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Igbo Times Magazine: An old scheme to misinform social media users

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Critical thinkers and fact-checkers often ponder an endless question: why do people or entities persistently propagate false narratives despite clear evidence disproving them? It is perplexing why individuals, institutions, or organisations willingly engage in such behaviour, considering its detrimental impact on the information ecosystem.

However, this issue persists, and some mediums have even carved a niche for themselves as perpetual misinformers, making them subjects for DUBAWA’s investigation. One such organisation is the Igbo Times Magazine. Like many others, this publication has drawn DUBAWA’s attention due to its frequent dissemination of outrageous claims aimed at misleading social media users.

A typical example could be seen In March 2024,  when the acclaimed news platform published a report claiming that a 17-year-old boy from Enugu State fabricated a “Hydro Metallic Bomb” which was more powerful than a Russian MG4 missile and capable of destroying seven armoured tanks. The claim was shared on multiple Facebook groups, including the  Biafra Network News, Qua LityNews, and Aljazeera News.

When DUBAWA ran its checks, it was proven that the image of the boy in question was of a Ghanaian-British student, who had nothing to do with what the blog reported.

It’s not just that; when President Bola Ahmed Tinubu won the 2023 election, the candidates of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, and the Labour Party (LP), Peter Obi, expressed dissatisfaction with the electoral process and contested the verdict of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

While this was ongoing, the same blog shared an article alleging that the newly elected president ordered the suspension of all court charges of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT) over fear of his disqualification. DUBAWA verified and discovered this to be a false claim.

 Aside from these instances, several other claims from the same publication that have now been debunked can be found here, here, here, here , here, here, here, and here. One common and recurring aspect of the endless false claims shared by the blog is how many people followed and believed what the publication always put out. Many users, as evidenced by their comments, embraced the platform for the ideology and satisfactory bias it provided them. This acceptance seems not only to fortify their existing beliefs but also has a tendency to further propagate misinformation, as these individuals might share and spread false narratives within their own networks. 

 Misinformation, the spread of false or inaccurate information, is a growing threat in today’s digitally connected world. Its danger lies in its ability to rapidly propagate through social media and other online platforms, often outpacing the reach of factual information. 

This can lead to widespread public misunderstanding on critical health, political, and science issues, fostering mistrust, fear, and division within communities. In extreme cases, misinformation can have severe consequences, such as influencing elections, fueling social unrest, or undermining public health efforts, as seen with vaccine hesitancy. The insidious nature of misinformation erodes the foundation of informed decision-making, creating significant risks to societal stability and democratic processes.

Despite all efforts, the platform continues to share false information, prompting the recurring question: why? Reviewing Igbo Times Magazine’s various social media handles reveals that it describes itself as an acclaimed media/news company.

As of DUBAWA’s latest review, the Facebook account had 296,000 likes and 289,000 followers. On X (formerly Twitter), it had 1,969 followers. These accounts consistently share content that appears as snippets or teasers for reports published on its website—reports that have repeatedly been proven false.

When a person encounters a news teaser on social media and clicks the link for details, they are led to a poorly organised website. This site has sections for various report types, but the story clicked is often difficult to find.

Users are frequently redirected, preventing them from accessing the desired content. While a search function exists, it often leads to blank pages, further raising suspicions.

 Where Phishing Scams Come In

After several attempts, DUBAWA could barely access Igbo Times Magazine directly from the web. We often encountered blank pages with messages like “No information is available for this page” or “This site cannot be reached.” However, accessing the site through Facebook and Twitter was easier. See the website link here

Redirections from the news page often lead to betting sites, ads, or invitations to join platforms to earn money. One common pop-up from the Twitter page reads: “Congratulations! You have unlocked access to the biggest video game storage on the internet! Click OK to accept the invitation and play the new games without limit.”

Reputable websites do not obstruct user navigation, request personal information, or entice users to click for prizes. These traits are indicative of phishing scams.

Understanding Phishing Scams

Phishing scams are fraudulent attempts to obtain sensitive information, such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details, by pretending to be trustworthy in electronic communications. Common characteristics and types of phishing scams include:

1. Deceptive Emails: Phishing emails often come from legitimate sources such as banks, social media sites, online retailers, or other trusted organisations. They may use official logos, language, and formatting to look authentic.

2. Urgent or Threatening Language: These emails frequently create a sense of urgency or fear, suggesting a problem with your account or needing immediate action to avoid penalties.

3. Fake Links: Phishing emails often contain links that appear to lead to legitimate websites but redirect to fraudulent sites designed to capture your information.

4. Attachments: Some phishing emails include attachments that, when opened, can install malware on your computer or device.

Common Types of Phishing Scams

1. Email Phishing: This is the most common type of phishing. Attackers send emails that appear to come from a reputable source, prompting the recipient to click a link or download an attachment.

2. Spear Phishing: A more targeted form of phishing, spear phishing involves personalised emails sent to specific individuals or organisations. Attackers gather information about their targets to make the email more convincing.

3. Whaling: This type of spear phishing targets high-profile individuals such as executives or high-ranking officials. The goal is often to steal sensitive corporate data or gain access to critical systems.

4. Smishing: This involves phishing attempts via SMS (text messages). The messages often contain a link to a fraudulent website or a phone number to call.

5. Vishing: Phishing is conducted through voice calls, in which scammers impersonate legitimate entities to extract personal information over the phone.

6. Clone Phishing: Attackers create a near-identical copy of a legitimate email previously sent but modify the attachment or link to include malicious content.

Based on the characteristics of phishing scams, there are indications that Igbo Times Magazine may be involved in such schemes. This suggests that the platform is not only sharing false or misleading content but potentially scamming people who fall prey to its tactics.

Conclusion

Igbo Times Magazine thrives by employing new tactics to spread false narratives and cause chaos. It is not alone, many other platforms persist in similar activities. This underscores the need for media literacy, which encourages people to verify information, avoid sharing personal details with unknown platforms, and recognise phishing techniques. Coupled with ongoing efforts to combat misinformation, this will result in positive changes in the information ecosystem.

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