Media Experts Speak on Curbing Menace of Fake News During Elections

Media Experts Speak on Curbing Menace of Fake News During Elections

The 2023 general elections are about three months away, but the political heat is getting hotter, as politicians take their jamboree to the nooks and crannies of Nigeria. It goes without saying that as election day draws nearer the more the likelihood that politicians would become more desperate and aggressively seek gaining the upper hand

The 2023 general elections are about three months away, but the political heat is getting hotter, as politicians take their jamboree to the nooks and crannies of Nigeria. It goes without saying that as election day draws nearer the more the likelihood that politicians would become more desperate and aggressively seek gaining the upper hand and could employ some underhand tactics and maneuvers to be in good public standing. De-marketing political opponents becomes common place thing and spreading false information, misinformation and disinformation otherwise known as fake news about their major competitors would gain more frequency.

There is a high propensity for fake news which spreads like wildfire since the advent of the intent. Fake news could be about a candidate, their political party, or their event. It could be used to disrupt scheduled activities by a political opponent. It could be used to keep an opponent busy by making him to be reacting writing rejoinders rather than selling his programme to the electorate. Fake news would most likely gain a rise during campaigns, rallies, up until the day of the election. It could be to create doubts and confusion in the minds of the voter.

Recently, the Independent National Electoral Commission beckoned on media practitioners and journalists in the country to work with the commission in combating false information in the coming elections. The INEC also pleaded with the media platforms not to hesitate in exposing the dimensions of fake news on democracy, especially during the voting period.

Dimension of fake news in the society

The expression ‘fake news is loosely used and has gained frequency in the media space in recent time. The Minister for Information, Culture and Tourism while giving reasons for an increase in his ministry’s budget allocation for 2023, said the money is needed partly to fight the menace of fake news which he said could make a country to go to war. Though it fake news simply means misinformation or fabricated news, its impact on the news medium is quite ineffable. False information is on the loose, not only in written texts, but in videos and photoshopped pictures that enhance its believability on social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, and Tiktok among others.

With advancement in technology, catching up with the speed of fake news has become a huge challenge for traditional media practitioners. Beyond the social media platforms, fake news has become a common phenomenon everywhere. In fact, people in the rural environment are now getting their fair share of such fake news especially during election period. This has been of a major concern to media practitioners across the country because to some members of the public not conversant with the different genres of communication, anything published on the internet is done by journalists.

As a result of this, media experts have made divergent viewpoints on fake news and how it can ruin democracy and what it stands for in the society. They also share their experiences on how to curb its menace.

Perspectives on Fake News Defined by Media Experts

Mr Lanre Arogundade, Executive Director of the International Press Centre explained that fake news is any falsified information spread across to create mischief in society. He noted that the focus of fake news peddlers is to obstruct the free flow of credible information and to mar the orderliness that exists in the democratic government.

Mr. Lanre Arogundade, Executive Director IPC

Mr. Lanre Arogundade, Executive Director, International Press Centre (IPC)

“Fake news is untrue information often circulated for mischief. Fake news comes by way of disinformation and misinformation. Disinformation occurs when someone deliberately concocts information and circulates such with the knowledge that he/she is disseminating falsehood. Misinformation comes in when someone circulates false information often without realizing that such is false. Both are threats to the free flow of credible information”.

He explained further that the existence of fake news is beyond the social media space, especially at election period. He identified the politicians as the main propagators and purveyors of false information, that it is deliberately done to mislead voters at the poll. He, however, insisted that if journalists and media practitioners are versatile and resilient, the spread of fake news would be curbed in the coming 2023 elections.

“Fake news is everywhere, in the villages and in the cities. It is in social media and politicians propagate it to deceive. In 2019 there were fake videos of rallies, and the trend is already repeating itself. Politicians are the worst disseminators of fake news during elections. That is why we always warn journalists to beware of the antics of political spin doctors, particularly the campaign spokespersons.
I always say that journalists can spot fake news through journalistic curiosity. A good journalist is one who thinks deeply and asks germane questions. Can this be true? Is this possible? Can there be evidence to back this up? It is such journalistic common sense that should precede the deployment of fact-checking tools”, he submitted.

Mr Kemi Busari, the editor of Dubawa, a fact check platform of the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID) said fake news could be described as “information disorder” capable of causing harm to the society and the electioneering process. “Fake news is known as false information that is capable of causing harm to the people, however, in the register of false information, researchers and journalists prefer to call it disorders news are the information capable of harming people”

Mr. Kemi Busari, Editor, Dubawa

He opined further that fake news is divided into two, namely disinformation and misinformation adding however, that the terminology adduced does not reduce the adversity it can unravel in electoral process in any country. According to him, disinformation occurs when false information is intentionally spread across for the sole aim of misleading the public either for personal or political gains, while misinformation on the other hand is untrue information that is inadvertently passed across to the public.

“Disinformation is a kind of information that is false and deliberately put out to the people to harm someone. For instance, someone just sits in their room, saying a candidate of party A writes something to tarnish the candidate of Party B’s image; that is disinformation. The other one is misinformation, a lot of us fall victim to this a lot of times because we failed to verify information. So, misinformation that is false but not shared to cause harm, the person sharing the information does not even know that it is false, there is no intention to cause harm, but inadvertently they are causing harm”, he said.

Dr Olusanya Awosan, a lecturer at the Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ) says fake news in society is a “satanic act and a destructive apparatus”. He described the peddlers as “wicked”. In his opinion, if not curtailed, fake news can escalate into violence and war before and during the electioneering period. “Fake news can be described as a bomb or a destructive apparatus that can alienate a community, I will also describe it as a satanic act that is meant to truncate humanity and anyone that involves himself in such act is an ushered wicked soul who has no value for himself or his community” he explained.

Dr. Olusanya Awosan, Lecturer, Nigerian Institute of Journalism

What are the Implications of Fake News on Electioneering Process?

Mr. Lekan Otufodunrin, Executive Director, Media Career Development Network, opined that fake news could be used to manipulate the voters’ decisions during elections. False information can mislead the voters, it can make them not know what the truth is about whom to vote for. Sometimes it is spread to cause disaffection against a candidate and with that voters could make a wrong choice. Ordinarily, voting should be based on the right information, all the things you should know, what the candidate is and what it is not, but when false information is spreading about it could affect the judgement of the people.

Mr. Lekan Otufodunrin, Executive Director, Media Career Development

Founder of Factcheck Election, a non-governmental organisation that combats fake news during electoral activities in Nigeria, Mr Abideen Olasupo posited that fake news during elections could be a trigger to electioneering mistrust and violence. He added that fake news can also cause political apathy in the society. “The implication of fake news in our electioneering process is enormous, it can trigger elections violence because when people hear they have been snatching ballot boxes, they believe their vote does not count, everybody will unleash terror, so it is always a scenario of a free for all. Another implication of fake news is that it makes people lose trust in the process. Fake news again, one way or the other, encourages voter apathy because people may not want to vote they may think it is something dangerous to them”.

Mr. Abideen Olasupo, Founder, Factcheck

Identifying and Curbing the Spread of Fake News

But to identify false information is not a walk in the park. This is because fake information appears in a complex form to the members of the public and media platforms. Since there is an ocean of information flowing across daily, it takes some extra skills to recognize a pattern of falsified information.

Mr. David Ajikobi, Editor, Africa Check

Mr. David Ajikobi, the Nigeria editor of Africa Check said fake news can be identified by having an inclination for the criticality of any information that is being spread across. Testing the veracity of any content created on social media or by any medium is a great wall to build against fake news. He advised journalists to be critical and investigate any information thrown at them. Fact checking information can curb the spread of false information. “Develop and maintain a critical mindset, check the source (the author and the publication), determine whether others are reporting the same news, beware of sensational headlines, ask yourself why the content was created, don’t take online photos and videos at face value, check the facts, examine the evidence presented, and ask the experts”.

“With fact-checking, false information can be debunked and some of the people who read the fact-check change their minds and stop sharing the false information. On the other hand, increasing the media literacy of the public helps to ensure that people can identify false and misleading information and debunk them with basic fact-checking”, Mr Ajikobi explained.

In concurrence, Mr Busari says possessing fact-checking skills and knowing the right platforms to visit for credible information is the best method to identify fake news “We need to have some skills of fact-checking and if we do not have such, we need to have some contacts that we can quickly send information to help us fact check. We also need to be able to identify the platforms that will serve us with accurate information about the election. We need to avail ourselves of a lot of media and information literacy. Media and information literacy generally is the ability to be critical about the information we see online and to evaluate such information”, he noted.

Mr. Olasupo suggested some technological tools which are essential in exposing false information that is spreading in different formats. He enlisted applications like “ClaimBuster, CrossCheck, Botometer, BotSlayer, AdBlock PlusFakey”. He also enlisted “Fake Image Detector, FotoForensics, JPEG snoopGhiro and Forensically” to check photoshopped pictures.

On his part, Mr Otunfodunrin called for more public sensitisation about the existence of fake news and the need for journalists to be more trained on how to eradicate fake news. “We need to let people know that there is false information around, they need to be more careful. There are stories they will read that their instincts will tell them something is wrong, and they need to verify. There should be more training for journalists to identify fake news because at times even journalists are deceived. You need to be sure that you are reading from a verified source”

Dr Awosan posited that media practitioners must raise the bar of professionalism to the ethical standard. “Professionals who are placed in the position of leadership must try and moderate their reporters and those who work with them, and they must also stress the importance of ethics, which is the core of the dignity of the profession”. He also called for government’s intervention by making a sustainable policy against the proliferation of fake news in society.

Mr. Arogundade urged the citizens to be educated and be vigilant about misleading information flowing. He said they must be sensitive to the information being pushed out to them and be able to decipher which is credible or not. “Citizens must be educated not to share information whose sources they do not know particularly when casting aspersions on others or when individuals or groups are being denigrated. They must be sensitised to the dangers. The media obviously has a leading role to play by ensuring that it regularly fact checks and publish the outcomes”.

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