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Citizen Journalism and Misinformation in Nigeria

Photo Credit: Parents 5 mins read

Gone are the days when members of the public inertly consume content churned out by editors and journalists in a newsroom. Before, if you needed to know what is on the news, you would have to listen or wait for the news belt of a radio and television station, but that has now changed, news agencies have adapted to providing news round the clock.

Although the increase in digital journalism provides new opportunities, there are, however, bad consequences that come with this form of journalism (Citizen Journalism). The internet has definitely changed the look of journalism, people on social media now have the capacity to shape the stories they want to see or hear. They also contribute to stories through live-tweeting events or streaming their eyewitness account of an event which is termed breaking news.

Experts say the emergence of citizen journalism has driven the authorities and scholars to readdress what constitutes who a journalist is and what journalism is.  

Citizen Journalism

The perception of citizen-journalism has advanced into “participatory journalism,” “open media,” “democratic media,” “alternative media,” “civil journalism,” “public journalism,” and “community journalism,” all reflecting a new form of media practice for citizens to make and  publish news.

Authors Shayne Bowman and Chris Willis define citizen journalism as “the act of a citizen, or group of citizens, playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing and disseminating news and information. To further put it simply, citizen journalism refers to journalistic activities to report issues and react to matters that concern them. 

A great challenge however facing citizen journalism is that it is not subjected to the same thorough scrutiny like traditional journalism, because in traditional journalism, there are gatekeepers (editors/subeditors) always checking for factual accuracy. In the 21st century, fake news is able to spread across the world in minutes and social media has afforded people many opportunities to contribute to the growth of such news.

This situation, however, reinforces the phrase, just because anyone can be a journalist does not translate to the fact that they should.

Examples of misinformation shared on social media through citizen journalism.

  1. June 12 Protest in Nigeria  2020.
 Screenshot of the Twitter post

On  June 12, 2021, Nigerians celebrated 22 years of democratic governance and the first year anniversary of the recognition of June 12 as Democracy Day amid  protests and demands for good governance, equity and justice. After the protest, some Twitter users posted a picture claiming that Kenyans stood with Nigerians in solidarity during the June 12 protest.

However, the reporter who took the picture, Kabir Yusuf of Premium Times, revealed the picture was taken during the Endsars protest in Abuja in 2020.

  1. President Buhari’s visit to Borno State in June 2021
Screenshot of the Twitter post

In June 2021, President Muhammadu Buhari visited Maiduguri, Borno State to appraise the security situation in the area and inaugurate some projects executed by the federal and state governments. However, after the visit, some Twitter users were quick to depict the above picture as that of a large crowd welcoming the president.

Further findings reveal that the image is actually that of President Buhari being welcomed by residents of  Ondo State when he came to inaugurate the Ore industrial Hub and the Ore Interchange in 2020.

  1. Sunday Igboho court saga
Screenshot of the post

Sunday Adeyemo, a separatist and an activist for Yoruba independence, was on the run after he was declared wanted until he was apprehended by authorities in Benin Republic. A 29-second video then went viral online, showing a video of Igboho in an entourage with a large crowd of people celebrating him.

However, verification shows that the picture/video is actually from a June 2021 rally in Ekiti State, where a crowd welcomed the activist to the state.

  1. Nnamdi Kanu arrest saga
Screenshot of the post

On the 29th of June, the Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, revealed during a press conference that the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) has been located and brought back to Nigeria to face trial for terrorism.

Thereafter, several versions emerged online on how the federal government was able to arrest the IPOB leader. And one of such is a claim that a lady in the post above was used by the federal government as bait to arrest Nnamdi Kanu.

However, research shows that the lady in the picture is actually his wife, Uchechi.

Photo Credit: WithinNigeria

Although citizen journalism has been said to be the future of information dissemination, a discerning audience that can filter fake news/misinformation is very vital. 

Here is a list of 3 steps that can be taken to ensure that citizen journalism in this era of misinformation does not become a conduit for misinformation:

Fund Citizen journalism training – Citizen journalists are in particular need of training as they are in the front line of the digital world, However, while citizen journalists hope to bring news stories in new forms, it is often asked if they are adequately trained for it. Therefore, in order to enable citizen journalists to contribute meaningfully to their communities, then structural and tailored training is a necessity.

Concerned organizations can key into funding training for citizen journalists.

Incorporation of citizen journalism courses in schools– To allow citizen journalism thrive, teaching children and students how to be good citizen journalists is very important and this only becomes possible when it is incorporated in school curriculums.

Such incorporation in school curriculum can educate citizen journalists on the standards, ethics and role of the media, improve their knowledge about technology and how to interact responsibly, while encouraging them to write and disseminate accurate news stories and also create standard alternative platforms to traditional media.

Visiting fact checking sites -Sites devoted to debunking fake news are emerging in Nigeria and one of such is Dubawa.org.

Therefore, a search using the keywords of news stories will often provide information either confirming or debunking specific claims. 

Conclusion

Although members of the public are no longer students and passive recipients of content as they can all create and publish, to prevent such opportunities from becoming sites for misinformation, we need to be thoughtful about the contents we as citizen journalists put out for public consumption and about such information may affect others. 

The researcher produced this media literacy article per the Dubawa 2021 Kwame KariKari Fellowship partnership with Crest FM to facilitate the ethos of “truth” in journalism and enhance media literacy in the country.

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