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Ezekwesili, panellists at ICIR, ICFJ webinar unveil new approach against fake news


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NIGERIA’s former Minister of Education, Dr Mrs Obi Ezekwesili, Wednesday disclosed the need to consider motivating purveyors of factual information through incentives to discourage the spread of fake news.

Ezekwesili made the call during a webinar jointly organised by the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) with the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) Knight Fellowship in Nigeria. The maiden edition held last year with the Minister of Youths and Sports Development, Sunday Dare, as the keynote speaker.

In her keynote address at the conference themed, ‘Public Accountability in Stemming Misinformation,’ she said aside from the incentives, such a system would also reduce the credibility of those notorious for sharing misinformation.

The initiative is to be developed through collaborations with the public and media. The group would determine the trust points and indicators on how the trust should be measured.

“For every solution, we must consider reducing or ensuring people are accountable for fake news; we need to think of incentive and disincentive-based approach. That is an approach that rewards a record of consistent dissemination of facts, truth,” Ezekwesisli noted.

“That system that makes a person a purveyor of accurate information, especially those with strong followers and are sufficient to influence what others may think or do.”

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The system would also deduct trust points if unverified news is disseminated by the newsmakers or social media influencers, she said.

According to her, “the erosion of trust points overtime will signify a red flag anytime news comes from such individual or individuals.”

The former World Bank vice president also identified the need to overwhelm ‘the market of news’ with accurate, evidence-based reporting. The continuous publication of factual information, she said, would overshadow false information.

She cautioned against government action that may violate Nigeria’s inalienable right to free speech in the guise of fighting fake news. She urged the media to perform its education function, teaching the public in the simplest, plain language.

Ezekwesili kicked against the proposed social media bill, saying it would only repress the people. She tasked the relevant government institutions to remain alive to their responsibilities as there is an existing law that addresses issues of defamation, libel and the likes.

Earlier, the executive director of The ICIR, Dayo Aiyetan, emphasised the need to hold accountable people who deliberately post fake news.

Citing the example of Femi Fani-Kayode, a former Aviation Minister,  he said the politician had discouraged people from taking the COVID-19 vaccine through unverifiable assertions that it was meant to depopulate Africa. Still, the same minister recently took the COVID-19 vaccine.

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The FactCheckHub, he said, has been deliberate in creating explainer videos, training to make everyone a fact-checker.

He also called for collective responsibilities from the government, civil society organisations, stakeholders and the general public to check the spread of misinformation.

“We need to increasingly look at the responsibility of the ordinary man who becomes the weapon in the misinformation warfare. At the end of today, we hope we will have sensitised the public to combat misinformation.

“It is not the job of the government, civil society and the media alone. Everyone must be involved.”

The executive director/ editor-in-chief of Daily Trust newspapers, Naziru Mikail Abubakar, shared similar positions with Aiyetan and Ezekwesili.

He encouraged both the legacy media and digital media to take active participation in combating misinformation. The digital media organisations, he said, have bigger responsibilities to play.

Abubakar advised on the need for journalists’ training, media collaborations, investigative journalism, fact-checking, and self-examination.

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Beyond media training initiated by local and international Non-governmental organisations (NGOs), he tasked local media with best practices, stressing the need to set up a dedicated fund for journalists’ capacity building.

He also advised journalists to get the right modern tools

Abubakar called for more investigative reporting and encouraged local fact-checking organisations to increase fact-checking efforts rather than republishing verified claims published by international fact-checking organisations.

“Government officials are making false statements. Some of these are false claims that should be fact-checked. If it is difficult to do individually, media organisations should collaborate to make this possible.”

The Executive Director, Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Idayat Hassan, expressed worry about how fake news could undermine democracy.

She observed that social media is a positive tool that enables the people to influence government policies, give voices to the marginalised, but it requires more attention.

According to the CDD director, the automation in disinformation in Nigeria is huge, with 19.5 percent, and the tools used include Nairaland, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and  Opera News.

Hassan advised using audio, picture, video to spread factual information and recommended local languages’ deployment.

“There is a need to construct an informal structure that would resonate with the people.”

Another panellist at the Zoom meeting was the founder of BudgIT, Seun Onigbinde. He attributed the spread of fake news, especially in the digital media, to the urge to always break the news.

Speaking on Digital Advocacy and Public Enlightenment on Social Media, he described fake news as an extension of malicious reporting.

Explaining how people react to information on social media, such as Twitter, Facebook, Linked In, WhatsApp, he characterised the distinctiveness as ‘spirit of the medium’, advising tech giants to shut down trolls on their platforms by designing special algorithms that could discourage fake news, spotlight and delegitimise the purveyors.

ICIR unveils FactCheckHub to combat fake news, disinformation

He said there is a need for more advocacy for the tech giants to play an important role in addressing fake news.

Olugbenga is an Investigative Reporter with The ICIR. Email address: [email protected] Twitter handle: @OluAdanikin

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