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Research: Analysis of Claims on #EndSARS Protest in Nigeria

By Folarin Jamiu

What started as a peaceful protest that compelled President Muhammadu Buhari to respond to the allegation of police brutality and extra-judicial killings of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) in Nigeria was later weaponised with provocations and disinformation leading to loss of lives and property. While the Nigerian Army was accused of using lethal weapons to disperse peaceful protesters at the Lekki Tollgate, some of the protesters and their sympathisers employed the weapon of mass dis and misinformation to counter the forceful dispersion of the protesters. There were claims and counter-claims, with  the two sides providing  narratives to win favourable public opinion. This incident laid credence to the assertion that dis and misinformation have the same potentials as weapons of mass destruction.

The above conclusion was based on the content analysis of fact-check stories on #EndSARS protest in Nigeria between 1st and 31st October, 2020 published by Africa Check, AFP Hub, Dubawa and People’s Check. The study focused the analysis on:

  • Media organisations that fact-checked contents concerning claims around the #EndSARS protest,
  • The number of fact-check stories about #EndSARS in the selected media organisations,
  • The stakeholders which  promoted the narratives  (Government, Protesters, Media, etc) of disinformation about #EndSARS protest,
  • The media platforms that were used to promote false information on #EndSARS protest, and 
  • The form of contents which the claims on #EndSARS protests were presented.

This content analysis provided the empirical data on the severity of dis and misinformation on the #EndSARS protest in Nigeria.

Dubawa being the first indigenous fact-checking outfit in Nigeria, published the highest number of fact-checks compared to Africa Check and AFP Hub. This indicated that due to proximity, Dubawa gave prominence to the #EndSARS protests more than other fact-checking organisations. 

Though social media users and celebrities accounted for a higher number of sources of claims on #EndSARS protest in the fact checks carried out by the selected fact-checking organisations, other stakeholders who were also sources of claims fact-checked included protesters, politicians, mainstream media, and security agencies.

Twitter was the dominant platform that was used to promote the claims on #EndSARS protest fact-checked by the selected fact-checking organisations. WhatsApp was expected to have been the major platform due to mass adoption and usage in Nigeria but Twitter occupied the position. This led the researcher to ask whether the support by the CEO of Twitter for #EndSARS protest contributed to this. Or it was influenced by the deliberate adoption of Twitter by the organisers of the protest.

The content analysis of fact-check of claims on #EndSARS protest identified images as the most manipulated contents. Over 50 percent of the claims were presented in image format, unlike audio that has no claim, with such format fact-checked, despite its popular use on WhatsApp.

Results and Analysis

Experts have linked protest with communication and one of the major tools of protesters and government is the adoption of information to sustain or discourage protests. In an attempt to win the information war, all manners of tactics are deployed to pollute the flow of  information to promote narratives to sway public opinion. This came into play during the October 2020 #EndSARS protest in Nigeria, calling for an end to police brutality and disbandment of the Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS). The protest started on October 7, a day after a video on Twitter went viral, showing a young man allegedly shot by SARS in Delta State.

Fact-checking organisations quickly brace up to the task by verifying claims made by the stakeholders directly or indirectly involved in the #EndSARS protest. Few days after the protest started, Dubawa published the first fact-check story on #EndSARS on the 9th of October, followed by People’s Check that published its first fact-check on 14th October, 2020. Africa Check and AFP Hub published their first fact-checks on #EndSARS on the 21st and 23rd October, respectively. Also, after the suspension of the protest, the spread of misinformation did not cease with Dubawa publishing its last fact-check on #EndSARS, in the period under review, on the 31st of October while Africa Check, AFP Hub and People’s Check had theirs on 29th, 28th and 28th October respectively. This shows that misinformation around the subject matter started before the full blown protest and it continued after the organisers announced the suspension of the protest.

Read the full research report


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