The first part of this research has documented the literature around information disorder in order to understand the complexities of this phenomenon in Nigeria, one of the most populous black countries in the world, with peculiar and complex socio-political and religious configurations.
This concluding part provides further insight into the fact-checking ecosystem by interrogating the history, issues and activities surrounding media organisation on the frontline of combating information disorder in Nigeria.
This intervention is necessary at a time when dis/misinformation is tainting virtually all part of human endeavours. Be it politics, health, education, religion, economy, governance, science and technology, and other human endeavours, information disorder has remained a recurring decimal.
For instance, there are already assertions that dis/misformation on Covid-19 referred to as Infodemics is one of the major stumbling blocks to flattening the curve of coronavirus pandemic in the world including Nigeria. (See Adeniran 2020a; Adeniran 2020b). Relatedly, the build up to the Edo State governorship election also pointed in a similar direction. The conduct of free and fair election devoid of violence is being threatened by information disorder in the electoral process. (CDD, 2020). Preliminary reports from the observer group prominently featured this variable. This is outside the socio-economic impact that information pollution could have on the well-being of the country. These scenarios are intertwined with political, social, religious, economic, and technological variables.
One of the major ways of combating information disorder in Nigeria is the commitment of fact-checking organisations to nip this menace in the bud. The community of fact checkers in Nigeria is mutating and their efforts and challenges need to be brought to the front burner.
As a way of addressing this issue, it is, for example, important to interrogate the fact-checking ecosystem by providing a guide for all stakeholders. It is with this background that this study collates data, analyses, and discusses them briefly in relation to media organisation on the frontline of combating information disorder in Nigeria.
The general objective of this paper is to interrogate the fact-checking ecosystem in Nigeria. The specific objectives are:
- To document the historical evolution of selected fact-checking organisations in Nigeria,
- To examine the organisational structures of the selected fact-checking groups in Nigeria,
- To understand the production process of the selected fact-checking organisations in Nigeria,
- To document the programmes and projects of the fact-checking organisations in Nigeria,
- To examine strategies of fact-checking organisations towards sustainability
Method and Analysis
To understand the information disorder ecosystem in view of the challenge of few experts in the field in Nigeria that could provide insights into the issue, this study adopts a user-centred approach (Hedman and Djerf-Pierre Hedman 2013 as cited in Brandtzaeg et al, 2015). This is because the establishment of fact-checking organisations in the world and specifically in Nigeria is relatively new. Experts in the field with required experience are few and therefore the selection of samples for the in-depth interview is restricted to few fact-checking experts in the country. For this reason, the samples are selected from the few media organisations that established fact-checking organisations in Nigeria. These organisations adopt this model to combat information disorder, hence their selections. Brandtzaeg et al, (2015 p. 4) added, “This methodological choice was motivated by our assumption that insight in emerging practices” such as fact-checking ecosystem which is the focus of this research, “required the respondents to hold substantial practical experience.” For instance, AFP is an international media organisation, AfricaCheck has its headquarters in South Africa, while Dubawa is established by Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ) based in Nigeria. Similarly, the researcher explores data (archival materials) from internet resources, especially the websites and social media platforms of the selected fact-checking organisations to address some issues stated in the research objectives. The interview is qualitatively analysed and discussed around the literature reviewed. To allow for easy discussion, the findings are discussed under specific themes along the research objectives. The semi-structured interview enables the researcher to ask follow up questions to further clarify the information provided by the interviewees on the fact-checking ecosystem in Nigeria.
The interview data generated via exchange of WhatsApp messages with one of the interviewees was copied from the phone to the computer for analysis while the other two conducted through the telephone lasted for 40 – 49 minutes and were captured through “Call Recording” tool on the mobile phone and transcribed on the computer. The permission of the interviewees was sought before the recording of the interviews.
The researcher analysed and discussed the responses of the interviewees along the literature reviewed and research objectives. The interview data were analysed and discussed along the research objectives and literature reviewed. This was done to give insights into the fact-checking ecosystem in Nigeria.
|S/N||Names||Websites||Year Established||Staus||Parent Organisations|
|1.||*Africa Check (Nigeria)||https://africacheck.org/geofocus/nigeria/||November, 2016||Active||Africa Check|
|2.||*Dubawa (Nigeria)||https://dubawa.org/category/nigeria/||February, 2018||Active||PTCIJ|
|3.||*AFP Fact Check (Nigeria)||https://factcheck.afp.com/afp-nigeria||October, 2017||Active||AFP|
|4.||People’s Check (Nigeria)||https://peoplescheck.news.blog/http://www.peoplescheck.org/||2020||Active||Students’ Project|
|5.||Fact Check Hub (Nigeria)||https://factcheckhub.com/||May, 2020||Active||ICIR|
|6.||Round Check (Nigeria)||https://www.roundcheck.com.ng/?m=1||2020||Active||Round News|
|7.||Cross Check (Nigeria)||https://crosschecknigeria.org/||November, 2018||Inactive||First Draft|
* Verified Signatories of the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) code of principles by Poynter
The study employed Key Informants Interview (KII) in line with the user-centred approach adopted. This is because the interviewees owing to their knowledge and experiences are the only set of samples who could provide key information on the fact-checking ecosystem in Nigeria. The researcher conducted three semi-structured interviews with fact-checking experts between July and August, 2020. To ensure that the respondents are adequate representatives, the interviewees were selected to reflect different models in terms of affiliations and geographical spread. In addition, the selected fact-checking organisations are part of the global fact-checking network and certified by the non-partisan International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN). The samples include: two males and one female who are members of the selected fact-checking organisations. They are Editor, Programme Officer and Fact-Checker. These are all pioneers in the fact-checking ecosystem with a wide range of experiences in fact-checking activities including media, information and digital literacy, training, management, and general fact-checking activities in the course of combating information disorder in Nigeria.
This research was conducted as part of the 2020 Dubawa Fact-Checking Fellowship project and the researcher’s Ph.D research thesis . The details of the sample are provided in Table 1. The samples were collected through WhatsApp, e-mail messages and phone calls. The interviews took place either through WhatsApp or via telephone calls.
The interviews are focused on a fact-checking ecosystem in Nigeria. To be able to achieve the objectives of the research earlier stated, the researcher developed an interview guide with 25 items and some of the guiding questions are:
- What influenced the establishment of fact-checking organisations in Nigeria?
- What are the organisational structures of the fact-checking groups in Nigeria?
- How do fact-checking organisations carry out their production processes in Nigeria?
- What are the programmes and projects of the fact-checking organisations in Nigeria?
- What are the strategies of fact-checking organisations towards sustainability?
The selected interviewees are:
- Segun Olakoyenikan, Fact-checking journalist for Agence France-Presse (AFP) in Nigeria – Key Informant Interview 1 (KII 1)
- David Ajikobi, Editor, AfricaCheck (Nigeria) – Key Informant Interview 2 (KII 2)
- Ebele Oputa, Consultant for Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ), owner of Dubawa fact-checking organisation (Nigeria) – Key Informant Interview 3 (KII 3)
Data Presentation, Analysis and Discussion/ Results and Discussion
The interview data and content generated on the fact-checking organisations website and social media platforms are discussed along the following themes:
- HISTORY: Ownership and factors that influenced establishment of fact-checking organisations in Nigeria
- STRUCTURES of fact-checking Organisation in Nigeria.
- PRODUCTION PROCESS: Basic Operations and Tools for Fact-checking claims
- FACT-CHECKING AUDIENCE: Access to Fact-check contents by audience
- PROGRAMMES, PROJECTS AND COLLABORATIONS
- SUSTAINABLE STRATEGIES: Models and Future Plan
HISTORY: Ownership and factors that influenced establishment of fact-checking organisations in Nigeria
Fact-checking as part of media work was institutionalised in Africa about eight years ago with the establishment of Africa Check. It is a non-profit organisation set up in 2012 in South Africa to promote accuracy in public debate and the media in Africa. It described itself as Africa’s first independent and non-profit fact-checking organisation set up to promote accuracy in public debate and the media in Africa, as well as work to raise the quality of information available to society across the continent. Africa Check is a non-profit and independent organisation with offices in Johannesburg, Nairobi, Lagos and Dakar. The organisation produces reports in English and French, testing claims made by public figures, institutions and the media against the best available evidence. Africa Check also has regional offices in Lagos, Nigeria, set up in 2016.
The Nigerian Editor of Africa Check, David Ajikobi, said the Nigeria office of Africa Check was set up in November, 2016 to become the first fact-checking organisation in the country. The establishment was influenced by security and sundry issues generated from the spread of dis and misinformation around the purpose and benefits of the Polio vaccination leading to boycott of the exercise and the murder of health workers in the Northern part of the country (Researcher’s Interview: August, 2020 and in reference to https://africacheck.org/about-us/).
This was followed by Dubawa which is a project of the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ) based in Nigeria. The Consultant to PTCIJ, Ebele Oputa explained that the Dubawa project was “launched in 2018 first as a baseline study and a knowledge of the media ecosystem in Nigeria.” The findings of the baseline study according to Ebele Oputa indicated that “there is a declining trust in media organisations in Nigeria”, just as the “quality of national discourse was also being watered down.” This partly influenced the establishment of Dubawa fact-checking project established to among others, build the capacity of journalists across Nigeria in verification process, as a way of restoring peoples’ trust in the media. The establishment of Dubawa as a fact-checking organisation was also influenced by the realisation that quality information is important to development as access to verified information will influence making informed and accurate decisions. The fact-checking organisation described itself as Nigeria’s first indigenous independent verification and fact-checking project, initiated by PTCIJ and supported by the most influential newsrooms and civic organisations in the country to help amplify the culture of truth in public discourse, public policy, and journalistic practice. It is non-partisan, accepting only to uphold the values of accuracy, balance, transparency, verification, independence, and accountability in all its operations. We are guided, in all our practice, by the five principles of the International Fact Checking Network (IFCN). (Researcher’s Interview August, 2020 and in reference to https://dubawa.org/about-us/ ).
AFP Fact Check (Nigeria) is owned by an international France’s News Agency. AFP launched its digital verification service in France in 2017 and has grown to become one of the leading global fact-checking organisations, with dedicated journalists in countries from the United States to Myanmar. AFP set up a blog to focus on fact-checking in response to the multiplication of misinformation and disinformation online, and was inspired by her experience with the award-winning CrossCheck collaborative project around the 2017 French elections. Segun Olakoyenikan who is a fact-checking journalist for AFP said the fact-checking organisation for Nigeria bureau was established in 2018, after the news agency entered into a partnership with Facebook to deepen the social network’s third-party fact-checking programme in Africa. It is part of the news agency’s digital verification service launched in 2017 to verify fake news and disinformation circulating in the world. The project was influenced by the need to reduce the spread of misinformation worldwide, create a culture of accuracy in the society, and improve the quality of information that people consume (Researcher’s Interview July, 2020 with reference to https://factcheck.afp.com/about-us and https://factcheck.afp.com/fact-checking-afp).
STRUCTURES of fact-checking Organisations in Nigeria
The fact-checking organisations in Nigeria maintain a lean staff strength and are subsidiaries of some parent organisations. The experts and those who are technology-savvy or possess skills to fact-check claims based on the IFCN principles are few. The evolving nature of this endeavour provides the pioneer fact-checking organisations with little manpower to achieve their mission and vision. Though there are professionals with standard journalism skills in Nigeria, the approach of fact-checking especially during the digital era still needs to be learned. The three fact-checking organisations did not run a complex system in terms of management as they are controlled by their parent organisations.
The Dubawa fact-checking organisation in structural terms, is a non-profit entity that operates as a project within the Premium Times Center for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ) which “serve as an incubation for innovative media development projects in Nigeria.” PTCIJ is structured to allow the Dubawa fact-checking project to operate as an independent organisation. This is similar to the model adopted for the project in Ghana, whereby Dubawa Ghana was incorporated as a separate legal entity and therefore operates as an independent organisation. As for staff strength, Dubawa Nigeria has a team of researchers with internal and external editors and occasional contributors. It has two levels editing process. The organisation also has a board and other supporting staff. According to its website, Dubawa’s governance and organizational structure is transparent; it is supervised by an advisory board that helps to hold the management of the platform focused on its core mission. The board is supported by a panel of editorial experts (editorial board) as its day to day operations are undertaken by PTCIJ. The Dubawa fact-checking team is composed of a handful of experts who develop Fact-Checker stories in a structured way. The team is headed by an editor supported by an assistant editor. Also in the team are researchers (internal or external) who provide quality contents for the Dubawa website (Researcher’s Interview August, 2020 with reference to https://dubawa.org/about-us/governance-organisation/).
AFP (Nigeria) fact-checking organisation which is a project of AFP as an international news agency’s digital verification service at the Lagos bureau. The fact-checking organisation as at July, 2020 has two fact-checking journalists (Mayowa Tijani and Segun Olakoyenikan) at the Lagos Bureau, covering misinformation in Anglophone West African countries including Nigeria. AFP Fact Check Nigeria operates a centralised operation. Journalists from AFP monitor online content in local languages and their stories are edited in regional hubs and the global team is managed from AFP’s Paris headquarters. Fact-checking editors and a worldwide network of journalists are tasked with carrying out its operations, following the editorial standards and key guiding principles of the AFP global news agency. (Researcher’s Interview July, 2020 with reference to https://factcheck.afp.com/about-us and https://factcheck.afp.com/fact-checking-afp).
Africa Check, considers itself as a non-profit media organisation and regarded its work as part of the journalistic genre. David Ajikobi says: “I will say in my opinion, (fact-checking activities) is more of 70 percent of the journalism genre and 30 percent development communication.” As at August 2020, AfricaCheck runs a lean operation in Nigeria and works with independent journalists and has about four permanent staff and one part time staff in its Nigeria office (Researcher’s Interview August, 2020).
The above indicates that the institutionalisation of fact-checking as a media work in Nigeria is pioneered by Africa Check, Dubawa, and AFP. These organisations are still at the embryonic stage and were established as concerns increased about the impact of dis and misinformation in Nigeria. So, their objectives are relatively similar though they have different ownership structures. While AFP is an international organisation, the headquarters of AfricaCheck and Dubawa are located in African countries. This indicated that the challenge of information disorder is a global problem, and efforts at the international scene to combat this menace is now being domesticated in Nigeria.
PRODUCTION PROCESS: Basic Operations and Tools for Fact-Checking Claims
Basic Operations: The basic operations of AFP (Nigeria) as it relates to fact-checking according to its staff in an interview is “verification”. Segun Olakoyenikan explained that the “fact-checking approach to verifying information depends on a number of factors. But more essentially is the fact that we combine logic, journalistic skills and technology to carry out our verifications.” AFP Fact Check explains on its website that it seeks to help the public and newsrooms come to informed conclusions about information they find online, whether from social media posts, news articles, videos or statements. It added that it selects content to investigate, based on criteria including editorial interest, how widely something has been shared, and whether it has entered public debate. AFP editors start by trying to identify the origin of a claim, investigating with its archives and journalists where necessary. It carried out these operations by using different digital tools for tracing the sources, searching for the origin of a statement or quotation, investigating videos, cross-checking information, and contacting the right sources and not just the internet. (Researcher’s Interview July, 2020 with reference to https://factcheck.afp.com/fact-checking-afp and https://factcheck.afp.com/fact-checking-how-we-work).
The basic operation of Africa Check according to David Ajikobi focused on debunking dis and misinformation, outreach programmes and media literacy work as a way of “equipping people with skills to identify and debunk fake news and disinformation by themselves.” Africa Check has a workflow structure for fact-checking through identification of claims, verification process and rigorous layers of quality assurance before the findings are published. (Researcher’s Interview August, 2020).
In Dubawa-Nigeria, Ebele Oputa noted that the organisation engaged in monitoring socio-political and economic activities and the media landscape. She added that apart from engaging in media literacy and campaigns, the organisation produces fact-checking contents which are promoted on websites and social media platforms:
“Last year, we had the week for truth where we spread the gospel of verification and fact-checking to other sets of the population that otherwise are left out of our normal fact-checking activities. So, we took fact-checking to schools, average Nigerians on the streets….So, individuals should be empowered to engage in critical thinking and to question the news they consume. We also do programmes, massive activities based on the political and socio-economic landscape. For instance, we have engaged in election monitoring with access to reports to support Nigeria with affiliation with Premium Times…We also have done fact-checking around the UN. United Nations convention…And we also this year did fact-checking on coronavirus to help reduce misinformation.” (Researcher’s Interview August, 2020).
Technological Architecture: Tools for Fact-Checking Claims
The issue of technology featured prominently in all the fact-checking processes in Nigeria. It was identified as a catalyst to the problem and at the same time one of the solutions to information disorder in the country. As purveyors of disinformation are using technology to spread false information and disrupt the information ecosystem, fact-checking organisations are using the same innovative technology to combat information disorder. Issues of Digital Divide and poor technological infrastructure in Nigeria were identified as some of the challenges to digital literacy and these provide opportunity for purveyors of disinformation to capture more victims and use them as tools for dissemination of misinformation.
The fact-checking organisations in Nigeria relied mostly on third-party tools to fact-check claims. Owing to the extent of how technology is being adopted to spread dis and misinformation in the country, the organisations are using different digital tools to combat the information disorder especially in the digital public sphere. Except for AFP that said it has an “in-house tool” other fact-checking organisations subscribed to Third-Party tools and are working on developing specific tools to carry out their tasks and achieve their objectives.
Some of the third-party tools and platforms used by fact-checking organisations in Nigeria include: Google Reverse Image Search, RedEye, TinEye, CrowdTangle, Invid/We Verify extension, Google Alert, WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Slack, Trello, Info Finder, Tweetbeaver, Youtube Dataviewer, Tweetdeck, QuickTweet, Google Geolocator, Google Map, Bing, Yandex, Wayback Machine, Perma CC and Baidu.
Nigerian office of Africa Check explained how the fact-checking organisation in Nigeria is using these tools for its work process. These include: surveillance, claims identification, outreach and communication, editing, engagement and conversation, debunking fake or manipulated video, pictures and text. However, David Ajikobi noted the ethical dimension in the use of the digital tools, saying that the process involved in fact-checking must be transparent as digital tools adopted by fact-checking organisations must be “open and publicly acceptable.” When asked whether Africa Check developed digital tools for fact checking or subscribed only to third-party tools, David Ajikobi identified a major challenge of digital divide between countries in Africa and the West, especially in terms of technological innovation, proficiency in the use of digital tools, fact-checking manpower, and research. He added that Africa Check is currently funding initiatives to address these challenges especially in the area of media literacy (Researcher’s Interview August, 2020).
AFP (Nigeria), according to Segun Olakoyenikan, “has some self-developed digital tools that are only usable in-house. We also rely on third party tools.” While responding to a question concerning the mostly used fact-checking tools by AFP (Nigeria), Segun Olakoyenikan said: “There is no particular tool I use most or least. It all depends on the kind of misinformation circulating and how you decide to verify it. For picture-related verification, I would say Google reverse image is mostly used” On its website, AFP said it seeks throughout to share tips and tools to help others carry out fact-checking and verification. Apart from using traditional journalism skills, AFP Fact Check uses a number of simple tools to verify online information, some common sense and a lot of caution. (Researcher’s Interview July, 2020 with reference to https://factcheck.afp.com/fact-checking-afp and https://factcheck.afp.com/fact-checking-how-we-work).
One of the objectives of Dubawa is to conduct research and build technological tools that adequately identify, analyse and counter information disorder. Ebele Oputa, said that experience with infodemics around Covid-19 pandemic has further offered fact-checking organisations in Nigeria the opportunity to explore the digital tools to combat disinformation and misinformation about the deadly virus both online and offline. She explained that “fact-checking has different stages and at each stage, there are different tools that you need….So, you get information based on what you feed into the tool.” (Researcher’s Interview August, 2020 with reference to https://dubawa.org/about-us/).
The fact-checking organisations generally related their activities with technology:
Segun Olakoyenikan of AFP (Nigeria) explained this phenomenon based on his experience as a fact checker in Nigeria: “Fake news peddlers are getting more sophisticated with their disinformation strategy, so should fact-checkers be. Technological tools are being used to distort facts or fabricate total misleading contents which would require the same level of digital skills or tools to identify such false claims. So, for a fact-checker to be successful, then advancement in digital skills cannot be overlooked.” (Researcher’s Interview July, 2020). This assertion is in line with the position of Wardle (2019) calling for the adoption of technology to combat the scale of dis and misinformation.
The first fact checking organisation in Nigeria, Africa Check has a fair share of the experience with technological architecture in the country. The Nigeria Editor of Africa Check, David Ajikobi shared this experience: “Some of our mates who are in America for example are two three years above us…in terms of what they can do. In Nigeria, we are also being limited by….Internet. And don’t forget that as a fact checker for example, government intervention, censorship…we are also living in Nigeria where there is no power, electricity, there is no this, there is no that. All of those things will limit and limit your work and what you can do. I think the solution is that whatever tool that is coming up, it has to be everybody…that is why we always champion for open tools, so that everybody could use it….” (Researcher’s Interview August, 2020).
To Ebele Oputa, technology is at the centre stage of the work processes of Dubawa (Nigeria). Technology is deplored in identifying claims, the severity and how viral the claims had spread, flagging of such claims, dissemination of findings and media literacy. She put it this way: “From using technology to search for claims, to using technology to conduct the research, writing… it is through technological tools you get information, using your mobile phone to contact your contacts is still using technology. Internally we used Google Drive and Google Doc specifically for collaborative aspects for our writers to draft reports on Google Document and share it with the editor and together all people can work on that document even in writing and editing, it is still technology for real. And then we used technology to publish and proofread your fact-checking….Technology plays a big part in all the phases of fact-checking (Researcher’s Interview August, 2020).
Integrated Approach to Automated and Human Fact Checking:
The fact-checking organisations in Nigeria favour integrated approach when it comes to adopting Automated or human fact-checking. This position was hinged on the premise that the deficiency of human involvement in the fact-checking process will be taken care of by the automated intervention; while human-oriented fact-checking will complement the automated approach.
Segun Olakoyenikan shared the position of AFP (Nigeria) on automated-human fact-checking thus:
“I think both are mutually dependent. For instance, signatories to the International Fact-Checking Network’s code of principle have a chatbot, which have been preloaded with several thousands of fact-checking reports produced by the alliance. First is the human effect before it’s automated to deliver responses based on queries. But the good side is that it is a technological solution needed at this time when fact checkers are nearly overwhelmed with the increasing number of false claims circulating online” (Researcher’s Interview July, 2020).
Dubawa in writer’s interview with Ebele Oputa put it more succinctly: “For me, I am always against a one-sided approach…I always feel that the best solution is always a blend of various available techniques and tools. In that sense, I would not say one should take prominence over another one. I will say that there is a case for human-centred fact-checking and there is a place for automated fact-checking….So, I would say that the best decision will be a synergy between the two approaches, looking at the deficiencies and things that happened to human fact-check….And plug into those areas. That would be the best solution…”
Unlike the study of Stencel (2019) which finds out that in the United States, the establishment of independent and standalone fact-checking organisations are making waves than those affiliated to media organisations; the experience in Nigeria indicated otherwise. Except for Africa Check, the other two fact-checking organisations, Dubawa and AFP have affiliations with mainstream media organisations.
FACT-CHECKING AUDIENCE: Access to fact-check contents by audience
The fact-checking organisations in Nigeria interact with their audience both online and offline but the audience have access to the fact check contents mainly through online platforms. These include blogs, WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. They use multimedia contents through hyperlink, text, audio, video and infographics to push their findings to the audience. Preferences are given to the platforms that the fact-checking organisations consider prone to spreading dis and misinformation. In order to have access to audiences without online presence, the fact-checking organisations are partnering with some broadcast stations in Nigeria to share the fact-checking contents and engage in media, digital and information literacy through these organisations.
For Africa Check, apart from reaching the audience through its official online platforms, other fact-checking organisations have dedicated radio and television programmes as well as work with “partners that help push our contents across the country. Such as Guardian newspaper, Freedom F.M Kano, and Correct FM Lagos with Wazobia pidgin. So we use short videos, we do animation, we do short videos on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.” The Nigeria Editor of Africa Check, David Ajikobi further explained that Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Instagram are the most used platforms by Africa Check to distribute its fact check contents as purveyors of dis and misinformation use the same platforms. He added that the text, voice notes, manipulated pictures and video formats are prominent for the spread of misinformation from random people (Researcher’s Interview August, 2020).
Ebele Oputa said that Dubawa received feedback from its audience through e-mail and employed a social media manager who manages the official social media platforms for the fact-checking organisation and whose duty also includes responding to feedback on the platforms. (Researcher’s Interview August, 2020).
PROGRAMMES, PROJECTS AND COLLABORATIONS
The fact-checking organisations in Nigeria are involved in different programmes, projects and collaborations especially on media, digital and information literacy. As pioneers, the fact-checking organisations also partner with international organisations, tech companies, media organisations and other stakeholders to combat information disorder in the country. They engaged in training, award, research, and advocacy to achieve their objectives. Some of the stakeholders the fact-checking organisations are collaborating with include International Fact Checking Network (IFCN), Google, Facebook, Non Governmental organisations among others. They also institute fellowship, awards, and outreach programmes as a way of promoting the culture and ideals of fact-checking. Owing to the model adopted by the fact-checking organisation in Nigeria (not-for-profit), they are funded majorly through grants, donations and collaborations.
In relation to this, one of the projects of Africa Check is Chatbot, deployed on WhatsApp to combat information disorder. David Ajikobi hinted that Africa Check will soon deploy its Google Artificial Intelligence (AI) tool that can automatically identify claims (Researcher’s Interview: August, 2020).
Dubawa documented through its website that it is an independent fact-checking and verification project of PTCIJ, a non-governmental organisation that engages in a wide variety of projects that are not limited to fact-checking. Ebele Oputa said the fact-checking organisation is engaged in various programmes, projects and collaborations to combat information disorder in Nigeria. Dubawa engaged in media literacy and other programmes in order to “encourage a more engaged and information-literate citizenry who are capable of making informed decisions about issues that affect their development.” (Researcher’s Interview: August, 2020 with reference to https://dubawa.org/about-us/).
Dubawa also carried out programmes around the activities of international organisations as well as Covid-19 pandemic:
We also have done fact-checking around the UN. United Nations convention. Like last year when they had the General Assembly, we have a representative from Nigeria too, to do fact-checking around the claims that were told around government officials on the international scene. And we also this year did fact-checking on coronavirus to help reduce misinformation. We are also going to do election fact-checking because of the upcoming regional election in Nigeria. (Researcher’s Interview: August, 2020).
Other forms of partnership by Dubawa with stakeholders in the fact-checking ecosystem include individuals, media, civic and technology organisations in the area of manpower development, finance, education, enlightenment, research, and training. Ebele Oputa said: “We have partnership with Facebook or through our Fellowship programme where we trained journalists already domicile in news organisations in Nigeria mentor them to produce fact checks for a duration of time to produce fact check and hope that they are able to set up fact-checking desks for the creation of fact-checking services. So, we have this type of project across as well.” On its website, Dubawa said its fact-checking project is supported by the most influential newsrooms and civic organisations in the country to help amplify the culture of truth in public discourse, public policy, and journalistic practice. On funding support, Dubawa made this public with a proviso that the funders have absolutely no influence on its judgments and editorial decisions. Dubawa is currently funded by the MacArthur Foundation which seeks to strengthen investigative and data-driven journalism in Nigeria and Heinrich Boll Foundation which funds our Fellowship Programme.” Facebook also funds some aspect of the project through its Third Party Fact Checker program (Researcher’s Interview: August, 2020 with reference to https://dubawa.org/about-us/).
AFP Fact Check is also involved in projects and collaborations. AFP’s fact-checking operations receive direct support through Facebook’s third-party fact-checking programme. It considers stories flagged on Facebook as part of the material the organisation investigates. AFP is also a signatory of the IFCN code of principles. These include a commitment to: nonpartisanship and fairness, transparency of sources, transparency of funding and organisation, transparency of methodology and an open and honest corrections policy. (https://factcheck.afp.com/fact-checking-afp)
The activities, programmes and projects carried out by Africa Check, Dubawa and AFP in Nigeria qualify them as fact-checking organisations based on the yardstick set by Reporters’ Lab at Duke University’s DeWitt Wallace Center for Media & Democracy that developed the parameter for classifying fact-checking organisations. These parameters according to Adair and Stencel (2016) including consistency in publishing of “articles, video or audio reports that verify the accuracy of claims made by prominent public figures and institutions; debunk rumors, hoaxes and other forms of misinformation that spread online; or review the status of political promises made by candidates and political parties.”
The interventions of the fact-checking organisations in combating information disorder in Nigeria also corroborate the assumptions of the agenda setting and Gate-Keeping theories. These outlets are setting their agenda through their fact-checking activities. Though the innovative technology especially Web 2.0 has further liberalised and pluralised information flow, the negative effect on the adoption for spread of dis and misinformation especially on digital public sphere has made the agenda setting and Gate-Keeping roles of the media more demanding. The twist in the redefinition and dynamics of these theories further brings to light the social responsibility of the media to come to the rescue as the society confronts information disorder.
The above data generated from the interview with representatives of selected fact-checking organisations in Nigeria showed the relationship in Agenda Setting, Gate-Keeping, Social Responsibility Theories, and Information Disorder in Nigeria. In other words, the revisiting of these theories and the need for media organisations to further integrate and promote its principles and assumptions in their activities is a model necessary at combating information disorder in Nigeria. This means that information will go through refined processes at multiple levels that will include all stakeholders who are expected to be armed with verification skills, discerning and critical minds. This approach is expected to be voluntary as the information flow is made to take a refined order. This is termed: Refined Information Flow and Order (RIFO).
The adoption of RIFO is expected to frustrate the efforts of the purveyors of disinformation and at the same time discourage the spreading of misinformation. This however should not be limited to journalists and mainstream media organisations, citizen journalists, social media influencers, and other levels of managers of information should adopt this model. The RIFO model could also be stepped down to the receptors of media messages. The audience, while creating or generating content, distribution or redistribution, must adopt the principles of gate-keeping, agenda setting and be socially responsible as a way of combating information disorder. In addition, this is when the idea of “Personal Sense of Responsibility” is required which expects all stakeholders in the era of RIFO to act with a sense of responsibility is dissemination and reception of information.
Gate-Keeping – Agenda Setting – Information Disorder – Social Responsibility = Refined Information Flow and Order (RIFO)
Folarin model of “Refined Information Flow and Order” – RIFO (2020)
With about five years in existence, fact-checking organisations are encountering some challenges in their attempt to combat the information disorder in Nigeria. Numerous challenges in respect of the fact-checking ecosystem in Nigeria have been discussed earlier. These are issues surrounding the history, structure, production process, technological issue, access to audience and projects. Though some of the issues are related to teething and institutional challenges, others are general societal problems. The fact-checking organisations identified some other specific challenges:
Exponential increase in the spread of dis and misinformation versus fact-checking efforts: The fact checking organisations and by extension professional fact checkers in Nigeria are few compared to the rate and sophistication of information pollution. This is one of the challenges confronting fact-checking organisations on the frontline of combating information disorder.
Segun Olakoyenikan of AFP (Nigeria) said that fact checkers in Nigeria are in “long battle against misinformation”, because “the number of false claims coming up keeps growing on a daily basis as fake news peddlers continue to devise new methods to misinform the public.” (Researcher’s Interview: July 2020).
David Ajikobi of Africa Check acknowledged the implication of the massive spread of dis and misinformation both online and offline, among other factors, limit the extent to which the fact-checking organisations can go because “it is not everything that you can fact check. You will only select those ones that….If I don’t fact check it, what is the impact going to be on the public? (Researcher’s Interview: August 2020).
The baseline study conducted by the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ) on the media ecosystem in Nigeria found out that “there is a declining trust in media organisations in Nigeria. We also noticed that the quality of national discourse was also being watered down, a lot of conversation….are not for the benefits of society.” This challenge was what influenced the establishment of Dubawa partly to serve as a project that will build the capacity of journalists across Nigeria, so that people’s trust in the media will be restored. This form one of the project objective of Dubawa, equipping newsrooms with the skills and environment to make fact-checking and truth a norm in media houses through training and fellowships, so that eroding trust in media will be restored (Researcher’s Interview: August, 2020 with reference to https://dubawa.org/about-us/).
Digital Divide and Technological Infrastructure
The challenges associated with information flow and exponential spread of dis and misinformation is also directly linked to issues of digital divides and technological infrastructure in Nigeria. The age-long phenomenon in the imbalance of information flow between developed and developing countries continued to pose threat to combating information disorder in the country. The problems of ownership of technology, adoption, domestication, proficiency of use and inadequate technological infrastructure in many African countries including Nigeria are some of the challenges to fact-checking organisations in the Continent. For these reasons, many of the fact-checking and digital tools used by fact checkers in Nigeria are third party tools. The fact-checking organisations in Nigeria are at the early stage of developing their own digital tools to aid their fact-checking operations.
Though Africa Check is investing in technology to address this challenge by developing the capacity of citizens, journalists, and other professionals in the area of digital literacy as well as developing digital tools to make its fact-checking efforts seamless, this still falls short of the magnitude of the information disorder it is confronting. KII 2 put it this way:
“In terms of the skill set, fact checking is still very much relatively still new. And in terms of technology and research, fact-checking is still a much of a global south thing…Then, the second one is that you will also see that there is a deficit of pieces of tools for people like us on this side…. An organisation for example in America can sit down to develop big tools…” (Researcher’s Interview: August, 2020).
KII 3 also state the position of Dubawa fact-checking organisation as regards technological architecture:
“For now, we haven’t really built our technological presence, so we use tools that have been created by others and we have access to this based on our affiliation…capacity network”. It is part of Dubawa objectives to build technological tools to combat information disorder (Researcher’s Interview: August, 2020 with reference to https://dubawa.org/about-us/).
Lack of Awareness and Research on Fact-Checking
It was the consensus of the fact-checking organisations in Nigeria that there is a research gap when it comes to information disorder in the country. However, the fact-checking organisations who are pioneers in Nigeria are partnering with stakeholders to support and fund researchers to interrogate the information disorder phenomenon. They also submit that the level of awareness about fact-checking and verification efforts is not proportionate with the spread of dis and misinformation.
KII 3 is enthusiastic and interested in promoting local research that could unravel the “barrier towards why people do not care about misinformation. Or why we are not still reaching the population that we want to reach? Why does misinformation travel faster than true information?” Other questions considered essential to be relevant are: How do fact-checking organisations get people to know about their work? How do they enhance their distribution channel for people to know about their work? How do they promote their fact checks? The answers to these questions are expected to further understand the information disorder ecosystem. This is the more reason why Dubawa stated that one of its objectives is to conduct research to combat information disorder and build a body of knowledge around misinformation in Nigeria (Researcher’s Interview: August, 2020 with reference to https://dubawa.org/about-us/).
Manpower and Capacity Building/Skill Sets
Though verification is considered part of the journalism genre, the institutionalisation of fact-checking and peculiar challenge of dis and misinformation in the digital age demand a high level of journalism skills that have been taken for granted. And the set skills required to be a fact-checker now go beyond mere reporting. The number of journalists with such skills in Nigeria are limited and therefore pose a challenge to the extent to which the stakeholders could combat the information disorder in the country. While Dubawa is responding to this challenge by training journalists in developing their verification and fact-checking skills; Africa Check advocates reorientation to convince media organisations, editors, and journalists in Nigeria that the verification and other fact-checking skills are required to optimally carry out their role as the Fourth Estate of the Realm. David Ajikobi put it this way:
“When I say, you can come and be a fact checker with us, people think that you are talking about special skills. But the truth is that in the 80s and as it is practiced, you have to verify. Everything you put in your newspaper has to be factually correct. Yes, you have to show your editor. Your editor will call you: ‘where did you see this one from?’ You have to show him, he has to cite it. So, fact-checking is not new, it is a critical part of journalism which is about verification. So, when people say fact-checking, fact-checking. It is a buzzword. If we have all agreed that it has to be accurate, balance, then, that is part of fact checking. (Researcher’s Interview: August, 2020 with reference to https://dubawa.org/about-us/).
Complex multi-religious, multi-cultural diversity
The complex multi-religious and multi-cultural nature of Nigeria is considered a factor in the spread of dis- and misinformation. KII 2 asserted that traditionally, Nigeria just as many African countries “do not have a culture of asking for evidence” as it is considered disrespectful to ask for evidence from an elder or debunk their assumptions. Regarding such as referring to them as liars. “That culture of not holding power to account is…..What that means is that sometimes I have to fact check some people, some politicians where they would always be ..”Are you calling me a liar? There is a difference between calling someone a liar and saying that a particular statement you made about a particular issue is false.” He further narrated a personal experience to support this assertion. “In fact, biases come from a place where the Minister of Information is also where I was from. I am not close to him but my family is popular in that State. And I have had cases where I bump into him in Abuja…and he said: “You are the Ajikobi that has been calling me a liar? You can imagine if a public figure,… having a perception that a fact checker is calling him a liar…That is another challenge” (Researcher’s Interview: August, 2020).
He further noted the peculiar traditional environment of Nigeria as a challenge to fact-checking efforts in the country. Just as experience is the function of the environment, the context in which Nigeria operates is different to other countries. “Don’t forget that Nigeria is the most populous country…black nation in the world, we are multi-religion, multi-ethnic, we are multilingual. And also as a fact checker, you have to be aware of this context. And even in your fact checking process, you have to be deliberate to understand this” (Researcher’s Interview: August, 2020).
Similar challenge was noted by Ahinkorah, Ameyaw, Hagan, Seidu & Schack (2020) expressing concerns that these complexities such as “socio-cultural climate in Africa has engineered the spread of the Covid-19 related misinformation through propagation of unsubstantiated news.” Fact-checking organisations around the world understand these complexities and attempt to address them by employing fact checkers domiciled in the countries of operations with centralised approval of editorial contents. For instance, AFP Fact Check noted on its website that the journalists employed to conduct fact-checking of claims take into account local cultures, languages and politics and work with AFP’s bureaus worldwide to investigate and disprove false information, focusing on items which can be harmful, impactful and manipulative ( https://factcheck.afp.com/about-us).
Government and Political Interference – Policies, Law
Government and political interference through policies and laws are also identified as some of the challenges confronting fact-checking organisations in Nigeria. For example, the approach of the government to combating what it termed “hate speech and fake news” is greeted with suspicion and has been heavily criticised by media and civil society organisations. Further consideration of many proposed laws by the government relating to the “control” of the media landscape have been halted as there seems not to be a buy-in from major stakeholders. In addition, the ownership structure of many media organisations in the country with direct and indirect control or ownership by politicians and their cronies is also an hindrance to promote the culture of verification and fact-checking in the media organisations in Nigeria.
The Nigeria Editor of Africa Check, David Ajikobi, said fact checkers work has been affected by government intervention and censorship. He gave specific examples where political interference might affect the work of fact checkers in Nigeria:
If for example you have The Nation which Tinubu has interest in some people might say, if Tinubu owns The Nation for example and there is a fact-checking newsroom in it,…But the hallmark of fact checking is that it is not partisanship. So, it is like two arguments with pros and cons. So, if you say you want to have fact checking in ThisDay, owned by Nduka Obaigbena, like if it is pro one party or anti one party, some people might ask: ‘will the ownership not affect the claims that they fact check?’ Can you see what I am trying to say? That is also an argument of having a stand-alone fact checking organisation because of non partisanship ….At least no government will come and say, I collected N500,000 to kill a story or debar me from not publishing a story, no, no, no.It wouldn’t work like that. Because my salary doesn’t depend on one oga at one place or….It creates one form of independent and non-partisanship. Like I usually say when I am in conferences, I am not pro PDP, I am not pro APC. We are not anti-APC, we are not anti-PDP. We are just pro-fact. And the facts are the facts. You can twist it the way you want to twist it but they will not change but they will be there for you. Let me give you an example, the government for example did not release the unemployment figure for more than three to four to five quarters. They just recently released it. But the fact is, I mean, has the reality run away from us now? Even if you did not release the figure because you don’t want people to feel bad, but now the reality is there. It doesn’t change. The fact is that people are unemployed. People have increased, the …rate has increased (Researcher’s Interview: August, 2020).
David Ajikobi also showed concerns over the understanding of the government about the information disorder, suggesting the blueprint that the Federal Government claimed to have needed to be reviewed to address the reality. He added that it was wrong for the government to equate hate speech with what it considered as fake news: “No, the thing is that if you go and look at the convention and definition of hate speech, it is different from disinformation….So, government need to come clean on what it want to do on disinformation and misinformation” (Researcher’s Interview: August, 2020).
Audience Cognitive Biases/Media, Information and Digital Illiteracy
Another challenge to the efforts of fact-checking organisations in combating information disorder are related to audience biases stimulated by media, information and digital illiteracy. Purveyors of disinformation maximally take advantage of this to use the unsuspecting audience to make themselves willingly available as an instrument of spreading misinformation. The fact- checking organisation had to incorporate media and information literacy into its programmes and project as one of the ways to address this challenge.
David Ajikobi shared his experience: “The first one is that people don’t understand the problem itself. When you go around to talk about the problem of disinformation and misinformation,…Until you make them realise how much impact it has on their lives before they realise. And people don’t see that they are part of the problem and they are also part of the solution. It is very hard to tell somebody that you are part of the problem and you are also part of the solution. It is also very difficult.” (Researcher’s Interview: August, 2020)
The fact-checking organisations in Nigeria are advocating a need for media and information literacy as they are training professionals and citizens to imbibe the culture of verification. For instance, Dubawa organised outreach programmes in secondary schools in the country to achieve this objective. The organisation also organised training for journalists and citizens to promote media and information literacy. Similarly, Africa Check in partnership with Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) training hundreds of people throughout the country on how to spot and debunk health related disinformation. And this is necessary because according to David Ajikobi, the situation is complex and an hydra-headed problem that required multi-trunk approach with the combination of other efforts with media and information literacy campaign to the extent of achieving a long term solution whereby everybody “start thinking like a fact checker even as from the age of five. You need to question everything, look for evidence, superior argument, facts and things like that. And it is not the job for professional fact checkers alone or editors alone …..That is what many people don’t want to hear.” (Researcher’s Interview: August, 2020).
SUSTAINABLE STRATEGIES: Models and Future Plan
Survival of Fact-checking organisations in Nigeria
To what extent do the challenges of running cost, due to the poor economic climate in the country, policies of government, complex information flow, among others highlighted so far be a threat to the survival of fact-checking organisations in Nigeria? Hope fact checking organisations will not be overwhelmed by the rot of misinformation and disinformation in Nigeria? Do you think Fact Checking Organisations will survive in Nigeria? When the researcher asks these questions from the selected interviewees, they are quick to answer that the fact-checking organisations will survive despite the challenges and teething problems. Though they gave various reasons for their conclusion but they are of the consensus that the fact-checking organisations in Nigeria are presently facing survival challenges.
According to Segun Olakoyenikan of AFP (Nigeria), the fact-checking organisations will survive the challenges because “there is a huge demand for truths in Nigeria, and you know the country’s media space is riddled with an avalanche of misinformation and all sorts of information disorder, which have dampened trusts in media organisations. These demands and the growing fake news culture would make fact-checking organisations thrive.” (Researcher’s Interview: July, 2020).
To Ebele Oputa of Dubawa, she sees no reason why fact-checking organisations in Nigeria will not survive as she believes that if stakeholders are looking at only the problem, there will never be a solution to anything. “If the media organisations are surviving, there is no reason why fact checking organisations cannot survive…..whatever circumstances they are facing. She however noted that limiting activities of fact-checking organisations to mere publishing findings of claims on websites is not sustainable, and such might not survive the complex media landscape. This is because “fact-checking in its broad sense, which involves media literacy, which involves active advocacy, which involves having stakeholders meeting with the government and getting their buy-in, is the one that is sustainable. Because at the end of the day, fact-checking is beneficial to everybody including the government.”
She further explained that the government need not view fact-checking work in the negative light as it provides the platform to promote accountability, set the record straight and gives credence to truthful endeavours: “When the opposition parties are spreading false rumours about the current government, it is fact checking that made people to know that it is not right. So, if the government can understand that fact checking could be used for the benefit and as well to hold them accountable, then they will not oppose it as they used to. They think that fact checking is just a way to change them but not. The truth is the truth regardless of people it hinders.” (Researcher’s Interview: August, 2020)
Models for Sustainability and Future Plans:
In a bid to combat the information disorder in Nigeria, the institutionalisation of this journalism genre witnessed the establishment of fact-checking organisations and setting up of fact-checking desks in existing media organisations. Presently, these are the models adopted in Nigeria. The question then arises about which of the models should be prioritised at the formation stage of the institutionalisation of fact-checking in Nigeria? There are fact-checking organisations and there is also advocacy for fact check desks in existing media organisations. Should stakeholders favour establishment of fact-checking organisations because of the enormity of the challenges of information disorder in Nigeria or the challenges of dis and misinformation should still be addressed through setting of fact-checking desks in existing media organisations?
Ebele Oputa of Dubawa believes that priority should be given to the establishment of fact-checking desks rather than fact-checking organisations because fact-checking is not alien to the media space as copy editors and journalists engaged in verification, copy editing and gatekeeping in the course of their work. She added that due to the magnitude and scale of dis and misinformation, few fact-checking organisations as it presently witnessed in Nigeria, cannot alone combat information disorder in the country. “So, we need more people who are more aware of the local realities.” She further argued that “media organisations may not have the resources to set up sole fact checking organisations. Specifically, we are still trying to build a business case….And remember that media organisations are for profit…Media organisations are set up for public good, they need the profit to run…. the best thing to do would be to look for an existing media organisations” and integrate fact-checking into their operations.
Between establishment of fact-checking organisations and having fact checking desks, what preference would you suggest to address the issue of information disorder in Nigeria? While responding to this question, David Ajikobi of Africa Check, subscribes to the setting up of fact-checking units in existing media organisations in Nigeria but expresses worry over influence of ownership and control of many of the legacy media organisations. He argued that the culture of debunking claims and fact-checking will be inculcated and transferred to the other staff through the units: “Some big media organisations have realised this. AFP has an AFP fact check which they are putting across the world. In every AFP office, they hire a fact checker…in most of their dealings, BBC too is doing the same thing to have BBC fact check across their newsrooms. It just shows you that ..may be essentially, that is the model that will work…. it is easier to do in the bigger newsroom stand …”
He, however, clarified that this does not stop the establishment of fact-checking organisations as they also have a key role to play in combating information disorder, adding that this is the reason fact-checking organisations in Nigeria are assisting newsrooms in the country to set up fact-checking desks: “As I speak to you now, I think we’ve helped about three to four newsrooms to do that. We are helping more, and more is on its way.” (Researcher’s Interview: August, 2020).
While fact-checking organisations in Nigeria are experimenting with two models, there are other models yet to be fully explored along the lines of the classifications by Stencel (2019). These include models whereby fact-checking organisations are “affiliated with think tanks and academic institutions.” Though Dubawa and Africa Check operate projects closely related to this, they have not fully executed these models as highlighted by Stencel (2019). For instance, Dubawa is partnering with researchers and tertiary institutions to interrogate the information disorder ecosystem in Africa. Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ) also established “CampusReporter”, a “journalism program built on evidence based ethical reporting and youth engagement initiatives in Campuses around Nigeria.” Similarly, Africa Check supports students’ training fact-checking projects to build the culture of verification in students of tertiary institutions. It also made a tertiary institution in Africa as one of its operational offices especially for translation. According to its website, Africa Check’s head office is based at the Journalism Department of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, while its French language site is run by a team based at the EJICOM journalism school in Dakar, Senegal, since 2015. (https://africacheck.org/about-us/)
In the same vein, Stencel (2019) also identified a model whereby the fact-checking organisations “that are not part of a larger media organization include independent, standalone organizations, both for-profit and non-for-profit . Some of these fact-checkers are subsidiary projects of bigger organizations that focus on civil society and political accountability.” In the case with Nigeria, all the fact-checking organisations are not-for-profit compared to fact-checking in some countries that operate on the basis of profit model.
In addition, the formation stage of fact-checking organisations in the United States have shown similar patterns with the Nigeria experience in which, according to the study of Stencel (2019), “a bit more than half of fact-checkers are part of a media company (106 of 188, or 56%).” She however noted that “the percentage has been dropping over the past few years, mostly because of the changing business landscape for media companies in the United States.”. The study also finds out that as at 2018, 87 percent of fact-checking organisations in “the U.S. were connected to media companies (41 out of 47)” but reduced to 65 percent (39 out of 60) in 2019. Which indicated that “as the number of fact-checkers in the U.S. has grown, fewer of them have ties to those companies.”
Future plans of fact-checking organisations in Nigeria
The fact-checking organisations in Nigeria have a long term plan to make the foundation of fact-checking strong in Africa. Dubawa, AFP and Africa Check intend to expand their scope and operations to wider audiences, stakeholders and borders beyond the chores of Nigeria. They are going to be more proactive and aggressive in combating information disorder in the continent.
By 2030, Dubawa intends to expand its fact-checking project to more communities, engage in more research, stakeholders’ engagement and expand beyond Nigeria: “We started with Ghana and intend to expand to other countries…hoping that we have a more literate society. People will not just rely on fact checking organisations. They should be able to question the news they consumed themselves, aware of their biases, and ….in the way of the information they consume.” (Researcher’s Interview: August, 2020)
The future plans of Africa Check is to expand with a major goal of making “sure that the culture of fact checking is inculcated and indoctrinated at least across the media and across the country.” (Researcher’s Interview: August, 2020).
According to the database of global fact-checking sites, a project of the Reporters’ Lab at Duke University’s DeWitt Wallace Center for Media & Democracy, fact-checking organisations in Africa increased from 4 to 9 from February, 2018 to June, 2019 when the database was updated (Stencel, 2019). This indicated that the numbers of fact-checking organisations in Africa increased by 56 percent within a year. This data indicated that the future plans as defined by Dubawa, AFP and Africa Check are already on track.
This research is a peep into the fact-checking ecosystem in Nigeria, which is about five years old in 2020, documenting the evolution of the fact-checking organisations and efforts at combating information disorder in the country. This study established that there are gaps to be filled in the information war, and stakeholders must brace up to the challenges. The media organisations on the frontlines of combating information disorder have laid a strong foundation amidst numerous challenges. For this effort to achieve its long term objectives, sustainability should be the watchword.
In the course of this interrogation through gathering of qualitative data from the pioneers of fact-checking in Nigeria (Dubawa, Africa Check and AFP), it was noted that virtually all the fact-checking organisations in Nigeria have affiliations with mainstream media organisations. They were established in response to the challenges associated with information disorder. There is a balance in ownership in terms of indigenous, continental, and international affiliations.
The three organisations that pioneered fact-checking in Nigeria operate a flexible organisational structure with few staff and are affiliated with parent organisations. Though these organisations have different ownership structures, they also have similar objectives.
The production process of the selected fact-checking organisations includes identification of claims, verifications, debunking of dis and misinformation. Also, the tools for fact-checking claims are mostly third-party tools while some of them are working on self-developed digital tools in the area of surveillance, editing, communication and audience engagement. The issue of technology featured prominently in all the fact-checking processes in Nigeria. It was identified as a catalyst to the spread of dis and misinformation and at the same time a veritable instrument of combating information disorder. Some other related variables in this respect are integrated approach to automated and human fact-checking as well as issues surrounding audience access to fact-checking contents.
The fact-checking organisations in Nigeria are also involved in programmes, projects and collaborations to combat information disorder in the country. They partnered with international organisations, tech companies, media organisations and other stakeholders in the area of media, information and digital literacy. In an attempt to address the challenges of information disorder, the programmes and projects of the fact-checking organisations exposed the relevance of agenda setting, Gate-Keeping and Social Responsibility Theories given how sophisticated the purveyors of disinformation have gone. The revisiting of these theories and the need for media organisations to further integrate and promote their principles and assumptions is a model necessary at combating information disorder in Nigeria. The result from this study led to the proposition of Refined Information Flow and Order (RIFO). Its adoption is expected to suffocate the strategies adopted in information disorder in order to reduce the negative effect of information pollution.
Rasaki (2020) had made similar recommendations calling on the media to fulfill its social responsibilities to the society whereby the fact-checking organisations would “create in-house fact-checking content and processes, specific guidelines and skills, as well as set fact-checking agenda on their own.” It is therefore essential for fact-checking organisations in Nigeria to adopt RIFO and push the concept in its advocacy programmes and projects in the area of media, information and digital literacy, if they intend to achieve the long term goal of influencing everyone to imbibe the culture of verification and fact-checking.
The challenges of the fact-checking organisations in Nigeria according to findings of this study include exponential increase in the spread of dis and misinformation compared to fact-checking efforts; challenge of digital divides and technological infrastructure; low awareness and research on fact-checking; manpower and capacity building; complex multi-religious and multi-cultural diversity, government and political interference.
The fact-checking organisations in Nigeria are already adopting strategies for sustainability. They all have confidence that these models will not only make them survive amidst challenges highlighted already in this study but are also sustainable based on the future plans they mapped out. These they intend to execute through planned programmes and projects by expanding the reach of the fact-checking organisations and fact-checking desks in existing media organisations in Nigeria and by extension other African countries.
As a response to concerns of inadequate literature in Africa in relation to this phenomenon, this research is a contribution to knowledge and to a larger extent fills the research gap in understanding fact-checking ecosystems in Nigeria and documents the efforts of media organisations on the frontline of combating information disorder in Nigeria. This study is expected to be a reference point to stakeholders who are concerned about the best approach of winning the information war against audiences biases; and media, information and digital illiteracy for the good of the society. The concerns raised by Adekunle (2020) is partly addressed by this study, however, there is still need for fact-checking organisations in Nigeria in relation to other models about improving research on information disorder in the country and the significance of further collaboration with tertiary institutions as identified by Stencel (2019).
Meanwhile, further studies are still required in the interrogation of the information pollution in Nigeria by combining quantitative and qualitative research designs to explore the behavioural patterns of purveyors of disinformation and audience who spread such misinformation. In addition, it is important to probe further the issue of information disorder, digital divides, and technology.
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