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A Bi-Monthly Newsletter on Information Disorder and Fact-checking: March 16, 2020

4 mins read Going beyond fact-checking – Get the latest news & updates on misinformation, likely-to-be-false news and how government policies affect you!

4 mins read

People always envisioned 2020 as the capstone year and my goodness what a year it has been. Let’s all try to remember that we are still in the first quarter; with what seems to be a year travelling at lightspeed. Nonetheless, in this edition, we shall attempt to slow things down for you; as we delve through Covid-19 and what the government and media are doing to decrease or inadvertently worsen the situation. 

Finding middle-ground

Not too high, not too low, safely in the middle. This logic seems to be the mainstay strategy the media and governments are adopting. The goal is to find that sweet spot of not causing panic, yet keeping citizens informed and alert. But, how do you do this and for how long; lest the scales tip over on either side. 

The World Health Organisation’s method has been prompt trenchant circulars and advisories. The health institute also took to social media since the pandemic’s genesis, creating hashtags and partnering with influencers. This approach has tried to reduce panic, all the while disseminating useful information; well if you discount all the misinformation that abounds as a result. Still, it has been the right approach; which begs the question, how do you port this rationale into fact-checking?

What’s the “safe-zone” in fact-checking

The middle-ground rationale is not novel in journalism, a venture rooted in honesty, transparency and all these good virtues; but, are there instances when the truth needs to stay hidden? What happens when you have a ground-breaking story that could destabilise a country’s peace and democracy? Do you (a) publish it and risk losing all you hold precious? Or, (b) negotiate a compromise, all the while still striving for advocacy and accountability? Option B seems like the right choice, at least we hope. 

It is for this reason that fact-checking platforms (including Dubawa) are starting to consider all these parameters. As much as our collective goal is the truth, as we know, the matter is subjective. Please do not misunderstand us; we are not saying, start lying or stop fact-checking. To the contrary, subject all claims under rigorous verification. However, after collating your findings, consider the impact and outcome and structure your article accordingly. This rationale holds especially in times like these; lest your battle against misinformation becomes an avenue for panic and confusion. 

To Emphasise or Trivialise

Continuing with our theme on middle-grounds, we’ll bring it home. How are the government finding this balance? Better still, what are they doing regarding the pandemic? 

As of Friday last week, the National Centre for Disease Control confirmed no index cases in Nigeria; the initial result for the second case turned out to be a false positive. Consequently, many have commended the Nigerian Health sector for their efforts in combating the spread of the novel coronavirus; with some citing the Ebola epidemic of 2014 as a training ground. 

Still, a few question the media’s emphasis on SARS-Cov2 when Lassa fever is shaping up to be the biggest epidemic with over 100+ deaths. A month ago, an expert cautioned against drinking garri as it was a risk factor for the virus. Dubawa surmised while it was well-intentioned, one should consider a wholistic hygiene approach when dealing with Lassa fever, not just avoiding “drinking-garri”. 

In the same vein, Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to President Muhammadu Buhari complained about the publicity the pandemic was getting when 822 people die daily from malaria. While this figure was wrong, it highlights a more significant issue- the perception of over-emphasising the coronavirus.

Malaria & Lassa Fever still in the conversation

Therein lies the question is SARS-Cov2 getting too much publicity? Certainly not! It is, after all, a pandemic. Besides, any less notoriety and the government may risk trivialising a serious issue which has claimed over 3000+ lives. And while there are no casualties in Nigeria currently, it is still a threat. Treating it any less has the propensity to wreak more havoc, spawning falsehoods that may exponentially worsen the case.

Hence, it should not be a coronavirus vs Lassa fever vs malaria. Each problem is equally important and demands the government’s attention. Notwithstanding, the government ought to consider the unrest concerning other epidemics like Lassa fever, especially concerning funding.   

#FAKENEWS ALERT

There’s precious little that we can do about the barrage of misinformation that we see daily, but there’s a lot we can do together if we learn to identify suspicious claims in the news and refrain from fuelling the fire by spreading them! Here are our top picks of likely-to-be-false news which [sadly] couldn’t be fact-checked.

This WhatsApp message communicates a strange revelation about onions. The message claims that onions can be of harm as well as good. But why should we be wary of claims like this? The answer is not far-fetched; the source made no reference to any scientific research but is deeply rooted in supposition.

While this appears like well-meaning information on a recent occurrence, a little mis/disinformation may be lying within the texts.

There have been several misinterpretations of the US ban and this may be another one.

Usually, for every WhatsApp group, there’s an exit option but why is the alleged ISIS WhatsApp platform different? Do they operate a different WhatsApp? Could WhatsApp have made this option available only to them? 

The source already shot himself in the leg; he raised a red flag when he opened up about his people’s sentiments towards the President. Therefore, this could be sentimental supposition from an angry man.

Share this poster with your friends and family and help curb the spread of misinformation!

Victor Ndukwe is a first-class honours graduate in Architectural Design Technology from the University of Wolverhampton. He was an Associate Member of the Chartered Institute of Architectural Technologists; and a STEM Ambassador. Additionally, he manages a health-fitness centred blog. His varied work experience gives him a unique perspective in the literary field; having worked in construction, Information Technology and conducted extensive research in various fields. He now utilizes this skill set in the field of fact-checking; aiding colleagues and teammates with research and editorial work.

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