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End of Year Newsletter: December 16, 2019

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

5 mins read

Welcome to the final issue of our newsletter for the year. In this edition, we review the journey so far- 2019. We reflect on the trends of misinformation we noted this year- in four notable areas- and our role in halting its spread.

A Tale of “Misinfoelection” 

The tense nature of elections is not news to any Nigerian; but when you throw fake news in the mix, you get a whole different recipe. Don’t believe us, or perhaps you have forgotten? We will remind you of the sensational headlines and adamant assumptions by political candidates and partisan pages witnessed this year. Granted, some claims were true- though questionable- like the constitutional right of the President to suspend and replace a Chief Justice; others were simply baseless and completely ridiculous. Yes, remember the invasion of the northern aliens scare

We also noted how religious and ethnic rhetoric fueled the spread of misinformation during this period. One of such was the false alarm to Yorubas in the south subsequently after President Buhari’s re-election. Another example was the claim suggesting Peter Obi be guilty of prejudice to northerners. This was false! Other trends of fake news took the shape of election endorsements and predictions citing foreign presidents and countries. The recent governorship elections were not safe either. There were false claims regarding PDP being relegated from Bayelsa primaries, the futility of a vote to APC and the likes. Still, some claims turned out to be TRUE- well mostly, such as Governor Yahaya being the “best in security program” in Kogi.

Uncovering the mysteries that transcended GenX

Philip Emeagwali is the creator of the internet- wrong! Really, and using my mobile device at the petrol station would not result in my remains being burnt to a crisp? Yes, you’re fine.  Equally important, Nigerians did not create Ankara… shocker!

Myths and lore have been encoded into our society. This narratives and stories were originally used to entertain and educate, with the more extreme stories serving as cautionary tales to rebellious kids. Well, we are in the digital age now and this tool has been co-opted by fake news perpetrators. Over the course of the year, we debunked several dis-informative texts, all-round head-scratchers and the ones that got away. An example most feminists would not appreciate was finding out that there are more men than there are women on Planet Earth

Closely related was finding out that Venus is not the closest planet to Earth, Mercury is. The researchers from the University of Alabama, the US Army and NASA discovered a flaw in the old model used to ascertain the distance between planets. This buttresses the need to stay up to date with information because what is relevant today can become obsolete in the coming months. An example of outdated information is the general consensus that AC consumes fuel. We found that it is not a straightforward conclusion as fuel economy and consumption play a part; traffic jams and expressways are equally important. 

Health is wealth… or is it?

Health is wealth but the advent of misinformation has been writing cheques our health and safety cannot cash. There was once a time when information on health could be trusted, but the advent of the digital age has made everyone self-acclaimed doctors. Through the course of the year, we have had claims on outbreak scares, unfounded discoveries and rather odd remedies to life’s problems.

Recall the gnarly image of the “killer bug” allegedly set loose in Nigeria? This turned out to be a giant water bug which although can give a nasty non-fatal bite, is not indigenous to Nigeria. Another popular trend we noticed with health misinformation is the exaggeration of scientific theories or postulations. Among this, we coined the moniker- the antioxidant phase. This phase has essentially attributed the title cancer cure to any substance found with antioxidants, such as Ewedu. We found this to be FALSE or better yet too soon to tell- as the field of medicine is ever-changing. 

Then came the more politically influenced claims. These took the form of half-truths and complicated assertions from unavailable data. An example was when the Minister of Labour and Employment said: “Nigeria has surplus doctors”. This turned out to be false. It was also interesting as recently the Ministry of Health proposed a plan to import doctors… very interesting indeed. As per usual, we shared our two cents on the matter.

Then came the Xenophobes 

This was arguably one of the most tense periods this year save the elections. Interestingly, it was the most unified Nigerians had been; unified against a common enemy- xenophobia- and in solidarity for our brethren in South Africa. Notwithstanding, peddlers of misinformation seized the opportunity created by unrest from events. We had false claims of businesses shutting down and how MTN subscribers needed a new service provider

Additionally, this period showed how mayhem and confusion are the perfect precursor for misinformation. Even more shocking, were reports that the Boko Haram terrorist group were going to avenge Nigerians in South Africa. We noted how a handful of claims spun their stories using old images that bore the slightest correlation to their narrative. Nonetheless, Dubawa received positive feedback during this period as we were able to abate the spread of misinformation. Also, they were some true claims which to reiterate what was said earlier, showed the solidarity of some Nigerians. We recall how the CEO of Air Peace decided to fly back Nigerians in South Africa– at no born costs!

Success Stories: Week of truth

Dubawa successfully ended her fellowship program. This initiative featured a partnership- writing fact-checks- with over 5 reputable newsrooms in Nigeria namely: 

  • BusinessDay,
  • The News Agency of Nigeria
  • The Nation
  • The Guardian Nigeria
  • Tribune Online

We went out with a bang- celebrating our week of truth. This saw us bringing media literacy to secondary schools and the public. In addition, we hosted live q&a sessions on social media- explaining our efforts in the fight against misinformation in Nigeria.

We were so elated to discover the plans to establish Fact-checking desks in the aforementioned newsrooms consequent on the success of our fellowship. The feedback received from the public during our vox pop was also laudable. We learnt how our articles and fact-checks helped quell the spread of fake news amongst citizens. 

JOIN THE FIGHT AGAINST MISINFORMATION BY SHARING THIS POSTER WITH YOUR FRIENDS & FAMILY

FAKENEWS ALERT

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 never hurt anyone!

Redflag: Health-related news

It is important to take a close and in-depth look at health-related claims most especially because people tend to be very responsive to them. This is probably as a result of the notion that action or inaction can affect their well-being. 

Question to ask yourself: Who is the source? How credible is he [she]? Are there similar publication(s) on credible platform(s)? Are there any notable studies conducted on the topic? What have health professionals said about it?

Redflag: Opinions that look like facts!

Yes, opinions are free! Everybody is entitled to his [her] opinion. Dubawa usually does not fact-check opinions… however, it is necessary to shed light on such opinions when they are posed as facts.

Questions to ask yourself: How did he [she] get that information? Is his [her] source reliable? Did the writer include evidence to back up said publication? Does it sound like a rant? Could it be attention-seeking? Does the statement include vague and subjective statements that could lead to inconclusive finding(s)?

What’s Ahead?

Watch this space as there are so many exciting plans we are yet to share with you for the year 2020…

Victor Ndukwe is a first-class honours graduate in Architectural Design Technology from the University of Wolverhampton. He was an Associate Member of the Chartered Institute of Architectural Technologists; and a STEM Ambassador. Additionally, he manages a health-fitness centred blog. His varied work experience gives him a unique perspective in the literary field; having worked in construction, Information Technology and conducted extensive research in various fields. He now utilizes this skill set in the field of fact-checking; aiding colleagues and teammates with research and editorial work.

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