The #EndSARS protest against police brutality which started in October led to the call for several reforms in many sectors in Nigeria. This peaceful protest was brought to an abrupt end after hoodlums took over the process and after the incident of the Lekki Tollgate shooting.
While there is glaring evidence of the shooting at the Lekki Tollgate, the Nigerian government has tried to play down the situation, saying reports on these shootings are false while sanctioning media organisations that covered the protest and its outcome. Regardless, some media organisations have continued to follow up on the issue and carry out investigations. Recently, an investigation by Cable News Network (CNN) reawakened the discourse.
Dubawa, a fact-checking organisation in Nigeria, has followed the #EndSARS issue debunking falsehood and enlightening the public.
In line with this, Dubawa in partnership with the International Centre for Journalists (ICFJ) Knight Nigeria Fellowship on Friday, November 20, 2020, held a tweet chat on #EndSARS and misinformation on Nigeria’s social media space.
ICFJ is a non-profit organisation that is focused on building expertise and storytelling skills of reporters worldwide. The centre has worked with over 150,000 journalists from 180 countries.
The tweet chat had three panellists drawn from different fields. These panellists were Abdul Mahmud, an activist and social critic @AbdulMahmud01, Wemimo Adewuni, a broadcast journalist @wemimospot and Hamzat Lawal, a grassroots campaigner @Hamzycode.
The chat began with a question on the role of misinformation in the #EndSARS protest addressed to Hamza Lawal. Responding to this, Hamza Lawal said the internet allows for all kinds of news to be shared and in the case of the #EndSARS protest, false information was shared either intentionally or not.
“The phenomenon of the internet offers two sides of a coin: information and misinformation. It is a vacuum where news of all kinds can thrive and this was no different at the peak of the recent #EndSARS protests. During the protests, tensions and emotions were high. In a time when many citizens came online to share stories of loss and empathetic with others, some shared pure fabrications whether knowingly or unknowingly.
“One instance of the dangers of fake news is the claim that carrying the Nigerian flag would prevent a soldier from shooting you. Misinformation like this is not only improbable but could cost us lives. While a lot of the agitation was stirred by genuine anger caused by the incidence of police brutality, misinformation had a role to play in fanning the flames.”
One of the audience, Toyyib Adewale Adelodun @taadelodun, said there is a need for fake news education as it is a global challenge.
“The issue of fake news is a global challenge. We must ensure we educate ourselves and everyone we know about it. It can derail the country. Also, our polity is heated up. There are a lot of interests that want to benefit from the breakdown of law and order.
The government has to continue to act swiftly in transparency and sharing information with the electorate. There has to be a continuous PR process. The era of clandestine operations in governance is almost over. Open book governance has come to stay. We have to embrace it”
Wemimo Adewuni spoke on the easiest and fastest way for social media users to fact-check information before sharing. She noted that while social media is a place where a lot of falsehood spreads, double-checking or verification will help curb it. Some ways to do this she listed are: checking the source, grammatical errors, the language and the date stamp.
“Social media is a great place for sharing information. It also, however, is a place with convincingly presented misinformation. Sometimes, the misinformation is unknowingly shared. To check accuracy, pay attention to the source of information. Is it a parody account? Also, verify with authentic news sites. 2. Read the article posted. Flag grammatical errors. 3. Language. What languages are being spoken in the video? English? French?. 4. Date stamp: is there a date stamp on the document?. When you double-check, the chance of being wrong is greatly reduced.”
Abdul Mahmud also spoke on how the line between what we see as ‘my right to say what I want ‘ and the question of basically becoming the source of conspiracy theories and falsehoods can be drawn. He noted that rights are not absolute, neither are they limited to legal or constitutional instruments. So, drawing the line should be a thing of common sense.
He said “Rights are never absolute; they’re limited by legal and constitutional instruments. Drawing the line should be a thing of law and common sense really. Is what I am about to say in flagrant violation of the law? Does it assault moral consciences? So drawing the line is a function of two realities- law and moral”.
Speaking on how misinformation may have changed the peaceful protest to violent events, Abdul said the violence experienced had nothing to do with fake news but the sole actions of those he described as “the underclass” who took advantage of the situation.
“I think it is important we clarify the #EndSARS protests, which came in two waves. The first wave was peaceful and driven by those who were concerned about police brutality. The second wave was state-sponsored- organised by protest-breakers paid by the government to take over the streets. Having entered the streets and found that there were opportunities to loot, they began their mindless orgies. The looting had nothing to do with fake news. The invisible underclass took advantage of a state that was incapable of addressing law and order issues that were at the core of the protests.”
Wemimo, speaking on the coverage of the protest by the media and how this has affected misinformation spread, said the media did its best to cover the protest from the very beginning . She, however, noted that some media organisations withdrew or stopped covering the protest for fear of sanctions.
She went further to urge media organisations to stand by their obligations to the society, regardless of any form of intimidation:
“A lot of media houses at the early stage of the protests however appeared to shy away for fear of sanctions. This created a great vacuum that was filled with misinformation. A lot of Nigerians are not on social media. They consume news from Radio, TV and newspapers. Without these media houses covering the #endsars protests, a lot of Nigerians didn’t understand the real intent of the protests. This fuelled some animosity.
“The media as the Fourth estate of the realm owes a responsibility to project happenings in the society factually. A fearful media (created by tyranny) leads to a shackled society. The media must insist on fulfilling its constitutional obligations,” she said.
Speaking on social media as a source, Lawal noted social media was a major source of information for the youth during the protest.
“Without a doubt, the duration, attendance and coverage of the peaceful protests were heavily influenced by social media. Many young people were inspired to participate in the movement as the online trend grew stronger and more influencers began to speak up about police brutality. #EndSARS Protest meeting points, resources and updates were often communicated online.
“This was especially significant as more youth get their news via online sources than traditional media. This helped #EndSARS organisers reach a larger audience” he added.
Abdul spoke on the role of social media influencers in the spread of misinformation. He urged Influencers to protect the truth and expose lies always.
Lawal also spoke on the fact-checking role of influencers seeing the kind of reach they have and the responsibility to refrain from spreading falsehood. He also added that this responsibility is beyond personal gain.
“Influencers can combat misinformation by doing some fact-checking before sharing anything with their audience. As people with substantial social media followers, we have the responsibility to be mindful of what we engage with and promote.
“Once you have the reach, it goes beyond personal gains or ideals. One wrong tweet could lead to loss of lives and properties. We must exercise restraint and caution and always put the country first above interests.”
One of the audience Lord Wilson @wilsonakubobi added that influencers should verify sensitive news at all times before sharing.
Also, speaking on how the average social media user can fact-check, Lawal noted the need to educate users on fact-checking.
He said “We must first educate users on ways to fact check. Social media platforms can provide resources on fact-checking and be more proactive about flagging of fake news”.
Speaking on the role of technological companies in addressing misinformation, Wemimo said these companies should put measures in place to flag violent posts like Twitter is doing.
“Tech companies need to flag violent posts and possibly create a two-step authenticator before a user can post. Something like this has begun on Twitter. Twitter now asks you if you’ll like to read an article before Retweeting.”
Speaking on her leanings regarding the Lekki incident from her fact-checking experience, Wemimo said while some videos shared had no correlation with the Lekki incident, she believes there was a shooting which led to injuries and casualties.
She called on the government to disregard unrelated videos but carry out a genuine and thorough analysis of all available evidence and prosecute offenders.
“Comparing videos, photos and other information shared on the #endsars protests in Nigeria, my inclinations are: 1. Armed security agents were at the toll gate to quell the protests. 2. Shoots were fired leading to injuries and fatalities. 3. Men of the Nigeria Police Force also came to the scene after the military, and fired shots.
Addressing the issue of fake videos and pictures, Wemimo shared guides for posting videos and photos to increase their credibility. She noted the need for specific details to be mentioned in videos or live feeds, the avai;labilty of tools like google reverse image search and TinEye for verifying photos and also the
“Before you repost a video, be sure to check the environment in the video/picture. Lagos buses are yellow. If the information is said to have happened in Lagos, can you sight anything that looks like Lagos? If you’re the source of the video, while recording, be sure to mention the date, time, and location. If possible, a very brief description of the incident to provide context.
“There are also tools for journalists and all internet users to verify photos before sharing. Google Reverse Image and Tin eye are great tools for verifying pictures. You’ll see every possible place and time the same picture has been shared and under what context.”
Addressing the issue of social media algorithms and identifying what is fake and what isn’t, Lawal said social media organisations can refine their algorithms or employ fact-checkers to flag posts.
“Social media platforms can certainly do better in flagging frequently reported content as fake news before they get out of hand. These companies are big enough to employ the services of designated fact-checkers or refine their algorithms to prevent the spread of fake news. On the users’ end, we can do more to educate them on how to spot this fake news.”