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Fake-news poses threat to Nigeria’s democracy – CDD

Prof. Adekunle: Don’t validate if you can’t verify fake news

PROFESSOR JIBRIN Ibrahim, Senior Fellow, Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) on Tuesday warned the spread of fake news could pose a serious threat to Nigeria’s democracy and ignite hatred in the society.

Beyond that, the social media trend, he noted could also alter the entire electoral process through the use of social media platforms.

Ibrahim spoke at a 2-day conference on Disinformation and Misinformation organised by the CDD in partnership with the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Abuja.

The event had in attendance CDD Director, Idayat Hassan, Aubrey Mccutcheon, NDI Chief of Party, Prof. Deji Adekunle, visiting Research Fellow, Nigerian Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Beatrice Reaud, Democracy Officer, from the USAID among others.

Ibrahim emphasised that from the colonial days, Nigerian politics have been plagued along ethnic and religious lines, stressing that prior to the advent of the social media, there were narratives established by politicians in the minds of the electorate.

According to him, since the mindset have been created, manipulating the electorate becomes easier.

“Fake news is capable of affecting the electoral system and democracy. The social media, in particular, has a lot of responsibility for distorting information….promoting division and hatred in the society,” says Ibrahim.

The last US election which brought in Donald Trump, and the Brexit were cited examples, Ibrahim listed as two scenarios and products of fake news influence.

He said Nigeria has 14 million people on Whatsapp, 25 million on Facebook, 7 million on Twitter creating media contents, adding that the news circulated does not largely come from the authorities but from individuals. ….”so if the pastor or schoolmate I receive this information from are people I know, they share because they do not know the information is false.”

“The reality, however, about social media is that it is individual engaging based on things they have seen but that information is highly centralised and controlled by those, who, today have the responsibility of distributing the contents we see,” Ibrahim added.

He argued further that most of the social media platforms, especially Facebook is neither pro-democratic not anti-democratic but pro-profit.

“These technologies are just a good capitalist. The stories that tend to generate emotions are when the content is graphic or extremely graphic. So it generates movements or traffic. That is where we have found ourselves when a few companies control the information flow in the world in a way that generates strong emotion in people and that creates profit for them.”

In his remarks, Prof. Adekunle described fake news as a form of distraction caused by those in power to distract the people from the main issue of public interest.

He advocated the innovation of a new tool, especially on the part of Information Technology (IT) companies to develop solutions that could discourage misinformation through provisions of massive facts.

“It is so easy to clone profiles even on Facebook and these are being done cleverly by a lot of people,” says Adekunle.

“But let me say that there is a responsibility to verify and then validate but if you cannot verify, then don’t validate.”

“How about a tool that does not only dislike but also pronounces comments as false, and then shared automatically. So if you pronounce something as false, all your friends will see it. So I believe that this is one way all companies like Facebook can support the fight against fake news.”

He, however, emphasised that people lack the ability to verify information. Thus called for a tool to enable the masses verify and discredit false information.

As part of efforts to check the spread of fake news, The ICIR had reported several Fact Checks on false or misleading claims made by public officials during and after the 2019 election.

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