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A Bi-Monthly Newsletter on Information Disorder and Fact-checking: November 18, 2019

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

5 mins read

Welcome to our bi-monthly newsletter that takes a closer look at the elements of truth and falsehood in today’s news topics. In this edition, we review seemingly simple but complex statements and give an award to the health category for most ridiculous claims – all in the first half of November!

Readers bias, Reception and Rating 

Fact-checkers are often conflicted when it is time to give a verdict. What constitutes a fully true rating, considering most statements contain nuances? Should a claim be tagged “false” because we know undoubtedly that it is untrue but cannot find the evidence to back the assertion? Will “insufficient evidence” suffice or will that dampen the severity of the falsehood in that claim? Is a mere declaration of facts enough to change people’s perception of an issue they’ve long thought was a certain way? Questions, questions, questions…

When Sadiya Umar, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development said that 90 million Nigerians are living in extreme poverty, ordinarily, we would say that it is “mostly true”. After all, living conditions are bad – the context of her statement; data on exact figures for poverty and population are not usually accurate, given that the last census was conducted in 2006; and 90 million Nigerians are actually extremely poor. But we tagged it FALSE. Here’s why: 

There are currently at least 94.62 million extremely poor Nigerians, a figure that is 4.62 million more than what the Minister quoted. Between October 7 and November 1, 2019; about 150,000 Nigerians became extremely poor, meaning about 6,250 people on average, fell into poverty daily. Imagine leaving out millions of people in a national budget [considering the Minister made her statement while defending the proposed 2020 budget]. Also, imagine if those people are all in one region and how that would affect balanced economic growth. Things are rarely black or white but a wrong figure is a wrong figure!

[To get this data, we did a comprehensive analysis of information from World Poverty Clock, Brookings Institution and Oxfam – all credible sources, an action we expected the Minister to have taken. See more.]

In this case, some may still argue for “mostly true”; still, consider the human phenomenon confirmation bias – the tendency for people to seek out and interpret information in a way that affirms their prior belief or hypothesis. As such, most people will interpret the claim as totally true, ignoring our reservations thereby missing out on important information. 

Simple Statements, Shrewd Statements

A very common technique we noticed was for influential people to make claims that seemed straightforward but were in essence, laden with so many complexities. What we could not decide was whether this was an oversight by the speakers or a deliberate tactic to disinform people.

Exhibit 1 – Reno Omokri, in his usual manner, compared the education budget of President Buhari and Goodluck on Twitter. Turns out that the figure he mentioned – N424 billion – just doesn’t exist! What is even more interesting is that such authoritative statements (as per his tweet) were based on faulty premises. He misinterpreted budgeting terms and compared an aspect to a whole! The N48 billion was allocated just for capital expenditure, not the total education budget. The education budget is much more complex; using just one number without adequate understanding could distort whatever argument. Read more.

Exhibit 2 – On October 11, 2019, Premium Times conducted an interview with the former president- Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. In lauding his achievements, he claimed that his regime built twelve universities in states that had no federal university. Turns out that the ex-president did not build the universities from scratch, rather he established them. What this means is to convert existing structures like technical institutions, secondary schools into higher institutions. 

He also claimed to build Maritime university at Delta state and Police university at Kano state. In reality, the former president conducted the groundbreaking of the Maritime University in 2014; his administration did not in anyway commission or complete the structure. In the same vein, in March 2015, the former president upgraded the Nigerian Police Academy in Kano to a degree-awarding institution but did not build it.

Exhibit 3 – Recently, Dr Isa, claimed that the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector currently accounts for 13.85% of Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) while the Oil and Gas sector contributes only 8.82%. Albeit true, we discovered that the figure in question is the nominal GDP, not real GDP figure, with GDP being another entirely complex term. More so, findings suggest that crude oil still accounts for over 70% of the government’s revenue; with over $509.02bn gotten till date – a point the Minister did not take into cognizance during his speech.

#Fakenews Alert

There’s precious little 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, why we think they could be false, and questions you should ask yourself while reading the news.

Disclaimer: These news items could turn out true but a healthy dose of scepticism can hurt nobody! 

Redflag: Elections-related news

Before the APC rally in Okene yesterday, @GovernorBello commissions Okene-Kuroko-Ehika-Ikaturu-Itakpe roads, says more to come. Source: @ObochiSamuel on Twitter 

UPDATE! Police To Shut Down All Borders In Kogi For Elections Source: Naijaloaded.com

BREAKING: Senate approves N10bn loan refund for Kogi amidst protests. Source: @ayemojubar on Twitter 

Bloody Guber Campaign in Bayelsa: PDP Supporters, Journalist Killed Source: Thestatusonline.com

Bayelsa guber: Another Governor Dickson’s aide resigns hours to polls Source: Docpetinfo.com

APC has been barred from participating in the Nov 16th Governorship election in Bayelsa State. Source: Bayelsans.com

Elections are fertile grounds for mis- and dis-information to grow untamed. Most common forms of these are false claims about achievements by politicians, false claims about violence (leading to confusion – a state most loved by disinformers), false claims about eligible candidates and false claims about voting procedures. Be on the alert! 

Questions to ask yourself: Why is this information coming out at this particular time? What is the evidence to show that this incident really happened? Is this picture or video real? If real, is it recent or a regurgitated version? Has INEC (or any official body) reported this change in electoral rules? Is this information coming from a trustworthy source? 

Redflag: Awards

Research and awards are similar to the extent that they both have limitations. When wrongly phrased, an award could assume a characteristic that it isn’t. For instance, is Ekiti really the most creative and innovative state in all industries in Nigeria?

Questions to ask yourself: what exactly is this award? How representative is it? Who are the creators of the award?

What’s Ahead?

#WeekForTruth – In celebration of our soon-to-be annual #WeekForTruth, DUBAWA will be hosting weeklong activities that engage every stratum of the Nigerian population. To kickstart the week, we will take media literacy and fact-checking to secondary schools and end with an event to engage young students, professionals, entrepreneurs and online content creators in honest, constructive discussions and hands-on activities exploring the intersections between freedom of expression, civic engagement and fact-checking.

Report on the Bayelsa and Lokoja elections – Be on the lookout for reports on the elections and the trends around misinformation.

Share this poster with your friends and family and help stop misinformation

Further Reading 

Ebele Oputa is a frontline leader who helps organizations do new things or do existing things more efficiently. She has provided strategic, technical and programmatic oversight as well as editorial support of Dubawa since its inception. She is an experienced Programme Officer with a demonstrated history of working in the non-profit organization management industry including the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime. Skilled in Negotiation, Training, Leadership, Project Management, and Strategic Communications, Ebele has a Master of Laws (LLM) focused on International Trade and Commercial Law from Durham University.

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