The birth and popularity of social media have deepened people’s wider access to information. In contemporary society and across geographic regions and different ethnic and socio-economic groups, overload of information has had its attendant effect on society. As such, fake news, especially on social media, is now regarded as one of the main digital threats to democracy, journalism, and freedom of expression. This is sadly profound with the impact of social media on calls for secessions from different parts of the country.
In the last century, a wave of secessionist movements pervaded different regions across the globe and The Biafra and Ilana Omo Odua movements are a microcosm of these global separatist agitations whose activities have been largely promoted by the social media.
According to an International Relations expert and founder of California-based security group, VonFrederick Global Security, Dr. Lionel Rawlins, separatism is a global issue, and almost every country globally has at least a separatist movement.
“It’s just that we never heard about them in the past, but because of the advent of social media, we are now hearing about them. Also, people believe that if they register grievances through social media, they will get a reaction, and if the world community listens to their cause, they believe something will happen,” he said.
Secessionism is a political program based on the demand for a formal withdrawal of a bounded territory from an internationally recognized state with the aim of creating a new state on that territory, which is expected to gain formal recognition by other states (and the UN).
Separatist movements feed on local grievances on the basis of affinity, thus making whatever obvious benefits their in-groups can get from the Nigerian federation. This makes it easier for such in-groups to position themselves as liberators or even messiahs to such groups. In this way, separatists, including Biafra agitators, often use a shared victimhood narrative as a tool of mobilization and bond-building among the people they claim they are trying to “liberate.”
Also, the filming for distribution of activities by secessionist groups via social media platforms represent a geopolitical trend and new frontline for proxy wars across the globe. While social media does indeed advance connectivity and wealth among people, its proliferation at the same time results in a markedly less stable world.
Notwithstanding the exponential growth of user-generated content, people prefer to congregate online around like-minded individuals. Rather than seek out new beliefs, people choose to reinforce their existing political opinions through their actions online.
Individuals self-organize on the basis of affinity, where the resultant in-group members share sensibilities. The ecosystem of social media is based on delivering more of what the user already likes. This, indeed, is the function of a Follow or Like.
This is evident in some pages on Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, and Instagram dedicated to reporting and distributing matters concerning secession and their principal’s actions.
These social media handles and many more have over the years been caught in the web of fake news dissemination and below are some examples.
- On WhatsApp, it was claimed through a viral video that a large entourage followed Sunday Igboho to court in Benin Republic.
The text on the video was misleading. The video was actually recorded in June 2021 when Sunday Igboho did a Yoruba Nation Rally in Ekiti State.
- A viral video surfaced online claiming that members of the Indigenous people of Biafra (IPOB) staged a mass protest over a recent arrest of their leader, Nnamdi Kanu. It showed IPOB members displaying their flags and chanting war songs.
The viral video is misleading as it is a 2015 video that resurfaced and is being circulated to sell a narrative that IPOB members constituted a nuisance after the arrest of their leader, causing a lot of gridlock in Port Harcourt.
- A Twitter user IPOB Biafraland twt head (@Biafralandtwt_1) shared a picture claiming to be a news studio belonging to the Indigenous people of Biafra (IPOB).
The claim is, however, not true as the pictures are rather of studios owned by Al Jazeera and American news website, The Hill.
- A footage of Nigerian President Muhamadu Buhari’s convoy was circulated by a Facebook user Prince Emmydon Emeka with a claim showing the African leader acknowledging the Biafran State by displaying the separatists’ flag on his car during a visit to Imo state.
The claim is false; the flag in the post is one of the official presidential flags that recognise the commander-in-chief of the country’s armed forces.
How to avoid being swayed by posts of secessionists on social media
The most important step to take is to understand your reflex of sharing posts that outrage you or resonate with your beliefs.
- Never share a post on social media without fact-checking. This is particularly important if it comes from a source you don’t trust. If you want to spread the truth, you need to assume that other people aren’t perfect and may make mistakes.
- Look out for the source of the story- Anonymous sources or stories coming from only a single source are more suspect than stories with multiple sources of confirmation. This doesn’t mean that they are false; many important leaks and stories have come from single anonymous sources. But don’t assume they are true, especially if they are sensational until there is confirmation.
- Contemplate the story’s agenda – Most times, stories are coloured by the agenda of their writers. Political organizations exist to get their agenda passed, and thus stories from these organizations should be suspected because they will always be intended to persuade. This does not make them automatically false but watch for emotional appeals and arguments designed to make you fearful or anxious.
A criterion for whether a particular separatist movement will be peaceful or violent will not only be based on the level of democracy and the rule of law in such a country where such separatist tendencies are observed but also how the social media propagate the cause of such separatist groups.
And as such, social media users have to be careful of the posts they churn out, share, like or follow on secession movements.
The researcher produced this media literacy article per the Dubawa 2021 Kwame KariKari Fellowship partnership with Crest FM, Akure, Ondo state to facilitate the ethos of “truth” in journalism and enhance media literacy in the country.