Those who create fake news are sick, cowards, Soyinka says at BBC conference

WOLE Soyinka, Nigerian playwright and Nobel laureate, has warned about the adverse effects of fake news, describing those who fabricate false information as cowards who are “sick in the head”.

He said this on Wednesday at the Beyond Fake News Conference held by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in Abuja. Themed ‘Nigeria 2019: Countering Fake News’, the conference gathered media and political figures to discuss how to prevent the distortion of facts during and after the election period.

During one of the panel sessions, Soyinka said fake news, started by a Nigerian, may, in fact, lead to the outbreak of a third world war. He also cited instances where he has been on the receiving end of misinformation and when he was reported on the internet to have made statements he never uttered.

“Let us get into the nitty-gritty. I’ll give you an example, apart from the fact that I’ve been killed on so many times, literarily. Last year, I had telephone calls asking me, ‘where are you?’ I said, ‘I’m in hell. Join me here. I know why you are calling… because you thought I was dead.’ And they laughed,” he narrated lightheartedly.

“Now that’s one, you deal with that. You enjoy that actually, reading about your obituary; but then imagine waking up one day and finding a statement attributed to you in a kind of language which you will never use. For example, during the last presidency, statements attributed to me were saying that I said that it served President Jonathan right for marrying an illiterate woman. I never made any comment whatsoever about that lady, and suddenly there it is steering me in the face.

“And at other times a card is created, and from time to time that card comes out on the internet, is sent to me, and it says Professor Wole Soyinka says anybody who votes for this person, one, must be stupid, two, must be mentally retarded, three, his mother must be a goat, four, his father must be a gorilla… under Wole Soyinka’s name. And this goes on all the time.

“So I don’t want to understate the numerous motivations we go into this but basically I think the commonality is that those who create fake news are sick in the head and they are also cowards because they lack a conviction of their own and so they transfer to other people what they really are thinking.”

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, while delivering a keynote address at the event, also said he has been targeted by fake news. Recalling a recent conversation between him and his wife, he said fake news may sometimes cost its victims marital peace.

Giving details, he said: “I got a call in the office from my wife about three or four weeks ago and she said, ‘Yemi, what are you doing with strippers?’ I said, ‘What you do you mean strippers?’ She said, ‘No stripper, people who strip.’

    “So there has been this story in a very famous blog that said ‘Osinbajo caught with strippers’. And there was a photograph of me standing between two perfectly clothed ladies by the way. But just underneath it, the same ladies now not wearing much, wearing very little. As it turns out, I had, in fact, take photographs with these two ladies at an entertainment event when they were perfectly clothed. But by the time the story was put out, it was though I had also taken a photograph with them at the time they were not clothed at all.”

    ‘Beyond Fake News’ is an initiative launched by the BBC in November 2018, aimed at finding ways to address misinformation through events, media literacy programmes, and journalistic reports.

    The event was also attended by Garba Shehu, Senior Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity; and Kingsley Moghalu, presidential candidate of the Young Progressive Party and Dayo Aiyetan, Executive Director of the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR)

    Others were Oluremi Sonaiya, 2015 presidential candidate of KOWA party; Tolu Ogunlesi, Special Assistant to the President on Digital and New Media; Toyosi Ogunseye, BBC Head of West Africa; and Jamie Angus, Editorial Director of BBC Global News Ltd.

    'Kunle works with The ICIR as an investigative reporter and fact-checker. You can shoot him an email via [email protected] or, if you're feeling particularly generous, follow him on Twitter @KunleBajo.

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