With fake news increasingly becoming a serious cause for concern for both media professionals and news consumers alike, the need to stymie the circulation of fraudulent information — especially on social media — has become a major responsibility for media experts and policymakers.
Concerns have mounted in recent months over how hoaxes and misinformation are affecting economic development and national cohesion, with senior government officials scrambling to step up efforts to root out misinformation.
But while federal and local authorities have roles to play in combatting the phenomenon, the media should take the lead by deploying credible data as one of the best methods of neutralising the threat of fake news, said Yemi Kale, the Director-General of National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).
“Data places information in the right perspective so that it is ready to be used in decision-making, therefore the significance of statistical information in supporting evidence-based decision making cannot be over emphasised,” Mr. Kale said Tuesday at the public unveiling of DUBAWA, a fact-checking website.
“This is the role that data and NBS play by hosting publicly-available reference data and its clear interpretation on nearly every facet of Nigeria’s socio-economic life so that even when fake news inevitably exists, fact-checkers and citizens can readily verify these by
themselves,” Mr. Kale added.
Dubawa, which literally means ‘to check’ in Hausa, is a non-partisan verification and rating platform which deploys a multi-pronged approach to curb the upsurge of fake news. The platform would hold to account politicians, media practitioners, public policy and and advocacy experts or institutions who disseminate uncorroborated or widely disputed claims.
It would also be used as a resource tool by media professionals to investigate and produce facts-based reports.
Fake news evolved from unsavoury Internet sideshow to serious political and economic threat so rapidly that even communication experts had little time to nip it in the bud.
There’s little argument about how pervasive fake news and half-truths have become across the Nigerian cyberspace, especially across mushroom and established social media platforms.
Even more rapid has been how the term“fake news” itself has evolved into an all-around tool for smear tactics, as politicians and other partisan political and business players now maliciously deploy it to ridicule journalistic exploits they find unfavourable.
Still, as experts explore solutions to the menace, the launch of Dubawa cannot come at a more auspicious time for citizens who place a steady premium on factual and reliable contents that could aide their decision-making needs.
While facts-based journalism could be a critical component of a stable society, merely fact-checking contents using credible data might not be a sufficient approach to curbing the hazard of fake news, Mr. Kale said.
For “entities like Dubawa to be successful, there needs to be political and ideological neutrality as well as sufficiently trustworthy data that is reliable and accessible not only to such entities but to which they can refer their users,” the expert said.
He added that demand for usable data has sparked in recent years not only amongst Nigerians but also foreigners who are exploring business opportunities in a country with estimated 180 million people.
“Data is vital as it provides clear, objective, and numerical evidence on all aspects of our lives and the state of our country, including the growth and characteristics of our population, economic performance, levels of health and wellbeing and the condition of our surrounding environment.
“It aids the decision-making process by enabling us to establish numerical benchmarks and to monitor and evaluate the progress of policies or programmes; which in turn ensures that our policy interventions are well designed, effective, and highlight any areas which require improvement,” Mr. Kale said.
Using a colloquial interpretation of Dubawa, Mr. Kale gave the platform some pieces of advice he said had helped him and his team at the NBS achieve success over the years.
His blueprint admonished the Dubawa team to ensure diligence, uncompromising, boldness, assertiveness, wariness and accuracy in their various capacities.
“We launched Dubawa as a response to the influx of fake news that technology has made easier to spread,” said Joshua Olufemi, programme director at Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism, the creator of Dubawa. “It is a platform that we believe will bring back the ideals of journalism and also hold accountable those in office by their public statements.”
Mr. Olufemi said Nigerians and other information seekers with interest about developments in Nigeria can expect to see the data being deployed in pursuit of a more vibrant and rigorous journalism.
“We may not necessarily depend on data 100 per cent of the time, but the use of statistics in telling stories would constitute most of our activities here,” Mr. Olufemi added. “This is just catching up with emerging techniques in modern storytelling.”
Additionally, Dubawa, which is supported by the MacArthur Foundation as a way of using the media to create a more accountable society, would serve as a community for members of the public who would stand as active actors in the making of a functioning and accountable democracy.
The activities of the team would be available at dubawa.org as well as the platforms numerous social media accounts.