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Fact-Checking Researchers’ Contributions to the Literature of Information Disorder Ecosystem in Nigeria: The Dubawa Example

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Abstract 

Experts have decried the dearth of evidence-based research around the information disorder ecosystem in Nigeria. As fact-checking research is deemed to be a new area of research outside academia, fellowship programmes have been floated as parts of the initiatives to sharpen the expertise of local researchers to help stakeholders see infodemic in a way that encourages solution-based policies and initiatives to stem the tide of misinformation. This analysis reviews the contributions of fact-checking researchers to the literature of mis/disinformation through the lens of a selected research article published on Dubawa’s website between July and December, 2020. 

The review serves as a compendium of studies that captured an array of thematic areas of misinformation ranging from politics and election, health,  civil matters to news media development. As this review shows, the researchers have provided evidence of growing relationship between fact-checking organisations in Nigeria and the newsrooms; evidence that collaborative efforts drive publications of fact-checks around issues of interest with high tracking of misinformation; and that misinformation around COVID-19 pandemic was rife in the early months of the outbreak in Nigeria. 

The review also shows the researchers’ contribution to knowledge to include the provision of evidence-based information on the changes in Facebook policy on political claims and ads on its platform; frequently-shared misinformation on social media platforms in Nigeria about COVID-19, and the relationships between independent fact-checkers and newsrooms in Nigeria. 

While this analysis concludes that the capacity of Nigerian fact-checking researchers has been enhanced and widened the scope of the literature of misinformation in the country, it recommends more capacity-building initiatives like the Dubawa Fellowship Programme and further rigorous and evidence-based research around misinformation to help stakeholders promote policies and initiatives that stem the tide of information pollution in Nigeria.

Introduction 

Literature around fact-checking and information disorder in Nigeria has witnessed a tremendous boost in recent times, owing to the efforts of the fact-checking organisations that are developing the capacity of researchers through various training and fellowship programmes. One of these initiatives was a fellowship programme organised by Dubawa, Nigeria’s first indigenous fact-checking organisation. As reported by the Premium Times (2020), the Dubawa Fact-Checking Fellowship aims at providing an opportunity for analytic, dedicated, and innovative journalists to research and write truth-based and factual stories; and also to institute a culture of fact-checking in newsrooms across Nigeria and Ghana.

Fact-checking researchers who were products of this capacity development effort were drawn from the realm of academics and media environment and have deployed their expertise to contribute to the literature of fact-checking and information disorder ecosystem in Nigeria.

Jamiu Folarin (2020) had earlier given a poser as to whether fact-checking was relatively new as the body of knowledge that has just been created or popularised outside academia. The study had also reported experts’ worries over the dearth of data on information disorder in Nigeria and why experts challenged researchers in the country to take their time to interrogate the mis/disinformation ecosystem by exploring the dynamics of the work process of fact-checking organisations in Nigeria. 

However, Briony Swire-Thomson, a Northeastern University postdoctoral candidate, had earlier affirmed fact-checking research as a new area of interest. “Through time, the application (misinformation research) has become more and more glaringly obvious…This is a new area of research and we still don’t have a good handle on underlying mechanisms” (Funke, Daniel, 2018). This is where Dubawa intervention has come to fill the crack left by the misinformation research deficit in Nigeria. 

The baseline assessment carried out from Dubawa’s website vis-a-vis recent fact-checking research studies shows that the literature has grown in the areas of information disorder around election, health, politics, civil unrest, media development, national security among others. While the narrative around the dearth of data and research-based literature about fact-checking is changing, there is a need to take a cursory look at various studies that have been conducted in recent times on fact-checking and information disorder that can serve as a compendium for new researchers in the field. The essence of this analysis is to have a template on major themes of existing studies, especially on how they were conducted, their findings, and their broad contributions to the body of knowledge.

Research Objectives

  • Examine the thematic areas of the existing literature on fact-checking published on Dubawa website in recent time;
  • Examine the methods adopted for the studies;
  • Evaluate their findings and broad contributions to knowledge in the field.

Overview of Existing Literature 

Research around fact-checking and information disorder ecosystem in Nigeria is novel. As the issues about information pollution started gaining attention of different stakeholders including the government, technology companies, news media, and the citizens, it is natural that researchers brace up to study the phenomenon, help the stakeholders understand the problem better, and recommend policies that work. As observed by Leticia Bode, an assistant professor in the Communication, Culture and Technology program at Georgetown University, “Research can help us understand the mechanisms behind patterns we see, and understanding those mechanisms is key for being able to alter behaviours or outcomes… more information is always a good thing” (Funke Daniel, 2018) 

Different research studies  in Nigeria have been deployed to x-ray key issues around fact-checking as a new area of research activity and provide reasonable contributions on different perspectives. Some of these perspectives include politics and election, health, news media and credibility issues, civil unrest, use of technology among others.

Raji (2020a), while evaluating the scourge of fake news in Nigeria  situated the studies within the Nigerian milieu and assessed the positions of existing  authors, experts, readers (including offline and online audience) and other related texts to understand the scourge and finds that ‘fake news’ thrives in Nigeria in its different variants. These variants include misinformation, disinformation, and mal-information. The study finds out that the nation’s culture of ‘closed’ (as opposed to open) governance, which thrives on official secrecy and dearth of timely official information, is a recipe for the scourge to spread. 

The outbreak and spread of Covid-19 in the world and of course in Nigeria in 2020 brought another dimension to the level and quality of information consumption. The volume of information pollution witnessed during the period posed a lot of challenges to fact-checkers in Nigeria who had to develop multi-pronged strategies to verify several claims and counter-claims around the pandemic. To assess the level of their success and otherwise, Adeniran (2020a) examines fact-checks on two leading fact-checking organisations in Nigeria, Dubawa and Africa Check to understand the nature of COVID-19 misinformation among Nigerians. The study leverages the partnership that existed between these organisations and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), with the mandate to continuously track and promptly debunk “coronavirus-related misinformation, disinformation, and mal-information to limit the spread to limit the the spread of false information around coronavirus in Nigeria”

Raji (2020b)Investigates the attitude of the news audiences to viral misinformation, particularly one shared on social media platforms, as it relates to the nationwide protest, seeking to examine the audience’s ability to spot fake information relating to #EndSARS protest, the audience’s most reliable source of information during the protest, whether or not the audiences were ready to verify information to which they were exposed, particularly in the post-shooting protest.

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. It is against this background that Folarin (2020a) interrogates the “fact-checking ecosystem by providing a guide for all stakeholders.” To achieve this, the study “collates data, analyses, and discusses them briefly in relation to media organisations on the frontline of combating information disorder in Nigeria.”

Aside Covid-19 and other health related misinformation, the election period in Nigeria is always another challenging period with viral misinformation being spread by political actors and their supporters. Despite that the governorship election conducted in Edo state in 2020 was an off-season election, the stake was high and this raised the tempo at which misinformation was weaponised. To track the efforts of fact-checkers in verifying viral false information during the election, Adeniran (2020b) compares and contrasts fact-checks on the recently concluded Edo elections across the active fact-checking organisations in Nigeria, with a view to providing insights on the activities of various fact-checking organisations in Nigeria.

#EndSARS protest in Nigeria was another trying time when disinformation and misinformation got increasingly weaponised by different actors. Expectedly, fact-checkers were undaunted in their strategies to flag viral false information. As these were going on, fact-checking researchers too were not resting on their oars. In Folarin (2020b), efforts were made to examine the veracity of claims made during the 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. 

Part of the ways fact-checkers are achieving their goals is partnering with and training local news media and journalists for effecting mopping of false contents in the public space. To examine if these efforts are yielding results, Raji (2020c) did a mapping of local efforts at embracing fact-checking by investigating the impact of fact-checking training on the Nigerian journalists. This was also part of the efforts to examine the impact of collaboration with partners against information disorder by the technology companies, particularly facebook that Folarin (2020c) also undertook as “an assessment of Facebook policy on fact-checking politicians and reflected on whether this policy has influence on the editorial contents of fact-checking organisations in Nigeria” (Africa Check, Dubawa and AFP Hub) which are all signatories to the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN).  

The foregoing has been a review of a number of research articles selected for this analysis. There is a need to have an insight into the making of these articles. What are the thematic areas of the existing literature on fact-checking published on Dubawa website in recent time? What research methods were adopted for the studies? What were their findings and broad contributions to the body of knowledge?

Methods adopted for this Review

This analysis explored a qualitative method of research, using the content analysis of nine research articles authored by three fact-checking researchers and published on Dubawa’s website between August and December, 2020.  For the data collection, the study employed a direct observation of the published articles while secondary data were sourced from other related literature, reports and periodicals. Quoting Patton (1987, 184), Okoro et al (2019) affirmed that, in qualitative inquiry “[t]here are no rules for sample size; it only depends on what you want to know, the purpose of the inquiry, what’s at stake, what will be useful, what will have credibility, and what can be done with available time and resources.” Based on the above and since this study was aimed at summarising the articles authored by Nigeria Dubawa’s fact-checking researchers, samples were drawn from three articles per researcher, making a total of nine.

Findings

Thematic Areas 

This study examined the contribution of fact-checking researchers on Dubawa’s platform to the literature of the information disorder ecosystem in Nigeria. It aimed at providing a mini compendium of existing research on misinformation with specific objectives to examine the thematic areas of the existing literature on fact-checking published on Dubawa website in recent time, examine the methods adopted for the studies, and evaluate their findings and broad contributions to the body of knowledge.

The data gathered were analysed, taking into consideration their manifest and latent meanings, while secondary data were used to support the analysis.

Politics and Election

One of the articles, Fact-Checking the Edo Elections: A Review of the publications by Fact-Checking Organisations in Nigeria (Adeniran, 2020b), being reviewed in this analysis focused on misinformation around politics and election. It chronicled the claims that attracted multiple fact-checking that bordered on candidates’ achievement or allegations against them.  Some of the claims border on issues of unemployment figures, allegation of corruption against candidates, and peddling of false impressions about key actors in the election. These claims were treated differently by each of the organisations but they mostly returned similar verdicts on the claims.  The differences were noted in the sources of the claims, shared platform, intended targets of the claim, fact-checking tool, and specified fact-checking procedure.

Civil Matters

A couple of articles under this category have dealt with issues arising from civil unrest and misinformation arising from such issues. These articles include #EndSARS Protests: Fact Checkers rate at least 45 claims as False, Misleading (Folarin, 2020b); Understanding Audience Attitude Towards Trending Misinformation During #EndSARSProtest in Nigeria (Raji, 2020) and Analysis of Claims on #EndSARS Protest in Nigeria: Images most manipulated content, Twitter as major platform (Folarin, 2020b). 

Fact-checking and the News Media

The researchers under review show unalloyed passion towards news media development in relation to fact-checking journalism. 

In Fact-Checking Ecosystem: Media Organisations on the Frontline of Combating Information Disorder in Nigeria (Folarin, 2020a), the researcher takes a chronicle of the efforts of the news media and fact-checking organisations fighting misinformation in Nigeria. The study brought international dimension of fact-checking to the debut of these organisations in Nigeria. 

In the following studies:  A Six-year Mapping of Fact-Checks Shows Growing Partnership Between Newsrooms and Fact-Checking Organisations in Nigeria (Raji, 2020), Impact of Fact-Checking Training on the Nigerian Journalists to mitigate the spread of mis/disinformation (Raji, 2020), the researcher looks at credibility issues in the news media and how fact-checking journalism has come to fill the gap. It shows the growing relationship between newsrooms and fact-checking journalism in Nigeria, the prospect of the growth and why newsrooms must accept fact-checking, not just as part of journalistic practices in the newsrooms, but as a separate field of endeavour in amplifying the culture of truth which aims to restore content credibility in the news media. 

Health Misinformation 

Health misinformation, particularly the ones relating to COVID-19 gained the attention of researchers across the board. Nigeria is not an exception. One of the studies that helped the world see infodemic around health issues was Cure Myths and False Ratings Lead COVID-19 Fact-Checks in Nigeria, With Governments as Most Targeted Entities (Adeniran, 2020). 

What Methods did the researchers Adopt in their Studies?

These researchers adopted varied methods to answer their research questions. What has been observed is a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods.  On data collection method and analysis, survey and content analysis were mostly used in the studies such as: 

  • A Six-year Mapping of Fact-Checks Shows Growing Partnership Between Newsrooms and Fact-Checking Organisations in Nigeria (Raji, 2020)
  • Understanding Audience Attitude Towards Trending Misinformation During #EndSARS Protest in Nigeria”(Raji, 2020)
  • Impact of Fact-Checking Training on the Nigerian Journalists to mitigate the spread of mis/disinformation” (Raji, 2020)
  • Cure Myths and False Ratings Lead COVID-19 Fact-Checks in Nigeria, With Governments as Most Targeted Entities (Adeniran, 2020)
  • Fact-Checking the Edo Elections: A Review of the publications by Fact-Checking Organisations in Nigeria (Adeniran, 2020)
  • Facebook Fact-Checking Policy Framework and Nigerian Politicians: A Critical Reflection (Folarin, 2020)
  • Analysis of Claims on #EndSARS Protest in Nigeria: Images most manipulated content, Twitter as major platform (Folarin, 2020)

Meanwhile,  in a study, Fact-Checking Guide: Brief on Media Organisations on the Frontline of Combating Information Disorder in Nigeria (Folarin, 2020), interviews, archival materials, and qualitative content analysis were used as methods of data collection and analysis.

What did these Researchers find out in their Studies?

There have been considerable findings generated from the studies under review. These findings range from policy change, evidence of virality of claims, impact of fact-checking partnership among others. For instance, one of the studies conducted on the growth of fact-checking in the Nigerian newsrooms found that there was “evidence of growing partnership between newsrooms and fact-checking organisations in Nigeria” (Raji, 2020).

One of the articles, while examining the focus of fact-checks on coronavirus in Dubawa and Africa Check, found that “misinformation around the pandemic was rife in the early months of the outbreak, with high fact-checks published in March and April while experiencing gradual decline afterwards” (Adeniran, 2020). The same article also found that “collaborative efforts drive publication of fact-checks around the issues of interest with high tracking of misinformation on Facebook and debunking of a noticeably high number of claims.”

Folarin (2020) unearthed the challenges faced by the fact-checking organisations in Nigeria and found that these challenges 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’’. 

What were the Researchers’ Contributions to Knowledge?

The fact-checking researchers in Nigeria understand the need to fill the gaps created by the dearth of credible data and evidence-based research around misinformation. Observation from the studies being reviewed shows that considerable contributions have been made to the body of knowledge. 

Folarin (2020) observes, as a gap, the absence of any  research that addresses the implication of the “new Facebook policy framework on the editorials of fact-checking organisations in Nigeria’”. In a study: “Facebook Fact-Checking Policy Framework and Nigerian Politicians: A Critical Reflection”, the researcher concludes that “the changes in Facebook policy on fact-checking political claims and ads on its platform was an attempt to maintain a balance between entrenching free speech and bringing sanity to the digital public space often weaponised for political gains.”

Adeniran (2020) had attempted to provide answers to the research question that bordered on the nature of COVID-19 misinformation popularly spread among Nigerians and concluded that misinformation on “potential cure, official policies and pronouncements, funding of COVID-19 and palliatives; and prevention, are frequently shared on social media platforms in Nigeria”.

Raji (2020) also sought to provide evidence-based data on the relationships that existed between independent fact-checkers and newsrooms in Nigeria as well as the growth prospects of such relationships. The researcher concludes that the steady growth in the uptake of fact-checking in the Nigerian newsrooms was occasioned by the relationship that existed and that this was in line with ‘’the theory of change embraced by Dubawa Nigeria which is about providing factual information and building capacity of newsrooms to fact-check.”

Conclusion 

Dubawa’s Fellowship Programme has developed the capacity of a select group of researchers drawn from academics and media environments to provide evidence-based research around information disorder in Nigeria. This analysis serves as a review of the contributions to knowledge of literature of misinformation made by these researchers in Nigeria through the lens of a selected research article published on the Dubawa website between July and December, 2020. The essence of this is to provide a compendium of studies that captured an array of thematic areas of misinformation ranging from politics and election, health,  civil matters to news media development. The analysis also reviewed the methods of research adopted for their studies, their findings, and what they have contributed to knowledge. 

Findings show that these researchers focused on health misinformation, politics and election, policy change, civil matters and news media development. Many of the studies under review were conducted through surveys and content analysis as research methods of data collection and analysis, with only a few using interview and qualitative content analysis.  

The researchers’ findings range from evidence of growing relationship between fact-checking organisations in Nigeria and the newsrooms, to the evidence showing the fact that “collaborative efforts drive publication of fact-checks around the issues of interest with high tracking of misinformation’ and that “misinformation around the pandemic was rife in the early months of the outbreak” in Nigeria.

Lastly, review shows that these researchers’ contribution to knowledge includes the provision of evidence-based information on  ‘’the changes in Facebook policy on fact-checking political claims and ads on its platform,” frequently shared misinformation on social media platforms in Nigeria about COVID-19,” “relationships between independent fact-checkers and newsrooms in Nigeria,” among others.

It is the conclusion of this review analysis that the capacity of the Nigerian fact-checking researchers has been enhanced and they have widened the scope of the literature of misinformation in Nigeria.

By way of recommendation, more capacity-building initiatives like the Dubawa Fellowship Programme  ought to be encouraged to further enrich the expertise of the Nigerian researchers toward providing valuable data around the information disorder ecosystem in Nigeria. While this is expected to happen, further rigorous and evidence-based research around misinformation is recommended to help stakeholders such as the government, news media, fact-checkers, and technology companies promote policies and initiatives that stem the tide of information pollution in Nigeria.

*This study is conducted for the Dubawa Fellowship programme, and is supported by Heinrich Boll Stiftung Foundation Abuja office.

References

Adeniran R. (2020a). “WhatsApp, Facebook, and blogs lead as sources of covid-19 claims fact-checked on Dubawa”. Retrieved from https://dubawa.org/whatsapp-facebook-and-blogs-lead-as-sources-of-covid-19-claims-fact-checked-on-dubawa/

Adeniran, R. (2020b). “Fact-Checking the Edo Elections: A Review of the publications by Fact-Checking Organisations in Nigeria”. https://dubawa.org/fact-checking-the-edo-elections-a-review-of-the-publications-by-fact-checking-organisations-in-nigeria/

Adeniran, R. (2020c). Cure Myths and False Ratings Lead COVID-19 Fact-Checks in Nigeria, With Governments as Most Targeted Entities”.https://dubawa.org/cure-myths-and-false-ratings-lead-covid-19-fact-checks-in-nigeria-with-governments-as-most-targeted-entities-2/

Danie, F. (2018). “These academics are on the frontlines of fake news research”.https://www.poynter.org/fact-checking/2018/these-academics-are-on-the-frontlines-of-fake-news-research/

Folarin, J. (2020a). “Fact-Checking Guide: Brief on Media Organisations on the Frontline of Combating Information Disorder in Nigeria”.https://dubawa.org/fact-checking-guide-brief-on-media-organisations-on-the-frontline-of-combating-information-disorder-in-nigeria/

Folarin, J. (2020b). “Analysis of Claims on #EndSARS Protest in Nigeria: Images most manipulated content, Twitter as major platform”. https://dubawa.org/analysis-of-claims-on-endsars-protest-in-nigeria-images-most-manipulated-content-twitter-as-major-platform/

Folarin, J. (2020c) “Facebook Fact-Checking Policy Framework and Nigerian Politicians: A Critical Reflection”. https://dubawa.org/facebook-fact-checking-policy-framework-and-nigerian-politicians-a-critical-reflection/

Okoro, N. & Emmanuel, N.O. (2019): Beyond Misinformation: Survival Alternatives for Nigerian Media in the “Post-Truth” Era, African Journalism Studies”. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/330724366_Beyond_Misinformation_Survival_Alternatives_for_Nigerian_Media_in_the_Post-Truth_Era

Raji, R. (2020a). “Fake News”: Understanding the Scourge in Nigeria. https://dubawa.org/fake-news-understanding-the-scourge-in-nigeria/

Raji, R. (2020b). Understanding Audience Attitude Towards Trending Misinformation During #EndSARSProtest in Nigeria. Retrieved from https://dubawa.org/understanding-audience-attitude-towards-trending-misinformation-during-endsarsprotest-in-nigeria/

Raji, R. (2020c). “A Six-year Mapping of Fact-Checks Shows Growing Partnership Between Newsrooms and Fact-Checking Organisations in Nigeria”.https://dubawa.org/a-six-year-mapping-of-fact-checks-shows-growing-partnership-between-newsrooms-and-fact-checking-organisations-in-nigeria/

Raji, R. (2020d). “Impact of Fact-Checking Training on the Nigerian Journalists to mitigate the spread of mis/disinformation”. https://dubawa.org/impact-of-fact-checking-training-on-the-nigerian-journalists-to-mitigate-the-spread-of-mis-disinformation/

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