DISINFORMATION campaigns sponsored on social media by foreign actors in Nigeria’s socio-political landscape is a recurring feature that enables the spread of fake news in the country, according to a study released by the Centre for Development and Democracy, CDD.
The study titled “Disinformation and the new media landscape in Nigeria” identified that though Nigerians play a major role in boosting or suppressing misleading content, the agents involved in facilitating disinformation in Nigeria, include international firms outside the country, paid trolls, partisan media outlets, social media influencers and automated bots.
The study was based on more than sixty interviews with respondents across the six geopolitical zones in the country.
Data analysed by CDD from a Twitter dataset of over 30 million tweets between 31 December 2018
and 30 January 2019 involving the accounts of major politicians, political parties, media houses, and hashtags that discussed the issue of Nigeria’s election boycott and Biafra secession.
About 96.4 per cent of the accounts analysed were located within the country, of the 532 that
mentioned the issue of Biafra and election boycotts, only 56 per cent which accounts for 301 Twitter accounts were based in Nigeria while 231 Twitter accounts were based outside Nigeria.
However, the accounts produced such a high number of tweets of which nearly half of them came from outside the country reinforcing biases in ways that are potentially divisive.
Citing an active Twitter bot account, @nwakpa_gabriel, that generated 521,518 tweets within a 40 day period which is equivalent of over 13,000 tweets per day.
“With the increasingly sophisticated technology, it is becoming harder to decipher fact from fiction online in Nigeria with any greater certainty.
“The same tools and mechanisms that are enabling disinformation to penetrate society faster than ever before, are those that can be used to shed light on facts that can drive more accountable and transparent governance,” the study revealed.
Hinting that online campaigns which blossomed from factual reports have drawn on a strong digital presence to amplify pre-existing, offline campaigns which include #EndSARS, #NotTooYoungToRun, #BringBackOurGirls and #FollowTheMoney.
In 2019, We Are Social, a social media analysis firm, estimated that Nigeria had 24 million active social media users, an increase of 26 per cent on the previous years figures with numbers likely to have risen as internet infrastructure improves and mobile data and phones become more affordable.
According to the study, the deliberate intent to mislead is fuelled by Nigeria’s political and ethnoreligious landscape, challenged by insecurity, provides fertile ground for the spread of disinformation on social media platforms and private messaging applications that are growing in user’s month on month.
“The more sustainable solution lies with creating a more digitally informed and educated citizenry, capable of assessing for themselves what is true and what is not online,” the study stated.
With the increasing spread of disinformation, the need to curb the spread of false information has been proposed and implemented in some countries, but it comes with serious risks to citizens freedom of expression.
“However, information shared online is not always false. In fact, the same tools and mechanisms enabling disinformation to penetrate society faster than ever before, are those that can be used to shed light on facts that can drive more accountable and transparent governance,” the study concluded.
Amos Abba is a journalist with the International Center for Investigative Reporting, ICIR, who believes that courageous investigative reporting is the key to social justice and accountability in the society.