The political landscape in Liberia is poised for critical decision-making on Oct. 10, 2023, the country’s general election. With 20 contenders vying for the highest office in the nation, the stakes have never been higher. Two prominent figures, George Weah, the incumbent president representing the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), and Joseph Boakai from the Unity Party (UP), have emerged as frontrunners, capturing the nation’s attention and igniting passionate debates among the electorate.
As Liberia prepares to exercise its democratic right to choose its next leader, one pressing concern looms large: the proliferation of misinformation (the spread of false or misleading information) and disinformation (the deliberate dissemination of false information). These have become pervasive elements in modern political campaigns with the potential to shape public perception, influence voter behaviour, and, ultimately, impact the outcome of elections.
In view of the insidious role mis and disinformation play in elections across the globe, DUBAWA has analysed the complex web of information disorder to ascertain who spread the most mis/disinformation in the context of Liberia’s upcoming general election. This report explores how various actors, including political parties and leaders, media outlets, social media platforms, and external influencers, have played a role in disseminating misleading information.
The report sheds light on the multifaceted dynamics surrounding misinformation, examining not only the worst offenders but also the victims—those who were targeted by these false narratives, manipulation, or divisive tactics. By unravelling these intricate threads, the researcher seeks to provide a comprehensive understanding of the challenges posed by misinformation and disinformation, as well as the implications for the democratic process and the overall political landscape in Liberia.
In sum, this report seeks to explore:
- Which party (supporters) spread the most mis/disinformation
- Which of the sources were used more in spreading the information disorder
- Issues which formed the basis of mis/disinformation.
This study was carried out using content analysis to identify false or misleading claims made either in favour of or against the George Weah-led administration and his opposition in the run-up to the 2023 general election in Liberia. The data collection process involved systematically gathering election-related fact-checks on DUBAWA, Africa Check and Local Voice Liberia, specifically focusing on materials pertaining to the candidates and the election. The three platforms were selected because of their reach and relevance in covering elections in the subregion. The timeframe was limited to reports published between Jan. and Oct. 3, 2023.
False accusations, misrepresented facts, fabricated evidence, and deceptive narratives were themes identified and categorised for the purpose of this analysis. The report also validated the accuracy of the identified claims, differentiating between unintentional errors (misinformation) and deliberate misinformation (disinformation).
In the analysis, DUBAWA contributed 13 publications that met the criteria, representing 54.2% of the total fact-checks. At the same time, Africa Check had only one publication that aligned with the research objectives, accounting for 4.2% of the total fact-checks. Local Voice Liberia contributed ten publications, constituting 41.7% of the total fact-checks. These percentages from the 24 articles reviewed, provide insights into the relative availability of fact-checks from different sources and serve as an important aspect of our data collection approach, ensuring a comprehensive and representative analysis of misinformation surrounding the election.
After gathering data and analysing the same, DUBAWA discovered that radio formed a core medium through which the pieces of misinformation sourced by the fact-checkers were spread. Radio was employed in 12 instances constituting (50%) while Facebook was used on nine occasions, representing 37.5%. On three identified occasions, as can be seen here, here and here, the medium for dissemination was unknown or unidentified, representing 12.5%.
Table 1: Showing frequency of medium used for misinformation.
Who tops the mis/disinformation chart?
In determining who tops this chart, the researcher looked at the claimants, their role as ministers, or affiliations with either the governing party or the opposition. Where it was not clear, where the claimant’s affiliation is, the researcher tagged that claim as neutral.
Out of the total publications, 12 showed misinformation championed by supporters or members of the cabinet of the George Weah-led administration. Some of these reports appeared to boost the reputation of Weah as a good leader who needs to be retained in office. This translates to 50% of the total misinformation identified. Some of these reports can be seen here, here and here.
George Weah’s contender from the major opposition Unity Party, Joseph Boakai, had four situations (16.7%) where misinformation deployed was against him. These can be found here, here, here and here. However, we cannot establish the fact that the purveyors of the misinformation were necessarily George Weah’s supporters. Also, we cannot verify if the six cases of misinformation at 25% made against the Weah administration were from members of the opposition, like when Henry Costa –a popular political commentator who fell out with the Unity Party’s Joseph Boakai– claimed that Liberia was the only country that did not receive the MCC grant despite its scorecard eligibility.
Table 2: Showing nuances of misinformation shared by agents
This table explores the total number of reports that appear to indict or boost the reputations of the candidates involved in the general elections.
NB. Positive are the reports that seek to boost the reputation of a candidate
Negative stands for the reports that seek to indict a candidate.
Table 3: Showing misinformation purveyors’ allegiance
This table explores the identifiable agents who disseminated false or misleading information. The researcher assessed the personalities who made the claim, and their affiliations to either the candidate in government or in opposition. Where it was difficult to tell the claimant’s affiliations the researcher described them as neutral.
DUBAWA also observed that a significant portion of the misinformation by George Weah and his supporters that were fact-checked was centred around specific issues. Approximately nine cases (37.5%) of the misinformation pertained to the economic state of Liberia’s citizens. A case was related to security – same as women’s inclusion– at 4.2%. Agriculture was mentioned twice (8.3%). Five cases (20.3%) revolved around national debt and poverty alleviation, while six cases (25%) were centred on infrastructure development.
Table 4: Showing topics of misinformation.
In contrast, we found four instances, constituting 16.7% of the total misinformation identified, where false or misleading claims were made concerning the state of the Liberian economic performance and policies under the current administration. Equally, the same statistics cast doubt on the government’s efforts in the health sector.
The following is a comprehensive table of the claim, the medium used and the verdict. It also includes a summary of the content and the institution that fact-checked the claim.
|Liberia is the poorest and least educated in Africa||False||Providence Baptist Church||DUBAWA||Question government’s effectiveness in the affected sector||George Weah(Negative)|
|George Weah took 24,000 Liberians out of poverty, between 2018 and 2017||Radio||Misleading||Samuel Tweah Jr||Africa Check||Praise government’s efforts in poverty alleviation||George Weah(Positive)|
|Only Liberia did not receive MCC grant despite passing scorecard||Radio||False||Henry Costa||LVL||Question Liberia’s economic growth potentials||George Weah(Negative)|
|Joseph Boakai is hospitalised||False||Shine Liberia||DUBAWA||Question candidate’s health||Joseph Boakai(Negative)|
|The current government inherited a budget of US$27 million for Public Sector Investment||Radio||False||Benedict Kolubah||LVL||Praise government’s prudence||George Weah(Positive)|
|Joseph Boakai said George Weah sells Kush||Radio||Misleading||Kanio Bala Gbala||DUBAWA||Implicate the opposition||Joseph Boakai(Negative)|
|Liberia’s debt distress is at “moderate level”||Unknown||False||George Weah||LVL||Laud the government debt management||George Weah(Positive)|
|George Weah paved 627 km of roads in 5 years||Radio||False||Samuel Tweah Jr||LVL||Praise government’s efforts in road infrastructure||George Weah(Positive)|
|Liberia has highest rainfall rate globally||Radio||Misleading||Simeon Freeman||DUBAWA||Promote his agenda on climate||Simeon Freeman(Positive)|
|Weah reduced electricity tariff for business people by more than 100%||Radio||False||Samuel Tweah Jr||LVL||Praise government’s success in electricity||George Weah(Positive)|
|George Weah constructed the Invincible Sport Park||Radio||Misleading||Samuel Tweah Jr||DUBAWA||Praise Weah’s contribution to sport infrastructure||George Weah(Positive)|
|Clar Weah got $700, 000 budget||False||Martin Kollie||LVL||Accuse George Weah of nepotism||George Weah(Negative)|
|George and Clar had $11.2m budget||False||Martin Kollie||LVL||Accuse George Weah of misappropriation||George Weah(Positive)|
|Liberia has 230, 000 registered motorcyclists/ tricyclists||Unknown||Misleading||John Kenyor||DUBAWA||Announce support for Boakai||Joseph Boakai(Positive)|
|George Weah reduced poverty by 8%||Radio||False||Jewel Taylor||LVL||Laud government’s alleviation programmes||George Weah(Positive)|
|Infant mortality increased in Liberia between 2018 and 2022||Radio||False||Amos Tweh||LVL||Question government’s effectiveness in health sector||George Weah(Negative)|
|56 parliament members endorsed George Weah||Misleading||Executive Mansion Liberia||DUBAWA||Announce a boost to Weah’s reelection bid||George Weah(Positive)|
|Inflation was at 30% in 2017 under Unity Party||Radio||False||Randall Dobayou||DUBAWA||Accuse Unity Party of economic mismanagement||Joseph Boakai(Negative)|
|Weah increased Armed Forces budget by $4 million in 2022||False||MICAT||DUBAWA||Praise Weah’s investment in the military||George Weah(Positive)|
|George is Liberia’s “Feminist-in- Chief”||False||Executive Mansion||DUBAWA||Praise Weah’s gender equality projects||George Weah(Positive)|
|Joseph Boakai withdrew bid to contest for presidency||False||Sekou Damaro||DUBAWA||Announce an end to Boakai’s candidacy||Joseph Boakai(Negative)|
|George Weah has built more hospitals than previous administrations||Unknown||False||George Weah||LVL||Praise Weah’s improvement of the health sector||George Weah(Positive)|
|Doctor-to- patient rate in Liberia is 1-to-20,000||False||Martin Kollie||DUBAWA||Accuse Weah of poor investment in health||George Weah (Negative)|
|George Weah reduced open defecation in Liberia from 42% in 2018 to 38%||Radio||Misleading||Bobby Whitefield||DUBAWA||Praise Weah’s emphasis on hygiene||George Weah (Positive)|
Our analysis primarily focused on publicly available information, potentially excluding misinformation disseminated through private channels like closed social media groups or private messaging platforms. As a result, assessing the virality of such misinformation for scrutiny and fact-checking is a challenge that limits the scope of this analysis.
In the data collected leading up to Liberia’s pivotal 2023 general election, we found the significant perpetrators of misinformation within the political landscape. Our findings revealed how the George Weah-led administration and the opposition disseminated misinformation frequently, albeit in different ways and to varying degrees.
While both sides of the political spectrum were impacted by misinformation, more fact-checks were carried out on false or misleading claims from the Weah administration.
It is important to note that misinformation poses a significant challenge to the integrity of democratic processes, regardless of the beneficiaries. To safeguard the democratic discourse in Liberia, efforts must be directed toward countering misinformation, promoting accurate information, and fostering critical thinking among citizens. In doing so, Liberia can aspire to more transparent and informed electoral processes, enhancing the democratic foundations of the nation.