In 2014, an online newspaper publishing fake news and hoaxes was established in Los Angeles, United States. Its name? YourNewsWire. And in two years, it would gather thousands of engaging followers on its social media platforms, including Facebook.
YourNewsWire would soon become notorious for peddling hoaxes, false narratives and conspiracy theories about health and technology. In 2018, the website was rebranded and renamed “NewsPunch,” after being spotlighted for publishing fake stories debunked over 80 times. But it would not derail from publishing and promoting fake stories capable of setting society ablaze.
This website has recently been criticised for spreading propagandistic stories, especially during the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic. It was also at the centre of some anti-vaccination hoaxes, accusing Bill Gates of refusing to vaccinate his children and claiming that he “admitted that vaccinations are designed so that governments can depopulate the world.”
International reporters and fact-checkers have identified the NewsPunch as the second largest news medium sharing fake stories around the globe. Still, the website would not stop its misinformation merchandise and sensationalism.
A focus on Nigeria
Although based in the US, the medium extended its malicious and misleading coverage to other countries, including Nigeria. A check by DUBAWA revealed the website had published fake stories about Nigeria on several occasions, conspicuously generating traffic from the country and the African continent. Also, its name, NewsPunch, has a semblance with Punch, a widely read Nigerian newspaper.
One effect of the similarity in names between NewsPunch and Nigeria’s Punch newspaper is that unsuspecting Nigerians could get confused when stories about their country are published on the website. Some of the Nigerian-related stories on NewsPunch’s website are doctored stories and highly exaggerated news content with the propensity of misleading readers who are not meticulous enough.
Misleading and disturbing
On December 8, 2022, a NewsPunch headline read: ‘It Begins: Nigeria Limits Cash Withdrawals To $45 To Usher In WEF-Approved ‘Cashless Society’. Before then, the Central Bank of Nigeria had announced that the limit of weekly cash withdrawals was N100,000 before increasing it to N500,000 following public outrage. The central bank would also begin circulating redesigned N200, N500, and N1,000 naira notes to curb rising inflation and move towards a cashless economy.
But NewsPunch’s headline claimed the CBN had limited the cash withdrawal to just $45 daily. Reading further, the content of the news story was entirely different from what the headline had claimed. A few lines in the story affirmed that Nigeria’s central bank had indeed increased withdrawals from N100,000 to N500,000 as stipulated by the CBN — but failed to reflect that in the headline.
The withdrawal of $45 only vaguely represented the first withdrawal limit which NewsPunch admitted had been increased. The amount reflected in the headline was a division of the first withdrawal limit N100, 000 ($225) by five — an inaccurate representation of the actual news in Nigeria.
In a seeming agenda-setting narrative, the conspiracy theorist website suggested that the new anti-cash laws are designed to protect and enrich the top tier of the wealthy global elite at the expense of ordinary people.
“The Rothschild-controlled global banking lobby wants a digital cashless system because this will give them even more control over us; Nigeria is being used as a testing ground,” the story claimed, adding that “Global bankers want to monitor and control every single transaction, while destroying real world currencies so they can issue money that doesn’t exist, creating impossible financial burdens for the masses, all the while accumulating extraordinary real wealth and power for themselves.”
Sensationalised and exaggerated
In another instance, the online medium exaggerated the Twitter post of a British-Nigerian actress throwing tantrums via her Twitter page. On January 13 2018, a NewsPunch’s highly sensationalized headline reads: Nigerian-British Actress Threatens To Perform Voodoo on Trump. In the story’s opening paragraph, the website claimed a Nigerian actress, Cynthia Erivo, had warned Donald Trump, the then US president, threatening to “perform voodoo on him to kill or injure the president.”
But looking at the text attributed to the Nigerian actress, NewsPunch seemed to have exaggerated the tweets to sway readers from paying critical attention and to make the matter seem too severe than it should ordinarily be. See the text below:
“I hope all the Africans in this world call on their ancestors. See, you forgot. Juju, voodoo, magic. Don’t worry, Donald; we are the wrong ones. You are not safe because you are on another continent. Biko, do yourself a favour and take a break. Wahala de come for you oh.”
The lady was said to be reacting to alleged comments by President Trump during a meeting on immigration with lawmakers at the Oval Office. Mr Trump had allegedly referred to African nations as “shithole countries” — a claim he had denied.
But looking at the semantic context of the tweets by the actress, it is easy to fathom that her statements were bare armless sarcasm which the NewsPunch writer portrayed as threats on the life of the former president in a way that positioned Africans as voodooists and alarmists. The report’s content — just like the earlier discussed story — conflicts with its headline and opening line.
A number of Nigerian stories reviewed by DUBAWA on NewsPunch’s website were either sensationalized or highly exaggerated to spotlight the country in a bad light. One of the stories, for example, maliciously described Nigeria projects Nigeria as “one of the most lawless and dangerous places in the world to live,” quoting from the US Department for State Service.
The researcher produced this fact-check per the DUBAWA 2023 Kwame Karikari Fellowship partnership with Premium Times to facilitate the ethos of truth in journalism and enhance media literacy in the country.