Sunday , June 20 2021

Nigeria in a fight against fake news before the election

In Nigeria, fake news can be so unusual but still widespread that the president recently feels compelled to declare he has not died and was replaced by a Sudanese body double.

"This is the real self, I assure you," President Muhammad Bukhari said late last year to distract the story that had been seen more than 500,000 times on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Fake news in Nigeria can also be deadly.

Bets are high in Nigeria before the presidential election on Saturday, which is characterized by widespread dissatisfaction with unemployment, poverty and insecurity in some parts of the country. Officials warn that fake or outdated images depicting public violence are causing reprisal killings.

Many were killed in murders caused by terrifying but fake photos that were trying to portray deaths in the pastors and farmers in central Nigeria last year, said Tolu Ogonelli, a media assistant to the President of Nigeria.

– The fake news kills people. We saw many things, "he said. "Some of the deadly clashes in Nigeria were caused by fake news." He suggested that the "naming and shame of members selling false news" could stop the problem.

The most densely populated country in Africa is so embarrassed in Twitter, Facebook and YouTube that 16 media have collaborated on the CrossCheck Nigeria fact-finding initiative to investigate suspicious selection choices circulating online.

Some of the stories that CrossCheck Nigeria recently discredits include statements that the first lady wants Nigerians to vote against her husband, as well as a proposal that US President Donald Trump approves opposition candidate Atiku Abubakar. Such claims almost always appear in social media and are sometimes published by news sites.

The project is similar to the African Check, which calls itself the first fact-checking organization in the continent and has been operating since 2012.

In the United States, the term "fake news" is often used after the 2016 elections, allegedly marked by a Russian disinformation campaign. But in Africa, fake news has long been a controversial issue, fueled partly by illiteracy and state secrecy, though 1.2 billion people on the continent quickly acquire mobile phones and get access to the Internet. Now the issue is urgent: more than 24% of the continent's population was online last year, the highest growth in the world, according to the International Telecommunication Union (U.N.) agency.

Some African governments want to make publishing fake news crime, a step too far for journalists in countries where the press is already censored and reporters can be closed for critical stories.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta signed a cyber crime bill last year that requires fines and sentences for people sentenced to distribute fake news. The law was followed by the disputed presidential elections in 2017, which were obscured by online disinformation campaigns that triggered political tensions in a country known for lethal violence after the ethnic vote.

In Uganda, where there is a wave of fake news that is perceived as negative for the government, the authorities are warning that the perpetrators are facing 2011 law blame, which provides for criminal penalties for computer misuse.

Activists warn that countering disinformation with legislation can be used to censor the press. The Committee for the Protection of Journalists has opposed the Kenyan law on the fears that will stifle press freedom. Uganda also had resistance from the courts.

The Ugandan opposition activist was arrested last year on charges that he falsely accused the government of trying to kill pop star and politician Bobby Wine. The magistrate instructed the activist, Moshey Bjigirva, released in January, to declare that the publication of fake news is not a crime.

Some governments in Africa are accused of spreading the disinformation itself or malicious reports that are true. Authorities in Nigeria often question the reliability of reports of alleged misuse of military personnel during campaigning against fighters. They also disagreed when human rights monitors, citing witnesses on the spot, reported higher deaths than official for the government.

Reports from Nigeria's Amnesty International office on the behavior of Nigerian troops struggling with the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram have created conflicts with militants who accused the local human rights group's branch of publishing fake reports.

"False news has become a cliche and a ticket to demonize journalists, the media and NGOs," said Amnesty International Nigeria spokesperson Isa Sanusi, noting that fake news is spreading rapidly in Nigeria because civil servants are often not open to information

"The only thing that feeds it is the fact that information is not available," he said. "The decision to stop the fake news in Nigeria is transparency, especially on the part of the authorities."

False messages are spreading through social media so quickly and often that some people who are subject to it just have to laugh.

Nigerian writer and Nobel laureate Wal-Soynkas said at a BBC conference about spreading fake news in Nigeria that he likes to read the common obituaries of his death.

Emphasizing the seriousness of the problem, Soynika warned that "if we are not careful, the Third World War will be started with fake news and that fake news is likely to be generated by Nigerians."

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