fake news sources. The scourge of fake news and its attendant consequences should be tackled head-on to ensure the peaceful co-existence of all.
Zeenat o. Sambo
Writes from.Wuye District