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Information Disorder Analysis Centre

#EndSARS Protests: Fact Checkers rate at least 45 claims as False, Misleading

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Summary

With 48 million tweets from 5 million users in 10 days (October 5th to 14th, 2020), protesters flooded the digital public sphere with hashtag #EndSARS. 

The incident that propelled the #EndSARS protests was the alleged killing of an unarmed Nigerian by the operatives of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) in October, 2020. The call for the second wave of the protest started on social media with a claim through viral video of protesters converging on Lekki tollgate in Lagos State, the epicentre of the #EndSARS protests. This study, therefore, examines the veracity of claims made on #EndSARS protests as fact-checked by four fact-checking organisations in Nigeria, and tools used to verify the claims.

The scrutiny of fact checks on claims around #EndSARS protests in Nigeria, through content analysis of manifest contents (n=45) on the websites of four fact-checking organisations, revealed the extent of misinformation during and after the protests. Going by the analysis of the fact-check contents published by Africa Check, AFP Hub, Dubawa and People’s Check, it confirms massive spread of misinformation during the protests in October, 2020. 

The majority of the claims on #EndSARS fact-checked by Africa Check, AFP Hub, Dubawa and People’s Check were rated ‘False’. This confirms the severity of misinformation on the #EndSARS protests. This indicated that the false claims on #EndSARS protests went viral (one of the factors that partly determines whether a claim would be fact-check is virality). It is however expected that the fact-checks to dispel them should also receive some levels of virality. 

The fact-checking tools and procedures used by the fact-checking organisations to verify the claims on #EndSARS protests include:  Cross Referencing, Reverse Image Search, InVID, TinEye and Google Chrome extension. Deploying these tools aided the fact-checking organisations to come up with verdicts on the claims. 

Africa Check, Dubawa, and other fact-checking organisations in Nigeria need to do more by collaborating with stakeholders in public and private sectors to flatten the curve of misinformation and digital illiteracy in the country.

Introduction

The first phase of this study, analysing claims made on #EndSARS protests, was published on 7th December, 2020 being two months after the protests against police brutality and Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) started. This was also the day of calls for the second wave of the #EndSARS protest went viral on social media. In fact, there was a report of protest in Osogbo in Osun State on the said date.

Dramatically, while fact checkers in Nigeria are preparing to address the challenge of dis- and misinformation following  apprehensions over the second wave of Covid-19, pieces of disinformation on the second wave of #EndSARS protests are already going viral.

This was because a video shot during the October #EndSARS protests was depicted as a new one emanating from Lekki tollgate in December 2020 as heralding the second wave of the protests in Lagos State. The Police Public Relations Officers (PPRO) in Lagos and Ogun States had to issue statements with the PRO in Lagos State describing the video as “baseless and mischievous” and his counterpart in Ogun State threatening that the police will disrupt the new #EndSARS protests if staged in the state.

Few days after, the war of narratives continued, taking a new dimension, whereby the protesters were led by Aisha Yesufu, accused Arise TV (considered as sympathetic to the plight of the cause of the protesters) of promoting wrong narratives about the #EndSARS protests. Similarly, President Muhammadu Buhari lumped BBC (praised by anti-protesters for giving “unbiased” report on the protests) with foreign media organisations describing their coverage on the #EndSARS protests as “disgusting”.

With 48 million tweets from 5 million users in 10 days (October 5th to 14th, 2020), protesters flooded the digital public sphere with hashtag #EndSARS during the first wave of the protests.

How valid are these narratives as promoted by the two sides? What are the digital and fact-checking tools deployed by fact checkers to verify claims on #EndSARS protests?

This study therefore examines the veracity of claims made on #EndSARS protests as fact-checked by four fact-checking organisations in Nigeria (Africa Check, AFP Hub, Dubawa and People’s Check), and tools used to verify the claims.

Research Objectives

To find out the fact-checking tools used to verify the claims on #EndSARS protests published by Africa Check, AFP Hub, Dubawa and People’s Check.

To find out the dominant verdict in the fact-checked claims on #EndSARS protests published by the selected fact-checking organisations.

Methodology

The methodology adopted is the same as contained in the first part of this study: “Analysis of Claims on #EndSARS Protest in Nigeria: Images most manipulated content, Twitter as major platform”. The second part of this study’s content analysed fact checks (n=45) published by four fact-checking organisations in Nigeria. It analysed the tools adopted by the organisations to verify claims on #EndSARS protests. In order to achieve this, the researcher read through the content of the fact checks to identify the tools and code them accordingly. It also analysed the verdicts/ratings of the claims on the protests published between 1st to 31st October, 2020 by the selected fact-checking organisations. The researcher had to read through the rating formats of Africa Check, AFP Hub, Dubawa and People’s Check in order to understand how these organisations rate claims. This afforded the researcher to classify and code ratings of claims on #EndSARS protests by the fact checkers.

Findings

The data for this study was generated from the content analysis of claims on #EndSARS protests as published by fact-checking organisations in Nigeria. This part focused on the fact-checking tools and procedures adopted, as well as the verdicts on the claims fact-checked by the selected fact-checking organisations. The data were analysed quantitatively and supported by other secondary data. The findings of the analysis are presented below:

Fact-checking tools deployed to verify claims

The fact-checking organisations gave preference to cross referencing in verifying claims on #EndSARS protests. Cross referencing according to Raheemat Adeniran “entails cross-checking the claims with publicly available information.” These, in reference to fact-check contents analysed, include interviews, web/keywords searches, review and analysis of official social media handles/pages or documents, among others. This fact-checking procedure accounted for about 45% of tools adopted to fact-check claims on the #EndSARS protests. This supports the finding of the study conducted by Raheemat Adeniran which identified it as the most commonly reported fact-checking procedure.  

Table 8: Distribution of Fact-Checking Tools used to verify claims on #EndSARS protest.

Fact-checking ToolsAfrica CheckAFPDubawaPeople’s CheckCumulative
Reverse Image Search4 (40%)3 (60%)8 (30%)2 (22%)17 (38%)
InVID1 (20%)5 (24%)6 (13%)
Cross Referencing5 (50%)1 (20%)7 (33%)7 (78%)20 (45%)
Google Chrome1 (10%)1 (2%)
TinEye1 (5%)1 (2%)
Total10 (100%)5 (100%)21 (100%)9 (100%)45 (100%)

As a result of the fact that images were the most manipulated contents of the claims fact-checked as revealed by the first part of this study, Reverse Image Search as a fact-checking tool accounted for 38% (n=45) of tools used to verify claims on #EndSARS protests by fact-checking organisations. InVID used in verifying videos accounted for 13%. Other fact-checking tools used are TinEye and Google Chrome extension. While analysing the fact-checking tools used, it was observed that the fact-checking organisations used multiple tools to fact-check a claim aside the cross referencing. For instance, the use of InVID is also complemented with the Google Reverse Image Search to verify claims in the video on #EndSARS protests. This is always done after keyframe analysis of the videos. 

The findings of this study indicated that fact checkers in the selected organisations are digitally savvy, going by the adoption of different tools to verify claims mostly made online on #EndSARS protests. They are skilled enough to be able to debunk the claims and expose the manipulation of contents by purveyors of disinformation. To what extent are other journalists equipped to carry out this verification exercise? Are the media literacy efforts of stakeholders, filling the gap to equip media audiences to verify claims, achieving target objectives? Raji Rasaki in a study examines how diffusion of innovation comes to play in instilling the culture of fact-checking by journalists and newsrooms in Nigeria. Africa Check and Dubawa who are pioneer fact-checking organisations in Nigeria need to do more by collaborating with stakeholders in public and private sector to flatten the curve of mis- and disinformation and digital illiteracy in the country.

‘False’ as most occuring verdict

‘False’ is the dominant verdict in the fact-check of claims on #EndSARS protests published by the selected fact-checking organisations. All the 10 verdicts of Africa Check of claims on #EndSARS protests came out ‘False’, while four out of five verdicts of AFP was ‘False’ with the other one rated as ‘Not Accurate’. Similarly, People’s Check has all its verdicts as ‘False’ except one tagged ‘False and Misleading. For Dubawa, out of the 21 verdicts, 14 came with the conclusion of ‘False’, five tagged as ‘misleading’ with one verdict as ‘Insufficient Evidence’. Two of the fact-checks were not classified with an explanation that the videos and pictures that depict that Buhari is dead were ‘doctored’ (Dubawa) and “Not Accurate” (AFP Hub). The finding of this study that identified ‘Fasle’ as the dominant verdict, is in line with the submission of experts that misinformation dominates the EndSARS protest in Nigeria

Table 9: Ratings/Verdicts on Claims of Analysed Fact-Checks

Ratings/VerdictsAfrica CheckAFPDubawaPeople’s CheckCumulative
False10 (100%)4 (80%)14 (67%)8 (89%)36 (80%)
True
Misleading5 (23%)5 (11%)
Insufficient Evidence1 (5%)1 (2%)
Multiple Verdicts1 (11%)1 (2%)
Unclassified1 (20%)1 (5%)2 (5%)
Total10 (100%)5 (100%)21 (100%)9 (100%)45 (100%)

The contents of the fact-checks published by Africa Check, AFP Hub, Dubawa and People’s Check indicated that the false claims on #EndSARS protests went viral. However, it is expected that the fact checks to dispel them should also receive some level of virality. The study on Fact-Checking Ecosystem and another on Infodemics on Covid-19 pandemic in Nigeria had raised this question. International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) in its  October newsletter on the Knight fellowship programme in Nigeria had noted how a fact check in video format on #EndSARS protests posted by Dubawa on Facebook was viewed over 30,000 times. It was not clear whether fact-checks on #EndSARS protest published by the fact-checking organisations went viral just as the dis and misinformation on the subject matter. 

In addition, there are reports that millions of tweets were recorded in October around #EndSARS protest. The Cable newspaper reported that the hashtag #EndSARS topped Twitter trends on Monday 7th December 2020 with nearly 120,000 tweets as of 11:00 am. Was there corresponding retweets and trending of fact-check contents on #EndSARS protest?  There are bots that retweet any mention of the hashtag and some posts around it were also sponsored. Except for Africa Check, there is no evidence that other fact-checking organisations promote their fact-check contents on social media. 

Are there ethical issues with the use of bots to spread fact-check contents, given the technological sophistication in the spread of dis-misinformation and the challenges of information disorder? This has to be addressed by stakeholders as it was not clear whether those who spread dis-misinformation and those exposed to them had the opportunity of reading or viewing the fact checks on the claims. In order to win the information war, tech companies need to give fact check contents the virality it deserved. For instance, Twitter can support the fact-checking efforts by allowing a special emoji and hashtags for fact-check contents posted on its platform. Facebook should expand its collaborations with fact-checking organisations to allow their posts enjoy free sponsorship. Generally, social media platforms should allow the algorithms on their platforms to automate virality for fact-check contents produced especially by the organisations who are signatories to the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN).

Conclusion

The scrutiny of fact checks on claims around #EndSARS protests in Nigeria, through content analysis of manifest contents (n=45) on the website of four fact-checking organisations, revealed the extent of dis/misinformation during and after the protests. Going by the analysis of the fact-check contents published by Africa Check, AFP Hub, Dubawa and People’s Check, it confirms massive spread of misinformation during the protest in October, 2020. 

This indicated that the false claims on #EndSARS protests went viral (one of the factors that partly determine whether a claim would be fact-checked is virality). It is, however, expected that the fact-checks to dispel them should also receive some levels of virality. If Twitter can launch Emoji in support of #EndSARS protests, why not unveil a dedicated one for fact-check contents of fact-checking organisations?

The fact-checking tools and procedures used by the fact-checking organisations to verify the claims on #EndSARS protests include:  Cross Referencing, Reverse Image Search, InVID, TinEye and Google Chrome extension. Deploying these tools aided the fact-checking organisations to come up with verdicts on the claims. Africa Check, Dubawa, and other fact-checking organisations in Nigeria need to do more by collaborating with stakeholders in the public and private sectors in order to flatten the curve of information and digital illiteracy in the country. Such collaboration will strengthen the culture of fact checking.

This research is conducted for the Dubawa Fellowship programme (2020), and is supported by the Heinrich Boll Stiftung Foundation, to amplify the culture of truth and contribute to literature around information disorder.

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