Factchecking 101 For The Average Nigerian

There is growing concern the world over about the ever increasing prevalence of fake news, and how this disturbing development seems to be taking on a life of its own.

Many parts of the globe are volatile due to political, economic, social and religious grievances. This becomes even more worrisome given that ours [Nigeria] is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society where there is always a need to work on our unity and cohesiveness.

And it is in such situations that fakenews (otherwise known as misinformation, disinformation or malinformation) thrives.

Fakenews, itself, is a term also known as junk news or pseudo-news, that describes a type of yellow journalism or propaganda that consists of deliberate disinformation or hoaxes spread via traditional news media or online social media. 

According to Wikipedia, “fake news is written and published usually with the intent to mislead in order to damage an agency, entity or person and/or gain financially or politically, often using sensationalist, dishonest, or outright fabricated headlines to increase readership”.

Fakenews became popularised by the current President of the United States of America who terms any information that doesn’t align with his beliefs as fake. However, this is wrong as true information that you don’t like IS NOT fake news. Tagging it as fakenews does not remove the truth in it.

In fact, Claire Wardle, a research fellow at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy warns against the use of the term as it undermines what the media does. She also provides a useful classification of wrong information that can help in analysing what we consume:

1)    Satire or Parody: this category of news has no intention to cause harm but has the potential to fool.

2)    Misleading Content: This is the misleading use of information to frame an issue or lead its reader or audience down the wrong path.

3)    Imposter Content: This happens when genuine sources are impersonated

4)    Fabricated Content: In this situation, the new content is 100% false and is designed to deceive and do harm. this is probably the kind that inflicts the most damage

5)    False Connection: In this situation, the headlines, visuals or captions don’t support the content.

6)    False Context: Here, genuine content is shared with false contextual information.

7)    Manipulated Content: When genuine information or imagery is manipulated with intent to deceive.

If this is such a lengthy classification, one can easily group every information we read -or hear- as either misinformation, disinformation or malinformation. 

Dis-information is the deliberate spread of wrong information. Mis-information is the mistaken or inadvertent spread of wrong information. And just as in the case of deliberately created fake news, the news could acquire a life of its own, and go viral, thereby spreading like wildfire. Mal-information is when genuine information is shared to cause harm, often by moving information designed to stay private into the public sphere.

Why You Should Care!

Because wrong information is known to sow seeds of discord between friends, ruin careers, create disharmony between spouses and bring about disquiet amongst tribes, communities and even religious adherents.

Sometimes ambiguous developments could be snatched at by people who simply want to cause mischief within the society. And you do not want to be a tool in the hands of selfish politicians or businessmen. 

A case in point is the recent brouhaha that has enveloped the new Nigerian e-passport which features a herdsman and his cattle. Some people have seized this opportunity to claim that it is proof of the Islamization of Nigeria by Buhari, forgetting to point out that other pages on the same passport depict the cultural peculiarities of other ethnic groups in the country. E.g. a picture of the Eyo masquerade of the Yoruba festival for which Lagos is very popular, a picture of a bronze sculpture from the ancient Benin kingdom, and a picture on a different page depicting young maidens dressed in the unmistakable costumes of the Efik/Ibibio dance troupes of the Akwa Ibom/Cross River axis.

For comparison, a look at the passport of the United States of America shows similar depictions of things significant to that country, from oxen-drawn ploughs to grains native to the USA.

It becomes clear here that if you do not objectively think about information presented to you, you may become swayed by sentiments and act in ways that are detrimental to our nation, Nigeria. 

According to Mr Dapo Olurunyomi, Publisher/CEO of Premium Times, repetition of news and rumours can affect beliefs.

The more a rumour is repeated, the more likely it is to be believed and people are more likely to believe a rumour if it aligns with their existing beliefs/knowledge. The logic here being that, if you believe something you are more likely to propagate it.

“So it matters how we treat rumours because we can give them credibility and oxygen”.

So, here are some best practices for treating information you come across:

  1. Think before you spread. Trust me, wrong information affects you too!
  2. Be skeptical; don’t rush to be spread
  3. Confirm the content of the information, especially date, time, location
  4. Also ask yourself: 
  • who wrote it?
  • Can I verify the claims? Before you share: Ask the sender if the same claim has been reported on any trusted news sites or other sources, and make sure these aren’t hoax sites. Even then, double-check the facts.
  • Does the information make me scared or angry? Many fake messages try to make us scared or angry about something. Before you share: Ask yourself if the message is playing on people’s fears or prejudices, and double-check the facts.
  • Does it include shocking pictures, video or audio? Many fake messages use pictures, video or audio to trick us. Before you share: Check if the media has been edited, and double-check to see if it’s actually from a previous event or different place.
  •  Am I sure this is not a hoax? Many fake messages can be checked out online. You can search for reliable news sites or fact-checking websites such as Dubawa, or AFP Nigeria. Before you share: Search online to see if the message has already been fact-checked or reported as a hoax.

Our Conclusion?

Don’t share information unless you are sure it’s true. Just because it’s on a website or social media doesn’t mean it’s true!

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