#EndSARS

  • EndSARS photo used to paint narrative Kenyans protest in solidarity with Nigerians

    Claim: A Twitter user shared an image claiming Kenyans stood with Nigerians during the June 12 protest.

    The Twitter post depicting this image as that of Kenyans standing with Nigerians during the June 12 protest is false and misleading as the picture is from the 2020 EndSARS protest in Abuja.

    Full Text

    Claims are still pouring in after the June 12 protest on Nigeria’s Democracy Day. One of such claims sent to us for verification was a Twitter post by Free Mdude (@_iAlen) claiming Kenyans stood with Nigerians during the June 12 protest. This post contained the image of a group of protesters holding up the Nigerian flag.

    KENYANS standing with NIGERIANS during #June12thProtest in NAIROBI.”

    Excerpt of @_iAlen’s TwitterTwitter post caption.

    Screenshot of the Twitter post 

    The post, which  was made on June 12, 2020, had generated 147 comments, 6,175 retweets and 9,026  as of Monday June 14, 2021.

    Verification

    Dubawa first tried to trace the Twitter post by @_iAlen in the screenshot shared with us and found it. Afterward, Dubawa conducted a Twitter search which led to other Twitter posts. One post by God’s Jewel (@linaeyen) making reference to @_iAlen’s post, made the same claim.

    Screenshot of the Twitter post by @linaeyin.

    Another Twitter user Naija PR Assistant (@starblog3a1) also shared a post using the same image with a similar claim.

    KENYANS standing with NIGERIANS during #June12thProtest in NAIROBI thanks so much together freedom is assured” 

    Excerpt of @starblog3a1’s Twitter post caption

    Screenshot of Twitter post by @starblog3a1.

    Dubawa then conducted a google reverse image search which led to a report by Premium Times with the image during the October 2020 EndSARS protest.

    Screenshot of Premium Times report.

    Also, a close look at the image showed the image bore the name tag of Premium Times reporter, Kabir Yusuf. Dubawa, therefore, reached out to Mr Yusuf to confirm the location and time of the image.

    Mr Yusuf confirmed he took the image during the EndSARS protest in Abuja.

    “It is not accurate. I took the picture during the EndSARS protests in Abuja.”

    Excerpt of Mr Yusuf’s response.

    Conclusion

    The Twitter post depicting this image as that of Kenyans standing with Nigerians during the June 12 protest is false and misleading as the picture is from the 2020 EndSARS protest in Abuja.

  • Six major misinformation subjects Nigerian fact-checkers battled in 2020

    Fake news has gradually evolved to settle as a force that can’t be completely ruled out so long there is a trending debate in the media. 

    As the never-ending fight against fake news continues in the new year,  Dubawa looks back and presents the major misinformation subjects in 2020.

    1. Alleged Death of a Nigerian in the Ukrainian Flight Crash 

    In January, a Ukrainian flight, Boeing 737-800, crashed shortly after take-off. Subsequent reports, originating from Nigerian news platforms claimed that a Nigerian, Dauda Onoruoiza was one of the 176 passengers that lost their lives in the crash. 

    However, Dubawa’s findings revealed some red flags suggesting otherwise. Only Nigerian news outlets reported that Mr Dauda Onoruoiza was aboard while major international news outlets failed to report any Nigerian present on the flight. Dubawa assumed Mr Dauda had dual citizenship and proceeded to search his name on the plane’s manifest, but there was no Dauda Onoroizua on the list.

    Dubawa also found out that the picture circulated with the reports belonged to one Mr Bernard Adeleye who was forced to come after seeing his picture in circulation and being proclaimed dead. Interestingly, Mr Dauda is now Mr Bernerd. According to Mr Bernard, “I am not dead; in fact, I have never travelled to Ukraine before. I have never travelled by air before let alone travelling to Ukraine. So, why will someone use my picture and claim that I was the Nigerian that died in the Ukraine plane crash? The picture that was used in the publications was the same picture that I used on my Instagram page in 2018, and this was the exact outfit I am putting on now. This has really affected me as I now wear a face cap to cover my face because whenever I am walking on the road, people call me “dead man walking.”

    With this, it is safe to say the story was made up to justify Dubawa’s rating

    2. Chloroquine, Hydroxychloroquine as Covid-19 cure

    “We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic.” 

    The above was a remark given by Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) at a gathering of foreign policy and security experts in Munich, Germany, in mid-February. The remark serves as an acknowledgement of the mis/dis-information flying about the New Coronavirus. 

    Recall the virus was first detected in Wuhan, China in December 2019 and was declared a public health emergency of international concern on 30th of January 2020 a few weeks before the index case was identified in Nigeria. Since then, fake news peddlers kept churning out content about the virus; who has it, how it spreads and most especially the cure.

    Fake News about Covid-19 cure kept surfacing even after different health authorities announced that there were no cures or vaccines. Proposed cures like Cocaine, Garlic, Lemon Grass Tea, Warm Water, Sex, Chloroquine circulated but were quickly laid to rest by fact-checkers who were actively working for that purpose. However, one cure, Chloroquine, remained adamant and refused to leave the scene.  Dubawa had to do 3 checks on the topic and all came out false. 

    Chloroquine Trends on Nigeria Twitter

    The buzz about Chloroquine began when social media pages, back in February, circulated the antimalarial medicine as a cure for covid-19, these posts contributed to making Chloroquine the number one trend on Nigeria’s Twitter at the time. Dubawa suggested a February 17th report by China Science as a likely originator of the information. The report stated that: ”Antimalarial drug Chloroquine Phosphate has a certain curative effect on the #COVID19, Chinese experts confirmed based on the results of the clinical trials, according to an official on Monday.”

    The fact-checking platform also found out that besides chloroquine phosphate, Favipiravir and Remdesivir were also circulated as cures at the time. To correct the misinformation, Dubawa stated, “It is essential to note the phrase “clinical effects” does not necessarily indicate a definite cure; but rather a potential solution to the virus. The post surmises Chloroquine Phosphate as a likely remedy to Covid-10, not a confirmed treatment.” Additionally, the WHO Director-General revealed that the organisation was conducting a number of drug trials but the malarial Chloroquine used in China was not one of the drugs, thereby falsifying the viral claims.

    Donald Trump Hyped chloroquine as cure

    Once again, in March, several reports suggested that health authorities have approved Chloroquine as a cure for covid-19. This time, it was the President of the United States, Donald Trump, that reignited the fire by endorsing the anti-malarial, making people contest prior reports that suggested Chloroquine was not a cure for covid-19. Subsequent reports on social media and print revealed the abuse of Chloroquine and even one death. A man, according to Forbes, died in Arizona, trying to immunise himself from Covid-19. The man and his wife allegedly used the version (Chloroquine) meant for cleaning fish tanks resulting in his demise and his wife in critical condition. In Nigeria, there were reports of Chloroquine poisoning.

    Dubawa debunked the claim, reiterated that chloroquine hadn’t been approved as a cure and advised against its consumption. 

    Pastor, Doctor Stella Immanuel and the Chloroquine Gospel

    Out of the blue, on Monday, July 27th, the social media space welcomed a widely circulated video, showing a group of doctors led by Doctor Stella Immanuel. The Doctor, in the video, identified herself as a primary health care physician in Houston, Texas before presenting chloroquine as a tested and trusted cure for the new coronavirus. 

    Dr. Stella revealed that she had treated over 350 COVID-19 patients with Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), Zithromax and Zinc.  Additionally, she said, “there is no need to wear a mask.” 

    Dubawa, however, dismissed her claims on account that she was a very controversial person with a history of making bizarre claims and the references she provided were outdated and invalid in the context of the new coronavirus. Also, while she has publicly advised against the use of nose masks, she was caught wearing one while preaching in her church.

    To further nullify her claims, health authorities cautioned against the use of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine.

    3. The Focus on Bill Gates

    As the search for the coronavirus vaccine intensified, the Gates family became the focus of fake news peddlers. First, a  Facebook user claims Melinda Gates divorced her husband, Bill Gates, for wanting to destroy Africa through a purported compulsory vaccination scheme. This turned out false after a check was carried out. Dubawa found that Mrs Gates’ statement was misconstrued.

    Meanwhile, in May, the tech guru allegedly offered a $10million bribe to the House of Representatives to hasten the passage of a pending bill on compulsory vaccination for everybody in Nigeria. This claim remains unproven. The main accuser,  Mr Ugochinyere – author of the claim – failed to provide proof in support of his claims, rendering them baseless. Nonetheless, both the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the House of Representative disclaimed the accusation as the committee investigating the claim in the House of Representative continued its work.

    A video – allegedly leaked –  was circulated on a Christian App – RIG Nation App. The video purportedly shows Bill Gate presenting to the CIA how to alter the brain functions of religious fanatics. At the time this video surfaced, the coronavirus was at its peak and the world was relentlessly looking for a cure. There were several reports announcing potent cures, as well as rumour that Bill Gate was planning to introduce a microchip as part of covid-19 vaccination. It is safe to say the post was a way of exposing  Mr Gates’ alleged ulterior motives and to warn against being vaccinated.

    Dubawa found out that the video was old and has been recycled several times between 2011 and 2020. Reputable sources have also identified the video as a deliberate hoax; it was not leaked as we were led to believe. While the actual video was released to promote an uncompleted film project, it was recirculated in 2020 to include Bill Gates in the narrative.

    Additionally, the scans, representing “religious brains” were doctored images taken from a 2010 issue of the American Academy of Neurology.  

    4. The Nigerian Army and the #LekkiTollGateShooting

    The October social movement which saw the participation of thousands of Nigerian youths across different states contributed to the wave of fake news already present in the media. The #EndSARS movement was an online and physical protest against police brutalityharassment and extortion of the Nigerian youth. 

    While Dubawa received a handful of claims during this period, one particular claim from the Nigerian Army stood out as it caught the attention of international bodies who also joined in setting the record straight. This claim was as a result of the October 20th incidence at the Lekki Toll Gate, Lagos state, where the Nigerian Army opened fire at peaceful protesters. However, despite viral pictures, videos, reports and fact checks speaking to this, the Army repeatedly denied the event ever took place. 

    5. Fake Buhari 

    Buhari’s choice to be mute during the #EndSARS protest did not go down well with a lot of people as they expected the president to come out and address the issue. His absence sparked conversations on social media and brought back the popular ‘fake Buhari’ controversy. 

    Several reports and images suggested the person in Aso Rock is one Jubril of Sudan, a clone of Buhari (who allegedly died years back). To make it more convincing and strengthen the narrative, the death certificate of the president was shared widely. Dubawa, however, demystified the viral image, revealing how it was doctored.

    6. The Covid-19 Vaccine

    The media received several claims relating to cures and vaccines in 2020. Why? 2020 was a tough year full of fear and uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccines became the only hope of the people. Since fake news peddlers are known for always preying on soft spots, the reason they focus on vaccines can’t be clearer. 

    Fake news about the vaccines is as old as the pandemic. They had been circulating since when achieving a vaccine seemed like a Sisyphean project. In recent times, with several reports announcing the emergence of actual vaccines, the fake news in circulation have doubled if not tripled. Little wonder when Francesco Rocca, president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, remarked that Fake news about a Covid-19 vaccine has become a second pandemic and advised governments and relevant institutions to implement measures to combat growing mistrust and misinformation.

  • Curses, resentments trailed Nigerian Army’s Tweets tagging media reports on its involvement in Lekki shootings as Fake News

    Background 

    The lekki shootings of October 20, 2020 has been trailed by controversies with several sides trading and shoving blames over the occurrences of that fateful night. Following destruction of public properties and loss of lives in several parts of Lagos State, the State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, had abruptly imposed a 24-hour curfew from 4pm on that day. With the realisation of the impracticability of enforcing a curfew in the middle of the day after citizens had set out for the day, the curfew was later shifted to 9pm. Despite the curfew, protesters appeared set for a showdown with no sign of them dispersing and heading home in compliance with the curfew. 

    That evening, videos emerged of men in Military uniforms purportedly shooting at a crowd of protesters at the Lekki tollgate. The image of the men appearing to shoot directly at the protesters evoked strong emotions among many and drew widespread criticism across the country and beyond.  In the aftermath of the shootings, the Nigerian army took to its twitter page, @HQNigerianArmy, tagging all media reports linking the army to the shootings at the tollgate as “fake news.” New facts have now emerged since the incident. The army which initially denied deploying soldiers to the tollgate later confirmed their presence, on the invitation of the state governor to restore “normalcy” to the state “because the police had been overrun.” The army had maintained it merely shot blank bullets into the air but later confirmed the soldiers also had live bullets.

     At the height of the chaos, the army tagged several media reports linking it to the Lekki Tollgate shootings as “fake news”. Between October 20 and October 21, 2020, the Nigerian Army posted six tweets debunking 15 news headlines and an individual’s tweet alleging its involvement in the Lekki shootings as Fake news. These tweets attracted massive reactions at a time when tensions were high with proliferation of various pictures on the social media purportedly relating to the shootings. The reactions ranged from over 14,000 to less than a thousand comments on each of the tweets. Majority of the responses were tweeted around the time of the uploaded tweets by the Nigerian army.  Few comments were added as new information unfolded with the army later confirming they were present at the tollgate on October 20 but merely shot into the air.

    Method

    In this analysis, we examined comments from two of the tweets from the verified Twitter handle of the Nigerian Army. The two selected tweets have the highest comments among the 6 tweets the army churned out hours after the attack. The first tweet selected for this analysis has over 14 thousand comments. It ‘debunked’ two media reports. The first accuses the army of shooting at protesters at the tollgate and the other notes that they seized the corpses of those killed. The second tweet in the analysis has almost 8,000 comments. It ‘debunked’ a Tweet by Reno Omokri, a former Special Assistant to former President Goodluck Jonathan. Omokri had tweeted a post calling for criminal charges against the army leadership, with international sanctions on Nigeria.

    Screenshots of tweets with the highest comments selected for analysis

    Findings

    Debunking misinformation goes beyond “fake news” tagging

    A major finding from the analysis is the public’s expectation of clear presentation of facts to dispel misinformation.  Many of the comments queried the army’s simple dismissal of information asking for evidence to support the army’s claim. A Twitter user, Sweet EMPRESS @ Swtempresscake asked “Oga, how is it fake? Explain to us ooooooo”

    Another asked “What is now the original news?”

    A number of them were quick to counter the army’s submission with supposed “evidence” of videos and images circulating online, some of which have been fact-checked to be false information. To the average person, those videos and images were clear evidence of what transpired that night at the tollgate and that narrative cannot simply be wished away with a blanket dismissal of media reports on the events as fake news.

    Providing evidence to substantiate the claims might have helped in swaying people’s minds if the Army was indeed truthful in its description of the reports as fake news.  Unfortunately, the tweets might have increased people’s disbelief in official narratives. Many of the comments confirmed they had lost confidence in the factuality of information provided by the army.  To some commentators, the Army’s ‘fake news’ tagging is a clear indication that many of the posts often tagged as fake news are more likely to be true. This was based on their belief that if the army could debunk such ‘evidential’ information in the public space as fake news, then other fake news tags on information the public might not be so informed about are also likely to be rated false.

    Many also dismissed the Army’s blanket dismissal of the reports wondering why they failed to act to stop the shootings or take legal actions against the media organisations making the claims, if indeed those shooting were not soldiers.

    Others were quick to remind the Army of its initial claims after their admittance at the Judicial Panel of Inquiry 

     Curses galore

    The comments on the tweets were dominated by curses for the army personnel involved in the shootings.  The curses were extended to the President, Muhammadu Buhari, the State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, and the Chief of Army Staff, General Tukur Buratai. Many believed these key officials were instrumental in authorising the attack of the Army on protesters.  This assertion was clearly not based on any evidence but people’s perception of the happenings.  The curses were often extended to families of the soldiers involved in the shootings. Particularly, there was continuous reference to an army officer, Ifo Omata, who purportedly led the soldiers to the Lekki tollgate. Other Twitter users who liked the post were not spared of the curses too. Many of the curses in the analysed comments are considered too gory to be republished here.

    Myth on holding Nigerian flag

    There were repeated references to the fact that the Army shot at protesters while waving the Nigerian flag and singing the national anthem, suggesting that many believed the now debunked viral message suggesting that the army will not shoot at protesters holding the national anthem. Even though this claim was debunked in several fact-checks published after the shootings, evidence from public comments supports widespread belief in the claim.  It is unclear if people might have changed their belief with the publication of the fact-checks as many of the comments were posted hours after the incident, before the fact-checks were published.

    Army’s Betrayal of Public Trust

    Many of the commentators were displeased with the soldiers, considering their actions as a betrayal of public trust and collective efforts towards achieving a better Nigeria. Many were of the opinion that the army could have stood with the people rather than allowed themselves to be used by the politicians.

    Loss of public sympathy for the army in its fight against boko haram

    The Nigerian Army tagging of media reports on the Lekki shootings as fake news drew widespread discontentment for the army with many mocking them for their inability to decisively tackle the insurgents. Many decried their inability to confront the Boko Haram insurgent while being trigger-happy with harmless protesters.

    Discontent with the Nigerian State, Government, and the army

    Many of the comments also suggest lack of confidence in the Nigerian state and its leaders.

    Raised emotions, but little caution

    Despite repeated campaigns and media literacy articles to educate the public on fact-checking, verification, and information consumption, many of the comments show little evidence of critical evaluation of the facts by members of the public. Majority of respondents believed the array of videos making waves after the shootings.

    Many ‘dismissed’ the Army’s claim with postings of misleading videos which have since been debunked by fact-checkers. The most common of this was the video of a soldier “allegedly firing at unarmed protesters at the Lekki toll gate with a high-caliber mounted machine gun” which has since been debunked in many fact-checks on the Lekki shootings including this one by AFP’s Fact Check.

    There were very few critical voices querying the authenticity of the reports and viral videos and images.

    These critical voices were, however, bullied for ever doubting any of the videos or images purportedly from the Lekki shootings.

     A call for action

    Members of the public who reacted to Nigerian Army’s fake news tweets on the Lekki shootings called for specific action against the Nigerian army and the government. A twitter user, Luther-King Ekama tweeting @Ikekama called on Twitter to sanction the Army’s twitter handle as, “They spread fake news to cover their evil deeds”. He ended with #End SARS #EndBadGovernanceIn Nigeria and #EndPoliceBrutalityNow.

    Defiance

    Some of the commentators were defiant and expressed determination to continue the protest despite shootings and the imposition of curfew.

    Despite their seeming determination, the government was able to quell the protest and restore normalcy days after the shootings. It is unclear how future events will turn out. But as at now, the protest and agitations seems to have been subsumed.

    Conclusion

    This analysis of comments on the official posts of the Nigerian Army inaccurately rating media reports on its involvement in the Lekki Shootings as fake news provides insight into public reactions to official information considered to be false. Due to the nature of the information being contested, with the array of conflicting contents in the public space, members of the public were not easily convinced by official narratives. The onus thus lies with public institutions to ensure that they provide the public with accurate information which they can convincingly defend to the general public irrespective of contrasting views making rounds in the public space. Such an approach is more likely to reduce the trend of misinformation on public institutions among the populace. 

  • Understanding Audience Attitude Towards Trending Misinformation During #EndSARSProtest in Nigeria

    Abstract

    Much has been cited about the damage occasioned by false information in Nigeria. One of such was witnessed during the last nationwide protest against police brutality and impunity, tagged #EndSARS. No doubt, some citizens fell for fake information and acted on them. Some were cognitive enough. Why? They have developed different attitudes to false news. Relying on Cognitive-Reflective Test Theory as explored by Pennycook et al (2015), this study finds that the majority of the respondents felt there was a need for cognitive thinking and they explored the process; while a significantly low respondents were cognitively miserly, failing to override their instincts when they came in contact with false content.  The study observes that the first category (the majority) have not changed their trust for mainstream media and are less likely to fall for fake information, while the second category (the minority) have proven to be undaunted in their instincts for social media and are more likely to be victims of fake information.

    The study thereby recommends a further investigation into reasons news audiences fail to believe in verified information, even when it is crystal clear that the earlier information they were exposed to is false. It also recommends that news audiences must engage in effortful thinking when exposed to certain information going viral.

    Introduction:

    In recent times, there has been a serious outrage over police excesses and brutality by a cross-section of Nigerian youths. This development is tagged #EndSARS protest. What started in what was best described as peaceful protest ended up in killings, maiming, property destruction, arson, and the rest. The darkest part of the events around the protest was the barrage of false information that trended in the public space, most particularly on social media and the rate at which unsuspecting members of the public consumed these information. 

    Much of the noise about the protest was heard mostly on the major social media platforms including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. It is on record that Twitter founder, Jack Dorsey, used his platform to garner support for the protesters, not only by tweeting in support, a customised émoji was also assigned to the protest on Twitter (QuartzAfrica, 2020).  While technology is said to be the enabler of false information in the public space (Ziga TURK, 2018), the same technology has been cited as the potential tool to prevent it. This played out during and after the nationwide protest and the crisis that engulfed the nation following the military attack of the peaceful protesters at the Lekki toll plaza in Lagos, Nigeria. 

    Concerns have been raised over the roles of the social media platforms in either helping to perpetrate fake contents or providing a guide to their users against false information during the protest. At least, not a few news media and fact-checking organisations have flagged series of posts that went viral on social media as texts, photos and videos. There have been reports indicating different actors using social media platforms to feather their nests. While some suggest pro-government propagandists used the platforms to post contents to discredit the protesters, and some have shown how technology companies themselves incorrectly flagged posts published in support of the protest, others have reported clear fake contents going viral on the same social media platforms (QuartzAfrica, 2020). 

    Following these concerns, Nigerian government, through the Minister of Information, has “lamented that celebrities used the social media to circulate fake news during the #EndSARS crisis” (The Punch, 2020) and has also threatened to take action against the issue. “What we have always advocated, and what we will do, is to regulate the social media. Nigeria is not alone in this regard.” (The Nation, 2020). 

    BBC had fact-checked some posts that trended on social media, ranging from the image of a woman, Ugwu Blessing Ugochukwu, posted on twitter whose brother was allegedly killed by SARS and was fact-checked by BBC to be “The woman protestor whose brothers were not killed by the police”, to the picture of “the Nigerian Catholic Conference matching in support of the #EndSARS protest” and debunked by the BBC (Gris Global, 2020). 

    There was another theory circulating on social media that linked mere holding the Nigerian national flag to a compulsory restraint by the Nigerian soldiers from attacking the holders. Relying on this claim, and few days into the nationwide #EndSARS crisis, protesters were seen bearing the Nigerian flag anywhere they went or were found during protest.  A twitter user had claimed that he spoke with his dad over concern for protesters and possible reprisal attack from the men of the Nigerian Army, to which the dad responded, saying that a Nigerian Army would not shoot at any Nigerian carrying the Nigerian flag. Yet, this apparently became a hoax as holding the national flag by the protesters seen in a viral video on CNN (CNN, 2020) at the Lekki Toll gate did not deter military officers from attacking them.

    The impact of fake contents during the protest did not only create a series of fears and anxieties in many quarters, it also propelled a degeneration into a destruction of lives and properties.  This forced many concerned stakeholders to react in very strong terms against the menace of misinformation. As regretted by Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State, “we have seen the adverse effect of spreading fake news and misinformation on social media channels which escalated violence and carnage in the wake of the hijack of the peaceful #ENDSARS protests across the country.”

    Decrying the inability of the technology companies particularly Instagram to flag false information going viral during the EndSARS protest, Ray Walsh, a digital privacy analyst at ProPrivacy based in the UK stressed that a great number of fake videos and photographs purportedly coming from the scene of shooting at the Lekki Toll Gate on October 20, 2020, were a pointer indicating social media platforms are ill-equipped to adequately police the internet against misinformation. According to him, “Instagram’s algorithms have not adequately singled out posts that do contain fake news” and that “there is no doubt that Instagram and other social media platforms have proven instrumental in the spread of fake information”, proposing that it is essential that “fact-checking occurs with oversight on a case-by-case basis and platforms should spend greater amounts of energy and time ensuring their algorithms are not making unnecessary errors” (Ray Walsh, 2020).  

    Unfortunately, these false claims were quick to go viral. The psychology of the information consumers that made this possible is still a matter of serious concerns to researchers and experts working around a misinformation ecosystem. People tend to trust and believe those close to them and they end up creating their own echo chamber. To Katy (2018), news consumers are more susceptible and insist that the “better that we understand the way we think in the digital world, the better chance we have to be part of the solution”.

    The general goal of this study is to investigate the attitude of the news audiences to viral information, particularly one shared via social media platforms, and as it relates to the recent nationwide protest in Nigeria, tagged #EndSARS. The specific questions are as follows:

    • What is the audience’s ability to spot fake information relating to #EndsarsProtest;
    • What is the audience’s most reliable source of information during the protest;
    • Were  the audiences ever ready to verify information to which they were exposed particularly in the post-shooting incidents;
    • What propels them to still share, retweet, or forward false information even when they know it is false. 

    Linking News Consumers’ Psychology To Viral Misinformation

    In a world where most information consumers are bombarded with online contents on an hourly basis, there is always a tendency to keep looking for quick answers, instead of being critical of what is going viral. Indeed, many people have resorted to finding quick answers, not in the text of any content anymore, but in mere pictures, even when those pictures have little or nothing to add to the truth of the fact on ground. Newman et al (2012) found that nonprobative photos and verbal information help people generate pseudo evidence. People may selectively interpret information gleaned from a photo or description as consistent with their hypothesis. They may also use such information to cue the mental generation of thoughts and images consistent with their hypothesis. It is also possible that the ease or fluency with which people bring related information to mind contributes to a feeling of truthiness. 

    One major possible explanation for this attitude can be seen in the ease of falsifying online content, from plausible but imaginary newspaper websites to photoshopping images and using machine learning and artificial intelligence to create “deep fake’’ video footage for political or other purposes (Linklaters, 2019). 

    Another major explanation has to do with the speed with which false information spreads. Experts have claimed that the speed can be up to six times faster than ‘normal news, propelled by instant messaging and, in particular, dissemination not by individuals but also networks of bots, which typically account for 25% of total traffic (Linklaters, 2019). 

    Jeff Hancock, a professor of communication, was of the view that  having access to a myriad of false information particularly on social media can raise our anxiety since we tend to pay attention to bad news (Stanford News, 2020). 

    As reported by Niamh Campbell (2020), the influence of audience’ psychology on believing false information still revolves around fear and uncertainty and the need to find answers to them. Citing Dr. Babb, a clinical psychologist, Niamh reported from the angle of unhealthy gaps created by closed messaging Apps, such as Whatsapp and Facebook messenger that the “pass-it-on” instructions often attached with such messages tap into people’s anxieties and other emotions, fears and uncertainties which are triggered or evoked during crisis or significant event. It provides certainty (during uncertainty and misinformation) as it offers a solution in the form of information or guidance and offers the forwarding individual a sense of agency and movement (which is a defence against feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness).   

    For various reasons, which researchers have identified, why conspiracy theories thrive, ranging from political, economic or ego-related reasons, many of these played out in the events that define the #EndSARS protest in Nigeria.

    When credible information and enlightenment may be lacking in times of crisis, conspiracy theories easily occupy the missing gaps. For the fact that information audiences want to satisfy their information needs, conspiracy theorists who rate themselves as critical thinkers, are readily available to offer such needs.  

    Sarah Desmonds (2020) in an article, “Why do conspiracy theories thrive during a crisis?” offers some insights into the gaps conspiracy theories fill in an absence of adequate facts. Part of these are traced to the psychological needs of the news consumers being taken care of. Conspiracy theories are explained to be some kinds of myth that “offer adherents an explanation for the inexplicable in a time of uncertainty”. 

    In an exclusive interview with Sarah (2020), Dr. Karen Douglas, a professor of Social Psychology at the University of Kent, reveals that “people believe in conspiracy theories in the hope that they will satisfy important psychological needs.” According to her, people most times have a need for knowledge and certainty, to feel safe, secure, and in control to feel good about themselves. These needs sharpen in times of crisis and this is why conspiracy theories spike during epidemics, disaster, and geopolitical upheavals. 

    It is argued that since different myths can satisfy different needs, it is quite difficult to be explicit about personality type or background that makes one person more credulous than another. According to Douglas, people who are on the political extremes are more inclined to believe misinformation. In finding answers to the reason people believe in misinformation, Sarah (2020) reported that “conspiracy theories are a social problem. The question is not those who believe in conspiracy theories, but why, especially in times of crisis and turmoil, conspiracy theories come to be seen by so many as an attractive, plausible and acceptable point of view.”

    While a psychologist has cited conspiracy theories as a social problem and one of the major reasons people fall for fake information, a communication scholar, Jeff Hancock (2020) identified fear and anxiety as a factor. According to him, when people are fearful, they seek information to reduce uncertainty. This can lead to believing information that may be wrong or deceptive because it helps them feel better, or allows them to place blame about what’s happening. This is why conspiracy theories become so prominent. 

    If humans fall for fake information due to fear and anxiety, there is also a reason to think of the roles of emotions and irrationality in the process of information disorder.   For katy (2018), humans like to think of themselves as rational creatures, but much of the time we are guided by emotional and irrational thinking. Our responses to events or any content, for that matter, are often guided by an appeal to what psychologists call cognitive shortcuts, otherwise, known as heuristics. We might instead rely on what is known as the familiarity heuristic, our tendency to assume that if something is familiar, it must be good and safe. Propagandists often leverage on this familiarity heuristic. Once news consumers come across a content they have seen in the past, even if it is doctored, or manipulated, the brain uses that as an indication that it is true. As a guide against this, Katy suggests news audiences “will have to take initiative and also be willing to question their prejudices, to second-guess information they might like to believe”. About these events, It is important to understand the roles played by all sorts of information, whether true or false, that went viral.

    #EndSARS: Why Audiences Fall for Misinformation: Using Cognitive Reflective Test Theory

    Researchers have continuously worked to understand why news audiences fall for fake news. Part of their objectives have been to explain how some people are better at overriding their responses to viral contents than others. These overriding responses help researchers to understand why some are more prone to false information than others. 

    Adopting a behaviour research method, Pennycook et al (2015) used the Cognitive Reflection Test (CRT) to measure one’s propensity to reflect on intuitions. The CRT is part of the tools to assess individual differences in intuitive–analytic cognitive styles. To make it work, the respondents must be able to question the intuitive responses. As explained, intuitiveness “conventionally refers to the trust or faith that a person has in his or her gut feelings which is separate from, though not necessarily opposed to, the willingness to engage in analytic reasoning”. Pennycook et al cited instances where it is argued that successful CRT performance relies on rational thinking, or the tendency to avoid miserly cognitive processing. In other words, those who fail to question their intuitions are misers. Cognitive Reflective Test has been successful in its being deployed to explain human reasoning and decision-making. It is used to assess how much individuals have faith in their intuitions and instincts. Contrasting the Faith in Intuition scale and the Need for Cognition scale have been used to assess how much an individual engages in effortful thinking when exposed to certain information going viral. Pennycook et al explained that “both scales have been used to predict (differentially, in some cases) a wide range of psychological measures”; and while Faith in Intuition is a self-report measure of intuitiveness, Need for Cognition is a self-report measure of how much one engages in and enjoys effortful thinking. In other words, those who have faith in their intuition believe they can never go wrong in their conviction when confronted with any information and may not think twice before sharing such, whether true or false and the need for cognition explains why audiences should be critical in their conviction when consuming a piece of information. For instance, the result of the authors show that:

    Intuitive individuals may or may not detect the need to think analytically about the problem, but they decide nonetheless to go with their gut…The  logic of the CRT requires the assumption that the cued intuitions are common and are available to all or nearly all test takers, but that the disposition and ability to override these highly available tuitions are variable individual differences…(Pennycook et al, 2015)

    Robson (BBC Future, 2020) reviewed this theory and observed that, when confronted with any information, whether in print or online, one needs to pause and override that initial gut response. For this reason, CRT questions are not so much a test of raw intelligence, as a test of someone’s tendency to employ their intelligence by thinking things through in a deliberative, analytical fashion, rather than going with your initial intuitions. The people who don’t do this are often called “cognitive misers” by psychologists, since they may be in possession of substantial mental reserves, but they don’t “spend” them. Cognitive miserliness renders us susceptible to many cognitive biases, and it also seems to change the way we consume information (and misinformation). 

    The import of this cognitive test is borne out of the need for news consumers to engage in critical and effortful reasoning in the process of exposure to any content. In reality, and in most cases, news audiences fall for misinformation because the scale of trust in their personal bias is higher than their ability to override their initial responses. The real task in this research study is to understand the logic behind the inability of news consumers to apply some mental engagement in critical thinking when they are exposed to fake contents. Quite a number of people fail in their test of ability to establish when a piece is suspicious. Even when it is obvious that a particular piece of information is a hoax, audiences still stick to their biases. Why do news audiences fall for fake content? Even when they are suspicious of a content, why do they still share, retweet, or forward to the next person? Why do people do nothing even when they lack faith in a piece of information? These and other relevant questions are the focus of this research study, using the Cognitive Reflective Test Theory.     

     Method

    This study embraces the quantitative research method, through the instrument of a questionnaire as its data collection method. The instrument which contains thirteen questions in google form was launched on October 25th, 2020, a few days after the protesters at Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos were attacked by the men of the Nigerian military and the consequent viral pieces of fake contents circulating in the public space. The instrument, which remained in the public domain for a period of two weeks , appeared in eight WH-questions format, three closed-ended questions format and two open-ended format. Meredith et al (2016) found that posing wh‐questions (to respondents) is a challenging type of input, which elicits a verbal response that likely helps build vocabulary and foster verbal reasoning abilities. The open-ended questions were designed to retrieve indepth and robust responses from the respondents. The study used participants (n=47) to examine if variables such as age and education play any role in audience attitude to misinformation during the period under review. In terms of age, 54.4% reported to be within the range of 18-36 years of age, 40.4% reported to be between 37-55 years while only 2.2% were within 56-72 years.

    Considering the level of education, the majority of respondents at 63.9% had University education; while 25.5% reported to be educated beyond University  degree; 10.6% were educated up till college level but a little below University education.

    Limitations 

    This study is not without its limitations. These include: (i) insufficient sample size for statistical measurement (ii) Inability of the researcher to employ a triangulated research approach.

    The effect of the insufficient sample size is observed on the small amount of responses collected from the open-ended questions which should have enriched the qualitative content analysis for the study.

    Again, beyond mere online survey, a triangulated approach, which should include in-depth interviews, would have accorded the research method adopted for the study more credibility; but the limitation was due to limited time and resources available. For instance, the study did not find out the source of false information to which respondents were exposed during the #EndSARS protest. It did not also find out the strategies the respondents used to verify the contents they were exposed to. This would have afforded the researcher to examine the level of awareness and exposure of the respondents to media literacy and fact-checking tools used in the verification process.   

    Nevertheless, the sample size used for the study was representative enough to answer the research questions. Again, the deductive process adopted for the data analysis would make up for the lapses created by the non-inclusion of triangulated approach. In essence, future research can employ a mix of both qualitative and quantitative research methods that will not only provide enough frequency of occurrences, but also allow in-depth responses from respondents.  

    Findings 

    Q1. What is the audience’s ability to spot fake information relating to #EndsarsProtest?

    Figure 1. Shows that the majority 89.4% fully understand what misinformation means, the form it takes and how it can transform. They also understand that it takes the form of text, photograph and video; a few (10.6%) have a narrow understanding of misinformation as they think it only takes the form of text only. 

    See figure(1) below:   

    Forms response chart. Question title: 5. In what form can it appear?. Number of responses: 47 responses.

    In figure 2,  when asked if they recognised false information during the #EndSARS protest, the majority (59.6%) of the respondents reported to have spotted false information during the protest. While a little more than a quarter of the respondents said they were not sure if they came across fake content, only 12.8% affirmed they lacked the ability to detect fake content. 

    See figure(2) below: 

    Forms response chart. Question title: 6. During the #EndSARSPROTEST, did you recognise false information when you came across any whether online or offline?. Number of responses: 47 responses.

    Q2. What is the audience’s most reliable source of information during the protest?

    In figure (3), most respondents (34%; n=16) affirmed they got most of their trusted information via the broadcast media. This was followed by (27%; n=13) who reported having trusted social media for their information. Just a quarter of the respondents (25.5%; n=12) reported trusting newspapers the most while (23.4%; n=11) said they received their most trusted information via online news platforms. Only a few (8.4%; n=4) could not answer the question correctly.   

    See Figure(3) below:

    Forms response chart. Question title: 7. What was your most trusted source of information during the period?. Number of responses: 47 responses.

    Q3. Were  the audiences ever ready to verify information to which they were exposed particularly in the post-shooting incidents?

    In figure (4), the majority (44.7%) affirmed their readiness to verify their information through their trusted news media platforms. At least, a little more than a quarter of the respondents (25.55%) reported their readiness to verify their information on social media platforms, while a few (10.6%) said they hardly bordered to check the veracity of the information at their disposal. Yet, a negligible number of them said they had no reasons to check, while others explored personal instincts to satisfy their curiosity. 

    See Figure (4) below: 

    Forms response chart. Question title: 8.How did you confirm if the information you came across was true or false during the period? Through.... Number of responses: 47 responses.

    Q4. When  confronted with a verified or fact-checked version of an earlier report, did the audience still share, retweet or forward false information? 

    In figure 5, to answer the above question, respondents were asked to first confirm if they could identify the most common form of misinformation they came across after the Lekki shooting. At least more than half of the respondents (51.1%; n=24) said they were exposed to fake photographs the most after the Lekki shooting. More than a quarter (31.9%; n=31) said fake videos were the most common misinformation they came across, following by those (27.7%; n=13) who said they were exposed to fake narrative the most after the shooting; while only (12.8%; n=6) said they never encountered any false information during the period. 

    See figure 5 below:

    Forms response chart. Question title: 9. About the Lekki shooting, the most common form of false information you came across was?. Number of responses: 47 responses.

    In figure 6,  when asked if they changed their minds after seeing a fact-checked version, the majority (76.6%) affirmed they refrained from further sharing the false version. While at least a small percent (14.9%) said they still shared the false version despite seeing the fact-checked report, a negligible percent (8.5%) said they were not sure if the verified version changed their minds from sharing the false content. 

    See figure 6 below:

    Forms response chart. Question title: 11. Whenever you came across the true version of information that countered the earlier one you saw, did it change your mind from sharing, retweeting, or forwarding the untrue one?. Number of responses: 47 responses.In figure 7, majority of the respondents (55.3%) affirmed that false information aggravated the crisis that characterised the #EndSARS protest. While at least more than a quarter (36.2%) said they were not sure if misinformation was a problem, while a very few percent (at 8.5%) disagreed. 

    See figure 7 below:  Forms response chart. Question title: 13. Do you believe that false information added to destruction encountered before and after the Lekki shooting?. Number of responses: 47 responses.

    Discussion:

    This study has shown that an average news consumer has a simple understanding of misinformation. Although the study uses age and education as one of the variables to understand the attitude of news consumers to viral content, the study finds no correlation between these variables (age and level of education) and the attitude of news consumers in relation to believability or otherwise in false information. For instance, out of those (10.6%) who reported not interested in verifying any content they had contact with were those with post-graduate education. Some of them reported that fact-checked versions of a content never changed their mind from initial exposure, saying “because what you call ‘countered’ are still fake”.  Again, those (4.3%) that reported they “didn’t need to verify” information they have, were respondents within the age category of 37-55 years.

    When compared, the number of those (76.6%) who believed the verified version of an earlier content with the number of those (15%) who reported that fact-check did not change their mind, this study shows that a significantly small section of news consumers apparently fell for false information during the #EndSARS protest. This is in agreement with an existing literature as observed in Nelson et al (2018). Drawing on the theories of audience behaviour, Nelson et al (2018) argue that the online fake news audience, like most niche content, would be a small subset of the total news audience especially those with high availability. They indeed find that “the fake news audience comprises a small, disloyal group of heavy Internet users.”

    Although this study did not find out the source of false information to which respondents were exposed during the #EndSARS protest, there was every reason to conclude that social media and other unverified platforms were used as sources of false contents since most respondents reported to have been exposed to fake contents through photographs and videos. This observation corroborates an existing study which finds that “social media, particularly Facebook, are the main drivers of traffic to “fake news” sites and are responsible for about 4/10 of their traffic” (Dr. Ziga Turks, 2018, P 12).

    While this study did not also find out the strategies the respondents used to verify the contents they were exposed to, it found that the greatest percentage of news audiences would prefer to verify the veracity of any claim through their most trusted news sources more than social media sources. While Dr. Ziga Turks (2018) finds that the most important source of news sources for the Americans was Television, this study found that the most credible source of information for the audience during #EndSARS was the broadcast media (34%). And the fact that more than a quarter of the respondents trusted newspapers (25.5%) more after the broadcast media, shows that a significant number of the news audiences still maintain their trust in the established news brands rather than social media.

    Similarly, the finding of this study shows that news audiences who indicated social media either as  their most trusted sources of news (at 27.7%) or as their most preferred platforms to verify news (at 25.5%) are more likely to be victims of fake information than others. This assertion finds corroboration in existing studies. Nelson et al (2018) which finds that “the use of these platforms alone does not lead to the consumption of fake news. Rather, it is the amount of time a user spends (on the platforms) that is likely correlated with levels of fake news use”. Another study (Ziga Turks, 2018) finds that “Fake news is discussed as much on social media as real news…some social media, particularly Facebook, determine what information users are more likely to see, and what people see can be hacked by social bots – software pretending to be human beings”. Stephanie (2019) also reports that “Websites containing hoaxes and misleading information pop up across the Internet and are often shared on social media to increase their reach – by both human users and artificial bots, deliberately or unintentionally spreading disinformation.”        

    Generally speaking, while the overall findings of a vast majority of news audience show that variables such as age and education play a less significant role in their attitude to news consumption and its believability and otherwise, this study suggests that many news consumers have a general tendency to override their personal instincts and engage more in effortful thinking. This played out in this study as the majority (55.3%) that believed misinformation created a big problem during the protest and more and more respondents (76.6%) affirmed they refrained from sharing false content having been exposed to verified contents.

    Which False Information Exactly?

    When asked to identify false information they were exposed to during the protest and after the Lekki shooting, respondents were quick to mention the following:

    • That Tinubu travelled abroad. This claim was fact-checked to be a hoax by Dubawa, and titled: #EndSars: Viral video suggesting Tinubu was chased out of France is a hoax” (Oct., 23, 2020)
    • That Army denied the shooting in Lekki toll gate, saying is Photoshop.This claim was fact-checked by Dubawa and had its reservation about it in a story tagged: “#EndSARS: Nigerian Army dispels #Lekkishootings as ‘Fake news’ but its evidences continue to shift” (Oct., 31, 2020).
    • That A photograph of an NYSC drama scene and also information on the extension of violence to areas which were quite peaceful.This claim was also fact-checked by Dubawa, tagged: “#EndSARS: This viral photo is from an NYSC drama in Akwa Ibom, not Lekki Tollgate gun attack”, (Oct., 23, 2020)

    Conclusion 

    This study has shown some significant improvement around the issues of mis/disinformation in our polity. It shows that there are two categories of news audiences: One with a high scale of effortful thinkers who believe false information is a major societal problem and will do nothing to perpetrate it. The others include those who have a high scale in their instinct and make sure nothing changes their mind from what they believe, true or false. The former refers to people who have demonstrated the need for cognitive thinking. The above is supported by audiences’ response in the survey’, some of whom reported that Sharing false info can mislead people ; it makes no sense to deceive anyone with falsehood for whatever reason (audience responses to survey, 2020). The second category, according to the findings of this study, are those with cognitive miserliness (Pennycook et al, 2015). They are those who confirmed having difficulty in spotting false content (12.8%); those who could not say if they came across fake information (27.7%); those who rarely verify the content they were exposed to (10.6%); those who reported they didn’t need to verify information (4.3%); those who never changed their mind when confronted with fact-checks (14.9%) and those who were uncertain if fact-checks would change their mind (8.5%); those who never believed fake information created problem during #EndSARS protest (8.5%) and those who were not sure if it created problems (32.2%). 

    Its findings have added some boost to the credibility of the mainstream media as the majority of respondents reported that broadcast media was their most trusted source of information. This supports Lois Ugbede’s (2020) report that “a lot of Nigerians are not on social media. They consume news from Radio, TV and newspapers.” Without these media houses covering the #endsars protests, a lot of Nigerians didn’t understand the real intent of the protests.   

    Lastly, this study has confirmed the contrasting of the Faith in Intuition scale and the Need for Cognition scale. It is therefore recommended that every news audience must engage in effortful thinking when exposed to certain information going viral. The study also recommends a further investigation into reasons news audiences fail to believe in verified information, even when it is crystal clear it is fake.  

    This research is conducted for the Dubawa Fellowship programme (2020), and is supported by Heinrich Boll Stiftung Foundation Abuja office.

    REFERENCES 

    Desmond, S.(2020)‘Why do conspiracy theories thrive during a Crisis?”. https://news-decoder.com/why-do-conspiracy-theories-thrive-during-a-crisis

    Edward-Ekpu, U. (2020). “Facebook and Instagram made missteps on Nigeria’s EndSARS Protest While Twitter boosted it”. QuartzAfrica  https://qz.com/africa/1922372/facebook-hurt-nigerias-endsars-protest-while-twitter-boosted-it/

    Egbejule, M. (2020). “Obaseki deplores role of fake news in spreading violence amid #EndSARS protests”. The Guardian. https://guardian.ng/news/obaseki-deplores-role-of-fake-news-in-spreading-violence-amid-endsars-protests/

    GrisGlobal(2020).“End Sars Protests: The misinformation trending online”. https://grisglobal.org/end-sars-protests-the-misinformation-trending-online

    Katy, S. (2018). ‘How Your Brain Tricks You Into Believing Fake News’. Time. https://time.com/5362183/the-real-fake-news-crisis/

    Linklaters (2019). “Impact of Fake News” https://www.linklaters.com/en/insights/publications/crisis-ready/crisis-ready/tackling-erosion-of-trust-and-the-spread-of-fake-news/the-impact-of-fake-news

    Meredith L. R., Kathryn A. L. &  Natasha C. (2016). “Going Beyond Input Quantity: Wh‐Questions Matter for Toddlers’ Language and Cognitive Development”. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/cogs.1234

    Nelson, L. & Taneja, H. (2018). ”The Small, Disloyal Fake News Audience: The Role of Audience Availability in Fake News Consumption”. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/322820042_The_Small_Disloyal_Fake_News_Audience_The_Role_of_Audience_Availability_in_Fake_News_Consumption

    Newman, E.J., Garry, M., Bernstein, D.M. et al. Nonprobative photographs (or words) inflate truthiness. Psychon Bull Rev 19, 969–974 (2012). https://doi.org/10.3758/s13423-012-0292-0

    Niamh, C. (2020). “COVID-19: Why do people create fake news and why do others want to believe it so badly?”

    https://syncni.com/view/4154/covid-19-why-do-people-create-fake-news-and-why-do-others-want-to-believe-it-so-badly

    Ojiabo, O. & Alli, Y. (2020). “No going back on social media regulation – FG”. the Nation. https://thenationonlineng.net/breaking-no-going-back-on-social-media-regulation-fg/

    Oyero, K. (2020). “Lekki shootings: DJ Switch will be exposed soon, says Lai Mohammed”. The Punch. https://punchng.com/breaking-lekki-shootings-dj-switch-will-be-exposed-soon-says-lai-mohammed

    Ray W. (2020). #EndSARS fake news: Is Instagram equipped to police the internet?’ AfricanArgument  https://africanarguments.org/2020/10/30/endsars-fake-news-is-instagram-equipped-to-police-the-internet

    Robson, D. (2020). “Why smart people believe coronavirus myths”. BBC Future. https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200406-why-smart-people-believe-coronavirus-myths

    Pennycook, G., Allan Cheyne, J., Derek, J.K., Jonathan A. & Fugelsang (2015). “Is the Cognitive Reflection Test a measure of both reflection and intuition?” https://www.researchgate.net/publication/273149083_Is_the_Cognitive_Reflection_Test_a_measure_of_both_reflection_and_intuition

    Stanford News (2020). “People’s uncertainty about the novel coronavirus can lead them to believe misinformation” https://news.stanford.edu/2020/03/16/fake-news-coronavirus-appealing-avoid/

    Stephanie, P. (2019). “Social Media and Fake News”. AACE Review. https://www.aace.org/review/social-media-and-fake-news/?cli_action=1605900378.222

    Ugbede, L. (2020). “Dubawa Tweet chat addresses #EndSARS misinformation, Its causes and solution”. https://dubawa.org/dubawa-tweet-chat-addresses-endsars-misinformation-its-causes-and-solution

    Ziga, T. (2018). “Technology as Enabler of Fake News and a Potential Tool to Combat It”. https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/IDAN/2018/619008/IPOL_IDA(2018)619008_EN.pdf

  • The Illusory Truth Effect And Why Army’s ‘Fake News’ Tags Are Tricky

    The Nigerian Army, the security agency responsible for land warfare, has recently stepped up its war against “fake news” but its controversial approach comes at a cost for its integrity and the trust the public may have in the media.

    An analysis of over 5,400 tweets on the verified handle of the Nigerian Army posted since April 2013 shows that it has mentioned the words “fake news/publication” at least 67 times. In 56 of those tweets, mostly from 2020, the security agency was calling out various media publications or other reports.

    The first time such a tweet was made was  in September 2017, in reaction to a publication by PM News Nigeria but it has since been deleted. In the second instance the following month, the Army reacted to a report by Vanguard Newspaper which said people panicked in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, over forced vaccination against monkeypox by soldiers.

    After these two tweets, the following related posts were more detailed, sometimes involving the use of press statements to rebut misinformation. For example, in the series of tweets from September 2019, the Army took time to explain why rumours about planned terrorist attacks should be disregarded.

    However, starting from July 11, 2020, a change in approach was noticed. On this day, the Army uploaded screenshots of publications by Global Sentinel and Premium Times about the voluntary retirement of 256 soldiers and stamped them, in bold red fonts, as “FAKE NEWS”. It again added captions, but in the screenshots this time, arguing that the disengagement was a normal routine and that the force was not in short supply of willing recruits.

    In most of the 32 “fake news alerts” shared since then (between August and November), no further explanations were provided. The notices only had screenshots from the online reports, an eye-catching “fake news” stamp, and a caption that said either “fake news” or “be aware,” often accompanied by three exclamation marks.

    Unlike conventional fact-checking, this approach makes it difficult for people to understand why a news report should be considered untrue. 

    The inclination to describe unfavourable reports as fake is not limited to the Nigerian Army. In November, for example, Nigeria’s Information Minister, Lai Mohammed, dismissed a CNN investigation about the extrajudicial killing of protesters in Lekki as “fake news” and “misinformation,” without specifically explaining why.

    Introducing the illusory truth effect

    For a lot of people, what is true hardly matters as much as what is viral or repeated often. This is a cognitive bias known as the illusory truth effectㅡor, alternatively, the validity or reiteration effect. For instance, the government may, for instance, succeed in convincing people the economy is faring well despite evidence to the contrary, simply because it keeps repeating the deceitful claim.

    Repeating a claim makes it appear more believable and, according to experts, the best way to avoid becoming a victim of this bias is to be on the lookout for such statements and then actively consider “what objective facts corroborate each version of the events.”

    United Stated President Donald Trump is one person who seems to have prominently taken advantage of the illusory truth effect. He has, in fact, been credited with popularising the phrase,“fake news.” During his campaign and since his election in 2016, Trump used the phrase loosely and frequently to describe news about himself which he considered unsavoury. 

    “You know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all so that when you write negative stories about me no one will believe you,” he said in 2018. And it has worked, with the number of people having confidence in the press plummeting hard over the years.

    The regard the Nigerian Army has for Trump’s approach to the press likely dates back years. Notably, in November 2018, it referenced, in a now-deleted tweet, a video of the U.S. president to justify opening fire on protesting members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN).

    “When they throw rocks… consider it as a rifle… They want to throw rocks at our military, [then] our military fights back,” Trump had said in the clip. 

    Meanwhile, the wanton use of the expression “fake news” is questionable, considering how it has become weaponised over the years. Experts have observed three common uses of the term: to describe misinformation, to discredit disliked claims, and to undermine or delegitimise the source of a claim, especially news platforms, even if the claim were true.

    “The dismissive usages of the term ‘fake news’ are particularly problematic because they do not leave room for critically evaluating a source or its message, which can lead to gaps in understanding of consequential information,” says Tamar Rubin, an information literacy expert.

    “If the term, ‘fake news’, is being used to describe everything from intentionally fabricated fictional news stories to legitimate news sources that are simply reporting on a controversial topic, then the term cannot be considered a reliable indicator of whether a source is trustworthy.”

    Rubin instead recommends the use of more specific terms such as “misinformation” and “disinformation”.

    Fact-checking truth with falsehood

    Although fighting false information, especially through broadcast and online media, has recently been one of the Nigerian Army’s key interests, the agency itself has several times had its hands caught in the cookie jar of misinformation.

    Back in July, the army was quick to label a Premium Times report about hundreds of soldiers retiring due to a loss of interest as “fake news.” But documents later surfaced confirming the report to be true.

    Months earlier, the army had similarly debunked another report on the suspension of approvals for voluntary retirement applications. But the newspaper then published a copy of the internal memorandum, substantiating its story.

    More instances came to light during the EndSARS campaign in October. In one of such, the army first described a hooded official who called on his colleagues not to kill demonstrators in a widely circulated video as a “fake soldier.” Two days later, it announced that it had identified and arrested the official for cyber crimes.

    Similarly, the army went from claiming none of its men was at the Lekki tollgate and that no shots were fired to explaining that it intervened after it was invited by the state government and that its men only fired blank shots.

    It is quite surprising that, despite the obvious conflicts in some of its statements, the Nigerian Army has hardly deleted any of the concerned tweets. This reinforces the theory that it may have a goal bigger than just “fighting fake news” and may be banking on the illusory truth effect to promote distrust in the mainstream media.

    The cognitive bias is so effective, says Psychology and Cognitive Science expert Tom Stafford, because  the instinct of the average person is to use “short-cuts in judging how plausible something is.” Though helpful, this can be misleading. The first step to guarding against the bias is to learn about it, Stafford suggests.

    He explains: “Part of this is double-checking why we believe what we do – if something sounds plausible is it because it really is true, or have we just been told that repeatedly? This is why scholars are so mad about providing references ㅡ so we can track the origin on any claim, rather than having to take it on faith.”

    Importantly, the army’s casual method of fact-checking may not just worsen distrust for media publications but can also harm its reputation.

    “Credibility is the cornerstone of effective narratives,” argues Dr Abdullahi Tasiu Abubakar, a journalism lecturer at the City University of London, in reference to the army’s communication strategies. “Honesty – or the perception of it – is a necessary condition for the long-term efficacy of strategic communications.”

    The current government has repeatedly listed winning the fight against insurgency and other forms of insecurity as a top priority. But to achieve this, media practitioners have insisted, it needs to see journalists and other opinion-shapers as partners in progress and not enemies who must be crushed. Security agencies, especially the Nigerian Army, must also be committed to sincerity and transparency, so long as this does not compromise the security of the country.

    The researcher produced this article per the Dubawa 2020 Fellowship partnership with HumAngle to facilitate the ethos of “truth” in journalism and enhance media literacy in the country.

  • #EndSARS Protests: Fact Checkers rate at least 45 claims as False, Misleading

    Summary

    With 48 million tweets from 5 million users in 10 days (October 5th to 14th, 2020), protesters flooded the digital public sphere with hashtag #EndSARS. 

    The incident that propelled the #EndSARS protests was the alleged killing of an unarmed Nigerian by the operatives of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) in October, 2020. The call for the second wave of the protest started on social media with a claim through viral video of protesters converging on Lekki tollgate in Lagos State, the epicentre of the #EndSARS protests. This study, therefore, examines the veracity of claims made on #EndSARS protests as fact-checked by four fact-checking organisations in Nigeria, and tools used to verify the claims.

    The scrutiny of fact checks on claims around #EndSARS protests in Nigeria, through content analysis of manifest contents (n=45) on the websites of four fact-checking organisations, revealed the extent of misinformation during and after the protests. Going by the analysis of the fact-check contents published by Africa Check, AFP Hub, Dubawa and People’s Check, it confirms massive spread of misinformation during the protests in October, 2020. 

    The majority of the claims on #EndSARS fact-checked by Africa Check, AFP Hub, Dubawa and People’s Check were rated ‘False’. This confirms the severity of misinformation on the #EndSARS protests. This indicated that the false claims on #EndSARS protests went viral (one of the factors that partly determines whether a claim would be fact-check is virality). It is however expected that the fact-checks to dispel them should also receive some levels of virality. 

    The fact-checking tools and procedures used by the fact-checking organisations to verify the claims on #EndSARS protests include:  Cross Referencing, Reverse Image Search, InVID, TinEye and Google Chrome extension. Deploying these tools aided the fact-checking organisations to come up with verdicts on the claims. 

    Africa Check, Dubawa, and other fact-checking organisations in Nigeria need to do more by collaborating with stakeholders in public and private sectors to flatten the curve of misinformation and digital illiteracy in the country.

    Introduction

    The first phase of this study, analysing claims made on #EndSARS protests, was published on 7th December, 2020 being two months after the protests against police brutality and Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) started. This was also the day of calls for the second wave of the #EndSARS protest went viral on social media. In fact, there was a report of protest in Osogbo in Osun State on the said date.

    Dramatically, while fact checkers in Nigeria are preparing to address the challenge of dis- and misinformation following  apprehensions over the second wave of Covid-19, pieces of disinformation on the second wave of #EndSARS protests are already going viral.

    This was because a video shot during the October #EndSARS protests was depicted as a new one emanating from Lekki tollgate in December 2020 as heralding the second wave of the protests in Lagos State. The Police Public Relations Officers (PPRO) in Lagos and Ogun States had to issue statements with the PRO in Lagos State describing the video as “baseless and mischievous” and his counterpart in Ogun State threatening that the police will disrupt the new #EndSARS protests if staged in the state.

    Few days after, the war of narratives continued, taking a new dimension, whereby the protesters were led by Aisha Yesufu, accused Arise TV (considered as sympathetic to the plight of the cause of the protesters) of promoting wrong narratives about the #EndSARS protests. Similarly, President Muhammadu Buhari lumped BBC (praised by anti-protesters for giving “unbiased” report on the protests) with foreign media organisations describing their coverage on the #EndSARS protests as “disgusting”.

    With 48 million tweets from 5 million users in 10 days (October 5th to 14th, 2020), protesters flooded the digital public sphere with hashtag #EndSARS during the first wave of the protests.

    How valid are these narratives as promoted by the two sides? What are the digital and fact-checking tools deployed by fact checkers to verify claims on #EndSARS protests?

    This study therefore examines the veracity of claims made on #EndSARS protests as fact-checked by four fact-checking organisations in Nigeria (Africa Check, AFP Hub, Dubawa and People’s Check), and tools used to verify the claims.

    Research Objectives

    To find out the fact-checking tools used to verify the claims on #EndSARS protests published by Africa Check, AFP Hub, Dubawa and People’s Check.

    To find out the dominant verdict in the fact-checked claims on #EndSARS protests published by the selected fact-checking organisations.

    Methodology

    The methodology adopted is the same as contained in the first part of this study: “Analysis of Claims on #EndSARS Protest in Nigeria: Images most manipulated content, Twitter as major platform”. The second part of this study’s content analysed fact checks (n=45) published by four fact-checking organisations in Nigeria. It analysed the tools adopted by the organisations to verify claims on #EndSARS protests. In order to achieve this, the researcher read through the content of the fact checks to identify the tools and code them accordingly. It also analysed the verdicts/ratings of the claims on the protests published between 1st to 31st October, 2020 by the selected fact-checking organisations. The researcher had to read through the rating formats of Africa Check, AFP Hub, Dubawa and People’s Check in order to understand how these organisations rate claims. This afforded the researcher to classify and code ratings of claims on #EndSARS protests by the fact checkers.

    Findings

    The data for this study was generated from the content analysis of claims on #EndSARS protests as published by fact-checking organisations in Nigeria. This part focused on the fact-checking tools and procedures adopted, as well as the verdicts on the claims fact-checked by the selected fact-checking organisations. The data were analysed quantitatively and supported by other secondary data. The findings of the analysis are presented below:

    Fact-checking tools deployed to verify claims

    The fact-checking organisations gave preference to cross referencing in verifying claims on #EndSARS protests. Cross referencing according to Raheemat Adeniran “entails cross-checking the claims with publicly available information.” These, in reference to fact-check contents analysed, include interviews, web/keywords searches, review and analysis of official social media handles/pages or documents, among others. This fact-checking procedure accounted for about 45% of tools adopted to fact-check claims on the #EndSARS protests. This supports the finding of the study conducted by Raheemat Adeniran which identified it as the most commonly reported fact-checking procedure.  

    Table 8: Distribution of Fact-Checking Tools used to verify claims on #EndSARS protest.

    Fact-checking ToolsAfrica CheckAFPDubawaPeople’s CheckCumulative
    Reverse Image Search4 (40%)3 (60%)8 (30%)2 (22%)17 (38%)
    InVID1 (20%)5 (24%)6 (13%)
    Cross Referencing5 (50%)1 (20%)7 (33%)7 (78%)20 (45%)
    Google Chrome1 (10%)1 (2%)
    TinEye1 (5%)1 (2%)
    Total10 (100%)5 (100%)21 (100%)9 (100%)45 (100%)

    As a result of the fact that images were the most manipulated contents of the claims fact-checked as revealed by the first part of this study, Reverse Image Search as a fact-checking tool accounted for 38% (n=45) of tools used to verify claims on #EndSARS protests by fact-checking organisations. InVID used in verifying videos accounted for 13%. Other fact-checking tools used are TinEye and Google Chrome extension. While analysing the fact-checking tools used, it was observed that the fact-checking organisations used multiple tools to fact-check a claim aside the cross referencing. For instance, the use of InVID is also complemented with the Google Reverse Image Search to verify claims in the video on #EndSARS protests. This is always done after keyframe analysis of the videos. 

    The findings of this study indicated that fact checkers in the selected organisations are digitally savvy, going by the adoption of different tools to verify claims mostly made online on #EndSARS protests. They are skilled enough to be able to debunk the claims and expose the manipulation of contents by purveyors of disinformation. To what extent are other journalists equipped to carry out this verification exercise? Are the media literacy efforts of stakeholders, filling the gap to equip media audiences to verify claims, achieving target objectives? Raji Rasaki in a study examines how diffusion of innovation comes to play in instilling the culture of fact-checking by journalists and newsrooms in Nigeria. Africa Check and Dubawa who are pioneer fact-checking organisations in Nigeria need to do more by collaborating with stakeholders in public and private sector to flatten the curve of mis- and disinformation and digital illiteracy in the country.

    ‘False’ as most occuring verdict

    ‘False’ is the dominant verdict in the fact-check of claims on #EndSARS protests published by the selected fact-checking organisations. All the 10 verdicts of Africa Check of claims on #EndSARS protests came out ‘False’, while four out of five verdicts of AFP was ‘False’ with the other one rated as ‘Not Accurate’. Similarly, People’s Check has all its verdicts as ‘False’ except one tagged ‘False and Misleading. For Dubawa, out of the 21 verdicts, 14 came with the conclusion of ‘False’, five tagged as ‘misleading’ with one verdict as ‘Insufficient Evidence’. Two of the fact-checks were not classified with an explanation that the videos and pictures that depict that Buhari is dead were ‘doctored’ (Dubawa) and “Not Accurate” (AFP Hub). The finding of this study that identified ‘Fasle’ as the dominant verdict, is in line with the submission of experts that misinformation dominates the EndSARS protest in Nigeria

    Table 9: Ratings/Verdicts on Claims of Analysed Fact-Checks

    Ratings/VerdictsAfrica CheckAFPDubawaPeople’s CheckCumulative
    False10 (100%)4 (80%)14 (67%)8 (89%)36 (80%)
    True
    Misleading5 (23%)5 (11%)
    Insufficient Evidence1 (5%)1 (2%)
    Multiple Verdicts1 (11%)1 (2%)
    Unclassified1 (20%)1 (5%)2 (5%)
    Total10 (100%)5 (100%)21 (100%)9 (100%)45 (100%)

    The contents of the fact-checks published by Africa Check, AFP Hub, Dubawa and People’s Check indicated that the false claims on #EndSARS protests went viral. However, it is expected that the fact checks to dispel them should also receive some level of virality. The study on Fact-Checking Ecosystem and another on Infodemics on Covid-19 pandemic in Nigeria had raised this question. International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) in its  October newsletter on the Knight fellowship programme in Nigeria had noted how a fact check in video format on #EndSARS protests posted by Dubawa on Facebook was viewed over 30,000 times. It was not clear whether fact-checks on #EndSARS protest published by the fact-checking organisations went viral just as the dis and misinformation on the subject matter. 

    In addition, there are reports that millions of tweets were recorded in October around #EndSARS protest. The Cable newspaper reported that the hashtag #EndSARS topped Twitter trends on Monday 7th December 2020 with nearly 120,000 tweets as of 11:00 am. Was there corresponding retweets and trending of fact-check contents on #EndSARS protest?  There are bots that retweet any mention of the hashtag and some posts around it were also sponsored. Except for Africa Check, there is no evidence that other fact-checking organisations promote their fact-check contents on social media. 

    Are there ethical issues with the use of bots to spread fact-check contents, given the technological sophistication in the spread of dis-misinformation and the challenges of information disorder? This has to be addressed by stakeholders as it was not clear whether those who spread dis-misinformation and those exposed to them had the opportunity of reading or viewing the fact checks on the claims. In order to win the information war, tech companies need to give fact check contents the virality it deserved. For instance, Twitter can support the fact-checking efforts by allowing a special emoji and hashtags for fact-check contents posted on its platform. Facebook should expand its collaborations with fact-checking organisations to allow their posts enjoy free sponsorship. Generally, social media platforms should allow the algorithms on their platforms to automate virality for fact-check contents produced especially by the organisations who are signatories to the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN).

    Conclusion

    The scrutiny of fact checks on claims around #EndSARS protests in Nigeria, through content analysis of manifest contents (n=45) on the website of four fact-checking organisations, revealed the extent of dis/misinformation during and after the protests. Going by the analysis of the fact-check contents published by Africa Check, AFP Hub, Dubawa and People’s Check, it confirms massive spread of misinformation during the protest in October, 2020. 

    This indicated that the false claims on #EndSARS protests went viral (one of the factors that partly determine whether a claim would be fact-checked is virality). It is, however, expected that the fact-checks to dispel them should also receive some levels of virality. If Twitter can launch Emoji in support of #EndSARS protests, why not unveil a dedicated one for fact-check contents of fact-checking organisations?

    The fact-checking tools and procedures used by the fact-checking organisations to verify the claims on #EndSARS protests include:  Cross Referencing, Reverse Image Search, InVID, TinEye and Google Chrome extension. Deploying these tools aided the fact-checking organisations to come up with verdicts on the claims. Africa Check, Dubawa, and other fact-checking organisations in Nigeria need to do more by collaborating with stakeholders in the public and private sectors in order to flatten the curve of information and digital illiteracy in the country. Such collaboration will strengthen the culture of fact checking.

    This research is conducted for the Dubawa Fellowship programme (2020), and is supported by the Heinrich Boll Stiftung Foundation, to amplify the culture of truth and contribute to literature around information disorder.

  • 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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    QandA

    Is insecurity rising in Nigeria due to weapon import denial?

    In a video published by ChannelsTv, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, claimed Nigeria’s efforts to procure ammunition to defeat terrorists were “denied” and unless the weapons are acquired, Nigeria would continue to be at the mercy of terrorists. 

    However, Dubawa found out that this statement is misleading. Details of the check show that although the United States blocked Nigeria’s weapon purchases in 2014 due to alleged human rights violations, President Trump later overturned the arms embargo in 2018. Further, Dubawa found evidence of Nigeria’s purchase of weapons and platforms from different countries. 

    Hence, itis misleading to attribute Nigeria’s inability to end terrorism and armed banditry to such denials since the country has been importing platforms, arms and ammunitions from several other countries.


    Coronavirus infection count 

    Note: Total cases may be more than officially stated owing to the inability to include unconfirmed cases. Stay safe


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    It is important to check the veracity of this claim as it involves images (which can easily be recycled or taken out of context) and an online blog (which is susceptible to disseminating misinformation).

    • N-POWER GRANT … Check if You have been selected to receive ₦30,000 As Part of N-POWER FUND GRANT Click https://n-power.freefunds.xyz  – SOURCE: WhatsApp Message.

    Many times we come across messages appealing to readers to click on an attached link to claim certain rewards or grants. Dubawa has, on many occasions, checked such links and found out that they can be misleading. This method is usually used as click-baits to drive traffic to unverifiable websites. Beware of these messages and desist from clicking the links as they may pose threats to your devices and/or financial information.


    Other Fact-checks/Articles 

  • Viral quote claiming Lai Mohammed threatening the US, UK and the EU is fake

    Claim: A quote that Nigeria’s Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, warned the United States, United Kingdom, and the European Union to stay out of the affairs of Nigeria has recently been circulating on the internet.

    False: The quote is not real. Lai Mohammed has no public and confirmed record of saying that. 

    Full Text

    There has been this long-running internet quote that has Information Minister, Lai Mohammed, threatening the United States, United Kingdom, and the European Union. 

    The quote goes like this “We have sophisticated weapons to attack the US, UK, EU if they dare to interfere in our elections—Lai Mohammed.”

    The quote first came ahead of the 2019 Elections in Nigeria when Lai Mohammed’s boss, President Muhammadu Buhari was running for re-election under the All Progressives Congress (APC). Social media users shared the quote to insinuate that the minister was not pleased with the alleged interference from the United States, United Kingdom, and the European Union. 

    The quote resurfaced just after the #EndSARS protest that broke out in several cities across the country and the world. This time, it was edited to suit the prevailing issue.

    “We have sophisticated weapons to attack the US, UK, EU if they dare to interfere,” Mr Mohammed was quoted as saying in a message accompanied by his picture.

    Again, mobile phone users, especially on WhatsApp are using it to suggest that Lai Mohammed was not pleased with the support the protests garnered from international bodies. 

    Lai Mohammed was recently in the news for expressing his displeasure on how some events during the protest were reported on social media and by American news cable network, CNN

    The minister has come under heavy criticism for his stance for the regulation of social media after he blamed social media for aggravating reports related to the #EndSARS protests.

    “The violence that resulted from the hijack of the #EndSARS protest was catalysed by fake news and disinformation, which spread like wildfire on social media,” the minister said during a recent meeting with members of the Broadcasting Organizations of Nigeria (BON). 

    Also recently, The Minister while reacting to a report done by CNN on the Lekki Tollgate incident, accused the cable news platform of publishing a report that ‘falls short of journalistic standards’, and reinforces disinformation in Nigeria.

    “While it is up to CNN to accede or not, please note that the Federal Government reserves the right to take any action within its laws to prevent CNN from aggravating the #EndSARS crisis with unprofessional, irresponsible, one-sided, inciting, and sensational reporting that is capable of pitching Nigerians against themselves and setting the country on fire,” Lai Mohammed said. 

    So in line with these grievances, a graphic with a blown-up photo of Lai Mohammed and the quote has been widely shared on WhatsApp in the aftermath of the #EndSARS protests.

    Verification:

    On verification, Pulse did an internet search on this quote purportedly by Lai Mohammed and found no public and credible record of it. 

    The top two results of the search are the only ones that have the quote but those are from the Facebook page of a certain GossipMillBiafra. The first result was from a November 2020 post on the same Facebook page while the second was from a January 2019 post of the same Facebook page.

    As Nigeria’s Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed’s statements and utterances are widely covered and reported, so a quote like this would have been easy to find on the internet. 

    An extensive search of the quote purportedly from the minister returned nothing credible. 

    Conclusion

    A viral quote which has  Nigeria’s Information Minister, Lai Mohammed, threatening the US, UK and the EU is false. 

    The researcher produced this fact-check per the Dubawa 2020 Fellowship partnership with Pulse.ng to facilitate the ethos of “truth” in journalism and enhance media literacy in the country.

  • Analysis of Claims on #EndSARS Protest in Nigeria: Images most manipulated content, Twitter as major platform

    Summary

    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.

    Introduction

    What started as a peaceful protest on 7th October 2020 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 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 resulted in the death of 100 people with over 260 assets burnt

    The protesters and government competed to label each other as purveyors of disinformation. For instance, a catalogue of pictures appeared on social media platforms showing pictures of those who allegedly spread disinformation about the #EndSARS protest. A review of this content revealed that it exhibited one of the characteristics of propaganda – “unidentifiable sponsors”. 

    Pictures shared on social media accusing Nigerian celebrities of spreading disinformation

    BBC also documented misinformation that went viral online during #EndSARS protest especially on social media. These are content mostly shared on social media platforms. Many of these social media users can however not be verified. They hide under the anonymous nature of these social media platforms and false identity to spread dis and misinformation about the #EndSARS protest. According to Kunle Adebayo, “this practice provides an incentive for people to create multiple accounts on social media and assume false identities in order to gain followers.”

    There are series of assertions surrounding the #ENDSARS protests which started on the 7th of October, 2020. The Punch, reported that “particular concern was the Lekki toll gate shooting of Tuesday, October 20, where peaceful #ENDSARS protesters were shot at by security agents, leading to yet-to-be ascertained number of casualties.” Similarly, the Nigerian police also claimed that scores of policemen were killed and hundreds of police stations destroyed during the protest. There has not been enough empirical data to confirm or refute many of these assertions. 

    Even before the #EndSARS protest, there have been debates on the appropriate strategies and approaches to combating the problem of dis and misinformation in Nigeria. While some stakeholders are calling for regulation of social media, others described fact-checking and information literacy as the best solution.

    This study, therefore, interrogates this phenomenon by conducting comparative analysis of fact checks published by Africa Check, AFP, Dubawa and People’s Check in order to answer some questions occasioned by the assertions around the #EndSARS protest in Nigeria.

    Research Objectives

    To determine the frequency of fact-checks on #EndSARS protest by selected fact-checking organisations in Nigeria.

    To examine the sources of claims on #EndSARS protests in fact checks carried out by the selected fact-checking organisations.

    To find out the platforms used to promote the claims on #EndSARS protest fact-checked by the selected fact-checking organisations.

    To examine the form of contents that the claims on #EndSARS protests were presented.

    Method

    The use of content analysis offered this study the opportunity to explore and analyse online manifest contents to determine the severity of dis and misinformation around the #EndSARS protest in Nigeria. It adopted a quantitative research approach just as the study conducted by Raji Rasaki to leverage on the content analysis of the fact-checks published mainly on the websites of the selected news media. This was complemented with literature and description of the quantitative data along the subject area.

    The study selected all the three fact-checking organisations in Nigeria (Africa Check, AFP Hub and Dubawa) who are signatories to the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) and a fact-checking organisation operated by some Nigerian students (People’s Check). In order to ensure professionalism and using laid down parameters, IFCN assesses the suitability of organisations conducting fact-checking around the world. People’s Check was also selected because it is a fact-checking organisation owned by Nigerian students (the #EndSARS protest was largely championed by Nigerian youths). This was made possible through the guide to fact-checking ecosystem in Nigeria. The study focused on fact-check stories published between 1st and 31st of October, 2020 by the four fact-checking organisations operating in Nigeria. This period captured the days before, during, and after the #EndSARS protest. The researcher first examined all the fact-check stories (n=132) published by the four fact-checking organisations during the period under review. The study further conducted keywords searches on the websites of the fact-checking organisations to filter out unrelated #EndSARS protest fact checks. The use of the keyword “EndSARS” returned little or no search results on some of the fact-checking organisation’s websites. It is not clear whether this was due to non-use of the required keywords while posting related contents on the websites. The researcher addressed this challenge by scanning through all the fact-checks (1st to 31st October, 2020) related to #EndSARS published under different sections of the websites, thereby recording more published fact-checks compared to the results of the keyword searches. For instance, Dubawa  has a section (“Fact Checks”) where all its fact-check stories are published. This section has six sub-sections (Mainstream, Economy, Health, Education, Politics, and Security) but fact-checks related to #EndSARS appeared under Mainstream, Politics and Security. The researcher further eliminated results related to #EndSARS protests which are not purely fact checks but research and media literacy articles. In addition, fact-checks that were repeated on the same fact-checking organisation website were eliminated. The four fact-checking organisations operating in Nigeria published a total of 45 fact-checks during the period under review. All the fact-checks were published during and after the #EndSARS protest. 

    Screenshots of results emanated from keyword searches on #EndSARS 

    The content analysed are based on the following criteria: fact-checking organisations that published fact-check stories online; contents analysed are those published online on #EndSARS protest between 1st  and 31st October, 2020. The study considers claims on the #EndSARS protests by examining their sources, focus, platforms used to promote them, presentation formats of the claims, and targets of the claims.  It also analysed the verdicts of the selected fact-checking organisations on the claims, and fact-checking tools deployed to verify the claims. These form the units of analysis and content category for this research. In order to gather the required data, this study adopted the content category used by Rahemah Adeniran but with modification to satisfy the peculiarity and focus of this study.

    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.

    Dubawa fact-checked highest number of claims on #EndSARS protest

    To determine the frequency of fact-check on #EndSARS protest by selected fact-checking organisations in Nigeria, the study content analysed fact-checks by the selected organisations. Out of the 132 fact-checks related contents published in October, 34 percent (n=45) were fact checks around #EndSARS protest. Dubawa published the highest number of fact-checks (21), representing 47 percent of the entire fact-checks on #EndSARS protest. AFP recorded the lowest fact-checks (5)  representing 11 percent. What is responsible for high and low records of fact-checks by the selected organisations? Meanwhile, it was noted that Dubawa is the first indigenous fact-checking organisation in Nigeria, while AFP Hub is France-based news agency operating a fact-checking hub in Africa including Nigeria. The pattern was however slightly different from that of the People’s Check (based in Nigeria) that has 20 percent (n=9) compared to Africa Check (with headquarters in South Africa) that recorded 22 percent (n=10) of the fact-checks on #EndSARS published by the selected fact-checking organisations.

    One of the traditional criteria of determining newsworthiness is proximity (physical or psychological). By this news value principle, indigenous fact-checking organisations are expected to give prominence to fact-checks around #EndSARS compared to others with affiliations to international or continental organisations.

    Table 1 : Distribution of Analysed Fact-Checks on #EndSARS 

    Fact-Checking OrganisationsFrequency Percentage (%)
    Africa Check 1022
    AFP0511
    Dubawa2147
    People’s Check0920
    Total45100

    Social Media Users, Celebrities as major sources of fact-checked claims

    The claims on #EndSARS protests fact-checked by the selected fact-checking organisations were traced to social media users and celebrities. This data of the content analysis of the fact-checks indicated that 67 percent of the source of dis and misinformation on #EndSARS protests were spread by social media users.  This was followed by celebrities/social media influencers that accounted for 16 percent of the source of claims fact-checked on Africa Check, AFP, Dubawa and People’s Check. Other sources of claims fact-checked are politicians/political parties, mainstream media, impostor/parody social media accounts, and security agencies. 

    Table 2: Sources of #EndSARS protest claims fact-checked by Africa Check, AFP Hub, Dubawa and People’s Check in October, 2020.

    Claim SourcesAfrica Check AFPDubawa People’s CheckCumulative
    Social Media Users07 (70%)04 (80%)14 (67%)05 (56%)30 (67%)
    Parody/Impostor Accounts01 (20%)01 (2%)
    Celebrities/Social Media Infliuencers02 (20%)01 (5%)04 (44%)07 (16%)
    Politicians/Political Parties01 (10%)03 (14%)04 (9%)
    Mainstream Media02 (9%)02 (4%)
    Security Agencies01 (5%)01 (2%)
    Total10 (100%)05 (100%)21 (100%)09 (100%)45 (100%)

    The finding of this study revealed that the largest percentage of false claims on #EndSARS protest emanated from social media users. Do they spread the information without knowing that they are false and without the intention of causing harm (misinformation) or the opposite(disinformation)? A grassroots campaigner, Hamzat Lawal, in a tweet chat on #EndSARS and misinformation on Nigeria’s social media space said “the internet allows for all kinds of news to be shared and in the case of the #EndSARS protest, false information was shared either intentionally or not.”

    This again lays credence to the need for information and digital literacy to equip social media users with the skill of verification and culture of being critical when it comes to consumption of information.

    Twitter as a major platform for spread of misinformation on #EndSARS protest

    The data generated from the content analysis revealed that Twitter was the major platform used to promote claims on #EndSARS protest. This is because 36 percent of claims fact-checked by the four fact-checking organisations were promoted on Twitter. Adeniran (2020) discovered a similar pattern in the study that content analysed claims and fact-checks on the 2020 Governorship election in Edo State. The NOIpolls, in its 2019 Social Media Poll report, rated Facebook (86%) and WhatsApp (84%) as the most used social media platforms in Nigeria but they accounted for only 20 percent and 9 percent respectively of claims on #EndSARS protest fact-checked. Could the dominant use of Twitter for the spread of misinformation on #EndSARS protest be partly due to support for protest by Jack Dorey, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Twitter? Or is it because the organisers officially adopted or used Twitter for the campaign? There is a dedicated hashtag (#EndSARS) officially recognised by Twitter. Similarly, all tweets with the hashtag are retweeted by bots. Aside this, the organisers used Twitter to mobilise support (logistic and finance) in support of the protest. The mysterious ‘Anonymous’ of the #EndSARS protest, that allegedly hacked public institutions websites, also operates a dedicated Twitter handle.

    The data of the content analysis also shows that the same claim on #EndSARS protest was promoted on multiple social media platforms. This represented 31 percent of the claims fact-checked. Is the low fact-checked contents on Facebook indicates that the platform discourages or controls the spread of misinformation on its platforms?

    Uwagbale Edward-Ekpu argues why there are more contents about #EndSARS protest on Twitter than on Facebook. He explains this in an article on Quartz, titled – “Facebook and Instagram made missteps on Nigeria’s EndSARS protest while Twitter boosted it“: “Twitter gave the EndSARS hashtag an official emoji and verified the Twitter accounts of several users at the forefront of the protest. This act of support contributed to the global credibility of the protest and boosted the movement both online and offline.”

    But it was not the same with Facebook and Instagram as Uwagbale Edward-Ekpu expressed concerns that “Instagram and Facebook platforms, which are both owned by Facebook Inc, both flagged posts containing words such as “#EndSARS” and “Pray for Nigeria” and of photos of a blood-stained Nigerian flag and a burning candle as fake news, and users were directed to an unrelated fact check article for explanations.”

    Facebook and Instagram later apologised for the error with explanation that its Algorithm wrongly label as ‘fake News’, posts about #EndSARS on its platforms.

    There is a need to establish whether there is any significant relationship between the above variables.

    The result of this study shows that social media platforms especially Twitter was massively used for the spread of dis and misinformation on the #EndSARS protest. What role did social media policies on spreading misinformation on these platforms played during this period? To what extent did the Third Party Fact-checking programme of Facebook and similar programmes of other social platforms curtail or reduce the spread of misinformation on these platforms?

    The mainstream media however recorded the lowest (2 percent) of the claims promoted on different platforms. Only Dubawa fact-checked claims promoted on mainstream media. By this, does this signify that mainstream media are more credible than social media platforms in terms of information flow? Despite record of low usage of mainstream media to promote misinformation about the #EndSARS protest as evident by the finding of this study, some television stations came under the sanctions of National Broadcasting Commission (NBC). As a politician affiliated with the ruling party sues the CEO of Twitter and calls the sanction on Twitter for supporting the #EndSARS protest, there was no report of such sanction on any social media platforms or their users. The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Muhammed renewed the call for regulations of social media. This call was made despite the existence of Cybercrime law and other related legislations gazetted in the Nigeria status book. 

    Images as most manipulated contents of the claims fact-checked

    After examining the form of contents that the claims on #EndSARS protests were presented, images (pictures, screenshots etc) were the most manipulated compared to other contents fact-checked by Africa Check, AFP, Dubawa and People’s Check. Out of the 45 contents fact-checked, 51 percent were images with videos accounting for 26 percent followed by text (16 percent). While seven percent of the claims on #EndSARS were presented in multiple forms, none of the claims fact-checked was presented in audio form. Claims in audio form are usually presented on WhatsApp platform as Africa Check and Dubawa fact-checked one claims each from this platform while People’s Check fact-checked two claims on the same platform. AFP did not fact-check any claims on WhatsApp platform despite widespread use of this platform by Nigerians. This also reflected on why audio, which is prominent with WhatsApp, did not appear as the presentation format of claims on #EndSARS protest fact-checked by the fact-checking organisations.

    Issues of focus in the claims on #EndSARS protest

    To examine the issues of focus in the claims on #EndSARS protest, the study analysed the contents of fact checks by the selected fact-checking organisations and identified about 20 issues. Some of these include: shooting/killing of protesters, death of Buhari, destruction of public properties/arsons by protesters, arrest of fake army, call for curfew, support of protesters, death of celebrities. Others are: UN intervention/Diplomatic row, BBC apology, attack on security agents, looting by protesters/hoodlums, disgrace/attack on public figures by protesters, dissolution of SARS, and holding Nigerian flag as immunity from being shot by security agents

    Similar issues raised in the claims were fact-checked by all or some of the selected fact-checking organisations while others were exclusively fact-checked by individual organisations. For instance, all of them fact-checked claims of protesters’ destruction of public property. Only People’s Check fact-checked claim of Video Of Femi Adeshina Calling #EndSARS protest A Child’s Play. It was only Dubawa that fact-checked claims on  a video used to portray Obasanjo running away from Nigeria.

    The #EndSARS protest was one of the top trending search terms on Google in Nigeria in October, 2020. Also, the faces and voices behind the protest appeared as the most trending on the search engine. This includes Aisha Yesufu, who tops the list of those featured among the most asked questions for the month. It added that people are also keen to know where President Muhammadu Buhari was as he waited days before addressing Nigerians on the protest.

    “According to Google, the top 10 trending questions for October 2020 are: Who is Aisha Yesufu? Where is Buhari now? Who is the winner of BBN 2020? Where is Tinubu now? How to track a stolen phone? Who is Anonymous? Who is Tompolo? How to prepare jollof rice? Who is leading in the Ondo election? Who is DJ Switch?” according to The Guardian.

    Security Agencies as most target entity of claim

    The Nigeria Army, Police, and other security agencies are the most targeted entity of claims on EndSARS protest. This is because security agencies accounted for 38 percent (n=17) of the total persons and institutions that are targeted with claims fact-checked by Africa Check, AFP Hub, Dubawa and People’s Check. This was trailed by Protesters (16 percent; n=7), politicians/political parties (16 percent; n=7). Public figures as well as private/public institutions had 13 percent (n=-6) each while celebrities/social media influencers are the least target entity of claims on EndSARS protest (4 percent; n=2).

    Table 3: Target Entity of Claims

    Target of ClaimsAfrica CheckAFPDubawaPeople’s CheckCumulative
    Security Agencies3 (30%)3 (60%)7 (33%)4 (45%)17 38%)
    Protesters2 (20%)1 (20%)3 (14%)1 (11%)7 (16%)
    Politicians/Political Parties1 (10%)6 (29%)7 (16%)
    Public Figures1 (10%)1 (20%)3 14%)1 (11%)6 (13%)
    Private/Public Institutions2 (20%)2 (10%)2 (22%)6 (13%)
    Celebrities/Social Media Influencers1 (10%)1 (11%)2 (4%)
    Total10 (100%)5 (100%)21 (100%)9 (100%)45 (100%)

    Conclusion

    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 more prominence to the #EndSARS protests more than other fact-checking organisations. Meanwhile, there might be other intervening variables that influence this which is open to further interrogations. 

    Though social media users and celebrities accounted for higher number in terms of sources of claims on #EndSARS protest in the fact-check carried out by the selected fact-checking organisations, other stakeholders which include protesters, politicians, mainstream media and security agencies are also sources of claims fact-checked (majority of which are false).

    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 and is popularly used on WhatsApp.

    There was an increase in spread of dis and misinformation in the events and days to Lekki Toll Gate shooting with assertion that the information pollution during this period was partly or wholly responsible for the destruction of public and private property, looting, arson and killing of security agencies by hoodlums. Hamzat Lawal in the Dubawa Tweet chats on EndSARS and Misinformation raised a similar observation: “One instance of the dangers of fake news is the claim that carrying the Nigerian flag would prevent a soldier from shooting you. Misinformation like this is not only improbable but could cost us lives. While a lot of the agitation was stirred by genuine anger caused by the incidence of police brutality, misinformation had a role to play in fanning the flames.”

    Is it the characteristic of protest to be hijacked by hoodlums or it was spread of dis and misinformation on the Lekki Tollgate shootings that raised emotions and tensions which encouraged some Nigerians to engage in civil disobedience and criminal acts? Abdul Mahmud, an activist and social critic during the Dubawa tweet chat submitted that “the violence experienced had nothing to do with fake news but the sole actions of those he described as ‘the underclass’ who took advantage of the situation.” Similarly, report by Premium Times attributed arson and looting during the #EndSARS protest in Ondo State to curfew declared by Governor Rotimi Akeredolu. And in another report, it described looting and arson as “unprecedented” in the history of Nigeria. There is a need to interrogate the (dis)connection between these variables.

    Going by the findings of this study, there is a need to consider the concerns that fact-checking in the world is on the “defensive” rather than being “offensive”. Fact Checkers therefore need to put up measures to discourage purveyors of disinformation from setting agenda for them. One area where the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) needs to look into is the use of bots and sponsors of fact-check contents on social media. 

    This research is conducted for the Dubawa Fellowship programme (2020), and is supported by the Heinrich Boll Stiftung Foundation, to amplify the culture of truth and contribute to literature around information disorder.

  • How true is Lai Mohammed’s claim blank ammunition cannot kill anyone?

    Claim: Information Minister, Lai Mohammed, has claimed that soldiers who attacked unarmed protesters used blank ammunition, and blank ammunition cannot do any damage to the flesh, not to talk of killing anyone

    False. Blank ammunition if not used properly can kill. Studies and reports have confirmed several such deaths.

    Full Text

    The attack of unarmed protesters by unidentified soldiers at the Lekki Toll gate in Lagos has generated several comments globally, in which authorities in Nigeria have denied directing soldiers to attack unarmed citizens.

    The military first denied knowledge of attacking protesters but later said it only fired blank bullets. Recently, the CNN investigation which supports other investigations done by prominent media organizations on Lekki shooting such as Premium Times, Peoples Gazette, Arise News among others, sprout out negative and positive comments from citizens including the government.

    The Minister of Information and culture, Lai Mohammed in a nationwide Press briefing claims soldiers at the Lekki toll gate fired blank bullet into the air, and “blank ammunition cannot do any damage to the flesh, not to talk of killing anyone”, adding that firing live ammunition into the crowd, as some have alleged, would have led to mass killing, which never happened.

    Verifications

    Dubawa did a google search which returned several articles on the subject. 

    In April 1993, The NewYork Times reported that Brando Lee, a 27 years actor, the son of a popular actor, Bruce Lee  died on the scene when he was shot by a gun with a blank bullet. 

    Mr. Lee was shot 20 feet away in his abdomen when he was filming the movie titled, “The Crow.”

    Also publications by Metalfloss on December 4, 2015 reveals in the year 1984 that an actor Jon Erik-Hexum died while on the set of CBS’s Cover-Up as a result of a blank cartridge. “Bored by incessant delays, the actor pointed a gun loaded with blanks to his head and reportedly said, Can you believe this crap?” before pulling the trigger,” the report added.

    He had pressed the barrel directly to his temple, and the force of the explosion still did incredible damage, even without a bullet. It drove a small chunk of his own skull into his brain, which caused severe hemorrhaging and put him in a coma. He died as a result of his injuries.

    “Make no mistake: blanks can kill”, the publication warned.

    Another publication in Forensic Science International Journal said the necks of three persons were badly injured as a result of loaded  blank ammunition. The weapon is said to have either been loaded by blank cartridges or tear gas cartridges which each victim died from blood loss as a result of ruptured cervical vessels.. 

    Dubawa also reached out to a retired colonel Chinedu Owhonda for comments. Owhonda said blank ammunition can injure and kill someone, depending on the range it was shot from:

    “Blank ammunition can injure somebody, and can kill, it  also depends on the impact. If you fire someone at close range to the chest, definitely the person will have issues,” he said.

    Conclusion

    Evidence gathered indicates that blank bullets can injure and kill someone. This makes False Lai Mohammed’s claim that blank ammunition cannot do any damage to the flesh, not to talk of killing anyone.

    The researcher produced this fact-check per the Dubawa 2020 Fellowship partnership with NewsWireNGR and TodayFM95.1 to facilitate the ethos of “truth” in journalism and enhance media literacy in the country.

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