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A Bi-Monthly Newsletter on Information Disorder and Fact-checking: November 4, 2019

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

6 mins read

Welcome to the inaugural issue of a bi-monthly newsletter that takes a closer look at the elements of truth and falsehood in today’s news topics. This isn’t just a review of mainstream news; here, we provide in-depth analysis on trends around misinformation in Nigeria and what we’re doing to fight the menace. 

For our first edition, take a deep dive into the different faces of truth on social media in the month of October and the web of lies surrounding an elected official.

Rumours are alive on Facebook. And Twitter!

Rumour on social media range from somewhat sensible to completely ridiculous and has taken a new fancy name – misinformation. While rumours have always existed in human history, social media has heightened the spread of it and as internet penetration in Africa has gone up by more than 20% since 2017), this number is enough to win elections and sway opinions. 

Now, the knowledge of this modern-day communication dynamics is not lost on Nigerian politicians and other people who get financial benefits from the large audience [and virality] that misinformation brings. Fake news which seemed at first to be a growing concern only in Western politics and business is now visible in Nigeria, with highly orchestrated social media campaigns deployed during and after elections with alarming influence. For instance, during the Nigerian presidential election of 2019, incumbent candidate Muhammadu Buhari was forced to deny reports of his death and replacement by a clone. Although an obviously ridiculous claim, the necessity of a public denial shows how easily fake news can take hold.

Recently, Buhari through his aides had to quell almost believable rumours about his marriage to a Minister. What made this rumour seem so genuine was the accompanying video and invitation card that surfaced right on time. 

And this is not just peculiar to the president. Fake news has grown so pervasive in Nigeria and on social media that no one is safe. Africa check found a false story on Facebook that Nigerians living in Ghana were going to be “clamped down”, and another that Nigerian kids were kidnapped to convert them to Christianity; a message that fuelled religious and ethnic tensions in the community.

This month we found so many false claims about health – on antimalarial drugs and vitamin C, STI and kissing, waking up and dying – at which point we began to question the motive and the mental state of the propagators.

True, but…

With the 2019 general elections well behind us, internet discourse has shown that fakenews is more than just political! In the realm of economics, anything can be true but when it is deliberately used in the wrong context to mislead people, we are usually torn as to whether to rate it true, misleading or just false. The statement by Doyin Salami comparing Nigeria’s per Capita income to China’s is totally true BUT taken alone, that statement could make a country seem worse, economically, than it really is. So also our analysis on CBN’s directives for banks to maintain a minimum loan-to-deposit ratio albeit TRUE could lead to massive bank run because of the misleading choice of words in the Whatsapp broadcast message. And another fact-check that shows that Nigeria was Africa’s number one producer of rice [in March], not because of an increase in local production but because Egypt purposefully reduced her production so as to have “sufficient water to cultivate other crops and for domestic use.”

Data as a show-stopper

A trend also noticed since we started fact-checking is the tendency for public figures to make vague or direct statements about issues that cannot be verified because of the unavailability of data. During his Independence Day speech, President Buhari read a 25 minutes speech about Nigeria’s progress; half the time saying things that couldn’t be verified. This is reminiscent of the time when the president said rice importation had stopped or that Nigeria is “food secure” [which we ended up tagging FALSE].

Pants on Fire!

Usually, fact-checks are written up as individual claims. But sometimes, a fact-check could contain multiple claims, where the speakers say a number of things at an event. Or during a debate and multiple people are speaking on a specific issue. Or when we decide to do a trend analysis of the claims by a particular person. Like our interesting and fact-filled analysis on the many times Lai Mohammed has lai-ed [pun intended] to Nigerians.

#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: Numbers! 

Only 40% of Nigerians have bank accounts.

While crude oil is produced in other countries for less than $10 per barrel, it is more than $35 in Nigeria – Minister

Gregg Easterbrook says, torture numbers and they will confess to anything. So, whenever we see numbers in a news item, our spidey senses get tingling. 

Questions to ask yourself: How did he [she] get that figure? Are there available data on this topic? What’s the context behind this statement? Even if the person speaking is an authority, does he [she] have a motive for giving out large or small numbers?

Redflag: Opinions that look like facts!

“Obasanjo travelled more than Buhari”- Adams Oshiomhole. Source: Femi Fani-kayode on Twitter

In this age of social media, everyone is an expert and he who talks the most and amasses a lot of followers is believed the most. The problem is, sometimes, tweets are not facts but opinions and we need to distinguish this before resharing.

Questions to ask yourself: Again, how did he [she] get that information? Is the evidence included in the short social media post? Does it sound like a rant? Does the statement include vague and subjective statements that could lead to no conclusive finding?

Redflag: Whatsapp

Do you have snakes harassing you in your house, office, or farms? To flush out the snake, just light a whole paper soaked in HONEY and place it in the middle of the living room… 

BREAKING!!! NUC DROPS WARNING – IF YOU ARE STUDYING ANY OF THIS COURSES IN NIGERIAN UNIVERSITIES, YOU ARE NOT IN SCHOOL (SEE LIST) 

It’s Rainy time, soldier ants called (ijalo) would emerge to cause discomfort in homes & gardens, don’t waste efforts & money on kerosene or petrol or any expensive or harmful repellant to destroy them. JUST USE ANY DETERGENT ( OMO) DISSOLVED IN WATER TO WET THEM. They die immediately. 

NEW SECURITY ALERT!!!  Pls don’t leave ur phone with repairers, if possible stay & monitor them because they can be used to install a CHIP in ur phone to monitor ur movement and ur bank accounts. From PCRC. Pls  forward to others. 

I am sorry [not sorry] to say this but Whatsapp deserves a section of its own. Anything you see on whatsapp is potential misinformation, I tell you! 

Questions to ask yourself: Is this an exaggerated message? Could there be a business or political motive behind this shared message? Whether true, by sharing this message, am I fuelling ethnic or religious conflicts?

Redflag: Emotional-laden news

The atrocities that were commited against IPOB members in Ebonyi state earlier this week by members of the Nigerian security forces is unacceptable. Murdering & brutalising innocent, unarmed & defenceless people, including women and children, is despicable, evil and barbaric.

Not to say that this isn’t true but anything you see that riles you up could be a ploy by misleaders to get you to act in a manner that could lead to community-wide conflicts or a full-blown civil war. If it’s too bad to be true, it probably isn’t true!

Questions to ask yourself: Is it absolutely necessary to share?

What’s Ahead?

  • Factchecking the Kogi State and Bayelsa elections – During the 2019 general elections, we successfully verified several posts leading up to and after the elections. And we intend to replicate that strategy with the forthcoming gubernatorial elections. 
  • Our fellowship ends – A simple strategy with a big impact. We’re concluding our Fellowship programme this month and will be telling stories of this programme and how it has impacted newsroom practices.
  • Factcards – We’re using multimedia to fight misinformation and bring the right information to you. So if you don’t want to read an entire article, there you go! Go through our Twitter page to see some of our factcards and videos.
  • Facebook Summit – As part of our partnership with Facebook, we will be attending a Summit in its headquarters – Menlo Park, USA – to meet with Facebook’s product, engineering and data teams, and share ideas on how fact-checking will develop in 2020 and beyond.

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

Further Reading 

Thanks for reading. Let us know what you liked (or didn’t) in this first issue. Email us at [email protected] and subscribe to the newsletter!

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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