social media

  • Beware, not all online trends are driven by humans

    It is scary that not all trends on social media are authentic. While this fact may be unsettling, the last comments you made on the post you came across  online might just have been placed by a fake social media account. 

    BoTs, designed to run automated tasks over the internet, are now tools for social media misinformation agents, generating thousands of fake accounts to sell an ideology; promote a certain movement or even provoke chaos in the society. 

    This scheme  uses multiple social media accounts or pages with concealed identities of the persons or organisations running the accounts, in order to mislead or influence unsuspecting members of the public for mostly political or financial reasons. 

    In 2020, Facebook announced it was aware of these activities, tagging them as “Coordinated inauthentic Behaviour (CIB)” and as of April of the same year, the company reported it had removed thousands of accounts for such activity.

    “We view influence operations as coordinated efforts to manipulate public debate for a strategic goal where fake accounts are central to the operation,” Facebook says. 

    “There are two tiers of these activities that we work to stop: 1) coordinated inauthentic behaviour in the context of domestic, non-state campaigns (CIB) and 2) coordinated inauthentic behaviour on behalf of a foreign or government actor (FGI).”

    Back in 2020, when the overall human rights situation in Myanmar deteriorated and heightened restrictions on freedom of expression were enforced by the military,   Facebook reportedly removed over 425 pages, 17 groups, 135 Facebook accounts and 15 Instagram accounts in Myanmar for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behaviour on Facebook.

    The company added that as part of its  continuous investigations into this type of behaviour in Myanmar; they have  found  that some seemingly independent news, entertainment, beauty and lifestyle articles were linked to the Myanmar military, and  these were part of pages Facebook removed for coordinated inauthentic behaviour. 

    Although Facebook has clearly announced that this kind of behaviour is not allowed on the blue app, it still remains hard to track or even identify such activities independently. However, In their misrepresentation policy,  the company has said that it does not want people or organisations creating networks of accounts to mislead others about who they are, or what they’re doing.

    The activity is even more prevalent on Twitter, possibly because it’s a little difficult to pin fake accounts and, probably, because the app also allows Bots  (the main character in coordinated inauthentic behavior) to operate. 

    An Army BoTs does the Job

    New accounts with usually scant details are mostly part of a larger scheme on Twitter. In a filing earlier in May this year, Twitter estimated that fewer than 5 percent of its monetizable daily active users in the 1st quarter were bots or spam accounts.  But Elon Musk felt otherwise. He challenged that around 20 percent (he is even concerned that the number could be even higher.) of the accounts on Twitter are fake or spam accounts run by Bots. 

    On Twitter, bots are automated accounts that can do the same things as real human beings: send out tweets, follow other users, and like and retweet postings by others.

    An article by Bloomberg outlined that: 

    “Spam bots use these abilities to engage in potentially deceptive, harmful, or annoying activity. Spam bots programmed with a commercial motivation might tweet incessantly in an attempt to drive traffic to a website for a product or service. They can be used to spread misinformation and promote political messages. In the 2016 presidential election, there were concerns that Russian bots helped influence the race in favour of the winner, Donald Trump. Spam bots can also disseminate links to fake giveaways and other financial scams. After announcing his plans to acquire Twitter, Musk said one of his priorities is cracking down on spam bots that promote scams involving cryptocurrencies.”  

    There is so little you can do

    As election season heats up in Nigeria, there are surely going to be substantial activities online that may include varying degrees of coordinated and inauthentic messages. , And as things stand, tech companies have more to do. However, users may just have to be the ones to report and pinpoint these activities. 

    There is only so much an algorithm can do. Users will have to be more observant with posts and tweets they come across, especially the ones that carry the same words and message. On Facebook, checking the transparency of a page or group, the date and details of creation are all a good starting point. 

  • How social media can help reduce tension by secessionists in Nigeria

    The birth and popularity of social media have deepened people’s wider access to information. In contemporary society and across geographic regions and different ethnic and socio-economic groups, overload of information has had its attendant effect on society. As such, fake news, especially on social media, is now regarded as one of the main digital threats to democracy, journalism, and freedom of expression. This is sadly profound with the impact of social media on calls for secessions from different parts of the country.

    In the last century, a wave of secessionist movements pervaded different regions across the globe and The Biafra and Ilana Omo Odua movements are a microcosm of these global separatist agitations whose activities have been largely promoted by the social media.

    According to an International Relations expert and founder of California-based security group, VonFrederick Global Security,  Dr. Lionel Rawlins, separatism is a global issue, and almost every country globally has at least a separatist movement.

    “It’s just that we never heard about them in the past, but because of the advent of social media, we are now hearing about them. Also, people believe that if they register grievances through social media, they will get a reaction, and if the world community listens to their cause, they believe something will happen,” he said. 

    Secessionism is a political program based on the demand for a formal withdrawal of a bounded territory from an internationally recognized state with the aim of creating a new state on that territory, which is expected to gain formal recognition by other states (and the UN). 

    Separatist movements feed on local grievances on the basis of affinity, thus making whatever obvious benefits their in-groups can get from the Nigerian federation.  This makes it easier for such in-groups to position themselves as liberators or even messiahs to such groups. In this way, separatists, including Biafra agitators, often use a shared victimhood narrative as a tool of mobilization and bond-building among the people they claim they are trying to “liberate.”

    Also, the filming for distribution of activities by secessionist groups via social media platforms represent a geopolitical trend and new frontline for proxy wars across the globe. While social media does indeed advance connectivity and wealth among people, its proliferation at the same time results in a markedly less stable world.

    Notwithstanding the exponential growth of user-generated content, people prefer to congregate online around like-minded individuals. Rather than seek out new beliefs, people choose to reinforce their existing political opinions through their actions online.

    Individuals self-organize on the basis of affinity, where the resultant in-group members share sensibilities. The ecosystem of social media is based on delivering more of what the user already likes. This, indeed, is the function of a Follow or Like. 

    This is evident in some pages on Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, and Instagram dedicated to reporting and distributing matters concerning secession and their principal’s actions.

    On Facebook- There are pages like; Oduduwa TVRadio, Ilana Omo Oduduwa, Odua nation, Ilana omo oodua international, and Emeka Gift Official

    On Instagram- There are pages like; IPOB NEWS (ipobnews), Mazi Nnamdi Kanu Radio_Briafra (ipob_page) and Adeyemo Sunday Igboho (sundayigbohonews).

    These social media handles and many more have over the years been caught in the web of fake news dissemination and below are some examples.

    1. On WhatsApp, it was claimed through a viral video that a large entourage followed Sunday Igboho to court in Benin Republic.
    Screenshot of the viral image

    The text on the video was misleading. The video was actually recorded in June 2021 when Sunday Igboho did a Yoruba Nation Rally in Ekiti State.

    1. A viral video surfaced online claiming that members of the Indigenous people of Biafra (IPOB) staged a mass protest over a recent arrest of their leader, Nnamdi Kanu. It showed IPOB members displaying their flags and chanting war songs.
    Image of IPOB protesters               Photo Credit: dailypostnigeria

    The viral video is misleading as it is a 2015 video that resurfaced and is being circulated to sell a narrative that IPOB members constituted a nuisance after the arrest of their leader, causing a lot of gridlock in Port Harcourt.

    1. A Twitter user IPOB Biafraland twt head (@Biafralandtwt_1) shared a picture claiming to be a news studio belonging to the Indigenous people of Biafra (IPOB).
    Image of the studio claimed to belong to IPOB

    The claim is, however, not true as the pictures are rather of studios owned by Al Jazeera and American news website, The Hill.

    1.  A footage of Nigerian President Muhamadu Buhari’s convoy was circulated by a Facebook user Prince Emmydon Emeka with a claim showing the African leader acknowledging the Biafran State by displaying the separatists’ flag on his car during a visit to Imo state.
    Screenshot of the Facebook post

    The claim is false; the flag in the post is one of the official presidential flags that recognise the commander-in-chief of the country’s armed forces.

    How to avoid being swayed by posts of secessionists on social media

    The most important step to take is to understand your reflex of sharing posts that outrage you or resonate with your beliefs.

    • Never share a post on social media without fact-checking. This is particularly important if it comes from a source you don’t trust. If you want to spread the truth, you need to assume that other people aren’t perfect and may make mistakes.
    • Look out for the source of the story- Anonymous sources or stories coming from only a single source are more suspect than stories with multiple sources of confirmation. This doesn’t mean that they are false; many important leaks and stories have come from single anonymous sources. But don’t assume they are true, especially if they are sensational until there is confirmation.
    • Contemplate the story’s agenda – Most times, stories are coloured by the agenda of their writers. Political organizations exist to get their agenda passed, and thus stories from these organizations should be suspected because they will always be intended to persuade. This does not make them automatically false but watch for emotional appeals and arguments designed to make you fearful or anxious.

    Conclusion

    A criterion for whether a particular separatist movement will be peaceful or violent will not only be based on the level of democracy and the rule of law in such a country where such separatist tendencies are observed but also how the social media propagate the cause of such separatist groups.

    And as such, social media users have to be careful of the posts they churn out, share, like or follow on secession movements.

    The researcher produced this media literacy article per the Dubawa 2021 Kwame KariKari Fellowship partnership with Crest FM, Akure, Ondo state to facilitate the ethos of “truth” in journalism and enhance media literacy in the country.

  • What You Should Know about Verified Social Media Accounts

    The introduction of Chinese-owned social media platform TikTok to the media space in Sierra Leone has revived the conversation around the verification of social media accounts of celebrities in Sierra Leone. This is largely as a number of young Sierra Leoneans are becoming TikTok trailblazers, thus giving them the necessary attention. Some of these young Sierra Leonean TikTokers have attracted millions of followers on TikTok but are yet to be awarded the blue tick badge, thus making their accounts unverified. One of such prominent Sierra Leonean TikTok celebrities is Peter AA Komba who has over two million followers on TikTok, arguably the first local Sierra Leonean to reach such a peak on social media following. The lack of verification by TikTok has led to backlash from friends and fans, who at some point embarked on a campaign to have TikTok verify Komba but to no avail.

    Very recently, another TikTok profile image of a Sierra Leonean influencer was going viral on social media platforms in Sierra Leone with congratulatory messages over a verified TikTok account. Fatmata Timbo, the TikToker,  is based in the United Kingdom  and calls herself the Funniest Little Model.

    Timbo is also verified on Instagram unlike Peter AA Komba.

    Her verification revived the debate afresh as to who and why TikTok verifies an account. In some of the comments on facebook in relation to the post, some facebook users questioned why the lady who has a lesser following than Peter AA Komba was verified with the blue badge by TikTok and not Komba with the largest following on TikTok in the country. One commenter justifying this concluded that Komba is yet to be verified by TikTok because he is based in Sierra Leone and not overseas. According to him, if Peter was a diaspora Sierra Leonean, he would have been verified by now with that amount of following. The other commenter stated that the lady was verified because she had more local following from her current destination and Peter does not have much of his followers from Sierra Leone while  someone else spoke about the richness of Timbo’s content in relation to Peter’s.

    What Is A Verified Badge And Why Is It Necessary?

    As TikTok defines it, a verified account is a blue check mark displayed alongside social media handles and helps users make informed choices through an authenticated account. 

    “Our users come from all walks of life and the verified badge is a quick way to let you know you are following the real deal rather than a fake or fan account,” TikTok says. 

    Tiktok went further to note that if a profile does not have the badge below their username but displays it somewhere else on their profile (such as in their Bio), it is not a verified account. Verified badges can only be applied by social media companies and will appear in the same place every time.

    Having a verified account makes your handle a reliable source and guarantees traffic to your account. It is also a very potent brand visibility and expansion paraphernalia and thus very important. They are mostly awarded to brands/celebrities that stand the risk of being impersonated after meeting all requirements.

    Verification Requirements By Top Social Media Platforms

    The process of getting verified on social media platforms is more or less the same for all wherein the company sets its criteria and chooses people/brands they see fit to grant a badge. This is still the case for TikTok for instance but others have democratized the process of earning a badge by making it an open application process. Below is an overview of the processes designed for verification by the most popular social media platforms – Instagram, TikTok, Twitter and Facebook

    Instagram

    Instagram is an American photo and video sharing networking service that was originally launched in 2010 on iOS and later in 2012 on Android. In 2012, Facebook acquired Instagram for approximately $1 billion. Instagram has very recently made its account verification process open to everyone by attaching a space in their setting for request for verification where anyone can apply. Foremost amongst the requirements for Instagram verification is the amount of web presence an individual/brand has. At minimum, you must have at least ten featured articles about yourself/brand. The article must be full featured and not mere mentions. Articles on free to publish websites and a Wikipedia page, google landscape panel and website are all advantageous for having your account verified. In a nutshell, Instagram demands a substantial web presence for verification.

    The CONTENT uniqueness of your account plays a key role in attracting a certain level of concentration to your account. Your contents have to be original and must be going viral as much as possible. Sharing, copying and pasting contents are not mostly considered, as Instagam looks for originality and gives preference to user generated contents. It should be also noted that public and not private accounts are eligible for verification.

    TikTok

    TikTok is a video-sharing focused networking service owned by Chinese company ByteDance. Douyin as TikTok is known in China was introduced to the Chinese market in 2016 and to the outside market in 2017 and is used to create short form videos from different spheres of life- education, sport, comedy and dance from fifteen seconds to three minutes. Unlike Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, the TikTok verification process cannot be achieved via an application process. 

    “Tik Tok has a dedicated team that seeks out creators, brands and influencers to grant a badge” and the following key points stated in the link below are carefully considered before granting a badge to a user/brand. An article published by Galaxy Marketing explains the criteria set for possible verification:

    • Your account should experience consistent growth when you post regularly and should be gaining 400-500 followers per day for TikTok to verify one’s account. However, it was made clear that the number of followers IS NOT enough for your account to be verified.
    • To be considered for verification on TikTok, your engagement rate, views in your channel and watch time should be substantially high. TikTok will strongly consider you for verification if you have been featured in prominent media platforms otherwise referred to as valid media presence.
    • Your content should be consistently going viral and should be your original content, and your verification in other social media platforms will push you for automatic verification and a typical requirement for all platforms is meeting the Terms of Service and Community Guidelines.

    Twitter 

    Twitter was launched in 2016 and is an American microblogging and social networking service where people interact and express opinions by tweeting on a limited 140 characters for most accounts. Twitter had more than 330 million monthly active users.

    Twitter made clear in its Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section that the blue verified badge on its platform is to let people know that an account of public interest is authentic. It noted further that an account must be active and notable to be verified. Twitter currently verifies six types of notable accounts: governments, companies, brands and nonprofits, news organizations and journalists, entertainment, sports and activists, organizers and other influential individuals. Twitter, like Facebook and Instagram, also has an open application for account verification from all categories of users and scrutinizes based on account authenticity and how notable and active the account is to receive a badge. 

    However, there are certain accounts that Twitter classifies as ineligible for a badge even if they meet all the criteria. Accounts that are parody, newsfeed, commentary and unofficial fan accounts fall within this category, especially accounts that are engaged in severe violations of Twitter’s manipulation and spam policy; otherwise known as buying and selling of followers and engagements as well as accounts or people associated with coordinated harmful activity or hateful content as defined by Twitter’s Ad policies or one that has been involved in committing gross human right violation confirmed by an international court or tribunal.

    Lastly, pets and fictional characters, unless directly affiliated with a verified company, brand, or organization, or with a verified entertainment production are all not eligible for verification as clearly explained in this section.

    Facebook

    Facebook is an American social networking service launched in 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg and some of his colleagues from Harvard. Facebook recorded 2.8 billion active monthly users in 2020 and remains the most widely used global social media platform. It has an online application process for account verification with a form section attached for applying.  Facebook equally emphasizes authenticity, uniqueness, completeness, and notability as the most relevant requirement for verification as better explained in this Facebook help center section.

    Conclusion

    The reasons put forward by most of the comments made by users on Facebook relating to the verified TokTok account of Fatmata Timbo clearly shows the misconception on account verification. Getting the blue verified badge can be a daunting task, especially when we rely on just one requirement (number of followers) to fulfil that purpose. Several other factors are taken into account as expressed in the paragraphs above.

    Whilst we cannot be authoritative in explaining why one account has been verified over another, social media platforms set their criteria as has been discussed in this article. Some factors like richness and originality in contents, engagement levels, growing number of followers, having other verified social media handles all contribute to having an account verified. A lot of these social media companies have created open application privileges for people of all backgrounds to apply for verification, thus making it much more democratic and inclusive. Some of these requirements were fleshed out in the links attached and will help guide social media users on how to gain grounds for possible verification of their social media accounts.

  • Did You Know There Are Billions of Social Media Bots Designed to Mimic Humans? Here’s How to Spot Them

    “Bots” — automated social media accounts which pose as real people — have a huge presence on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. They number in the billions. 

    Most fake social media accounts are “bots,” created by automated programs to post certain kinds of information as part of an effort to manipulate social conversations. Sophisticated actors can create millions of accounts using the same program.

    These bots can seriously distort debate, especially when they work together. They can be used to make a phrase or hashtag trend and they can be used to amplify or attack a message or article and even harass other users.

    Recently, social media giant, Facebook, claims it disabled a staggering figure of more than three billion fake accounts over a six-month period. 

    One study by researchers at the University of Southern California analyzed US election-related tweets sent in September and October 2016 and found that 1 in 5 were sent by a bot. The Pew Research Center concluded in a 2018 study that accounts suspected of being bots are responsible for as many as two-thirds of all tweets that link to popular websites.

    In the social media context, these autonomous programs can run accounts to spread content without human involvement. Many are harmless, tweeting out random poems or pet photos. But others are up to no good and are designed to resemble actual users.

    Bots “don’t just manipulate the conversation, they build groups and bridge groups,” said Carnegie Mellon University computer scientist Kathleen Carley, who has researched social media bots.

    “They can make people in one group believe they think the same thing as people in another group, and in doing so they build echo chambers.”

    In the run up to the 2023 general election, it has already become incumbent on social media users to acquaint themselves with tips and tricks of social media bots as misinformation and disinformation appear in political ads or social media posts. They can include fake news stories or doctored videos among wider and far reaching public interest implications. 

    Many bots are relatively easy to spot by eyeball, without access to specialized software or commercial analytical tools. This article sets out a dozen of the clues, which can be found useful in exposing fake accounts.

    1. Activity: The most obvious indicator that an account is automated is its activity. This can readily be calculated by looking at its profile page and dividing the number of posts by the number of days it has been active. The benchmark for suspicious activity varies. The Oxford Internet Institute’s Computational Propaganda team, views an average of more than 50 posts a day as suspicious; this is a widely recognized and applied benchmark, but may be on the low side.
    2. Anonymity: A second key indicator is the degree of anonymity an account shows. In general, the less personal information it gives, the more likely it is to be a bot.
    3. Amplification: The third key indicator is amplification. One main role of bots is to boost the signal from other users by resharing, retweeting, liking or quoting them. The timeline of a typical bot will, therefore, consist of a procession of reshares or retweets and word-for-word quotes of news headlines, with few or no original posts.
    4. Low posts / high results: Bots achieve their effect by the massive amplification of content by a single account. In Twitter for example, they create a large number of accounts which retweet the same post once each: a botnet. Such botnets can quickly be identified when they are used to amplify a single post, if the account which made the post is not normally active.
    5. Common content: The probability that accounts belong to a single network can be confirmed by looking at their posts. If they all post the same content, or type of content, at the same time, they are probably programmed to do so.
    6. The Secret Society of Silhouettes: The most primitive bots are especially easy to identify, because their creators have not bothered to upload an avatar or profile image to them. Some users have silhouettes on their accounts for entirely innocuous reasons; thus the presence of a silhouette account on its own is not an indicator of botness. However, if the list of accounts which retweet, reshare, or like a post looks the same, it’s a red flag. 
    7. Stolen or shared photo: Other bot makers are more meticulous, and try to mask their anonymity by taking photos from other sources. A good test of an account’s veracity is therefore to reverse search its avatar picture. Using Google Chrome, right-click on the image and select “Search Google for Image”. Using other browsers, right-click the image, select “Copy Image Address”, enter the address in a Google search and click “Search by image”. In either case, the search will show up pages with matching images, indicating whether the account is likely to have stolen its avatar:
    8. Commercial content: Advertising, indeed, is a classic indicator of botnets. Some botnets appear to exist primarily for that purpose, only occasionally venturing into politics. When they do, their focus on advertising often betrays them.
    9. Automation software: Another clue to potential automation is the use of URL shorteners. These are primarily used to track traffic on a particular link, but the frequency with which they are used can be an indicator of automation.
    10. Retweets/Reshares and likes: A final indicator that a botnet is at work can be gathered by comparing the retweets and likes of a particular post. Some bots are programmed to both retweet and like the same tweet; in such cases, the number of retweets and likes will be almost identical, and the series of accounts which performed the retweets and likes may also match. 

    Bots are an inevitable part of social media, especially twitter. Some exist for legitimate reasons, others don’t. Notwithstanding, the most common indicators to detect them are activity, anonymity, and amplification, the “Three A’s” of bot identification, but other criteria also exist.

    The researcher produced this media literacy article per the Dubawa 2021 Kwame Kari Kari Fellowship partnership with PRNigeria to facilitate the ethos of “truth” in journalism and enhance media literacy in the country.

  • How to Avoid Sharing Misinformation

    Misinformation is one of the most popular information disorder terminologies and the one that is most widely transgressed. Private individuals are also more likely to share misinformation, compared to disinformation – here’s why.

    Misinformation involves the sharing of false or inaccurate information, without knowing them to be false, without the intent to cause harm and sometimes with the goal of helping recipients. Note the emphasis on sharing, rather than creating the message. Creating the message will be disinformation (which involves the deliberate intention to generate information disorder), like this fake Facebook screenshot that claims the DSS used 2013 pictures as evidence of arms recovered in Sunday Igboho’s home in 2021.  

    Some examples of misinformation, according to Claire Wardle, a leading expert in user-generated content and verification, are “inaccurate photo captions, wrong dates, false statistics, translations and when satire is taken seriously”. Satires involve the use of humour, exaggeration or irony to mock, ridicule or expose the weaknesses, inadequacies or shortcomings of individuals, leaders, authority figures and institutions. The fact that the publishers of misinformation do not intend to cause harm does not imply that it is safe or acceptable to share misinformation. 

    Dubawa fact-checked the claim that certain foods cure blood pressure and discovered that this is not true. While the intention behind the claim may be noble, media audiences who read and believe the message may be harmed if they rely on it to cure their blood pressure rather than follow medical advice. 

    It is similar to this recommendation that inserting garlic cloves in the ear could cure ear-infection. Individuals who need to visit the ear, nose and throat clinics may not do so and their situations could deteriorate due to this misinformation. Just as this claim that eating ewedu (a vegetable) will cure COVID-19 may prevent infected individuals who are positive from following medically approved treatment options and safety protocols. They are thus more likely to keep infecting others while their health may deteriorate. 

    It is, therefore, important to learn how to avoid sharing misinformation in order not to give credence to false information and to prevent the harm they may likely cause to individuals and the society.

    Steps to avoid sharing misinformation

    The first step is to stop and think. One of the major reasons why misinformation is widely shared is because most people share messages in a hurry before they even get the time to evaluate and consider the authenticity of the messages and the implications of sharing such messages to the society. Academic research has validated this suggestion, noting that people are more likely to identify misinformation when they take time to think about the message – why and how it has been published, compared to when they share in a hurry without being deliberate. So pinch yourself, bite your tongue, step on a mental break – you will need to build the ‘don’t share too quickly’ muscle as it appears that people’s default programming is to quickly share.

    Check out your Biases – we all have them. The challenge, therefore, is that we are more likely to share misinformation that conforms with our previously held biases without giving them serious thought. Thus, identifying your vulnerabilities about issues will help you to assess the veracity of messages before you share them on social media. For instance, Nigerians who are die-hard Buhari fans are more likely to have shared a misleading post purportedly from Festus Keyamo about President Buhari’s virtues. It is therefore not surprising to see very enlightened people share outlandish messages on social media because those messages align with their biases. How do you handle this? Try prebunking

    Prebunking, according to Laura Garcia and Tommy Shane involves “the process of debunking lies, tactics or sources before they strike”. What that means in simple terms is empowering yourself with general knowledge as well as information about how information disorder is created, so that you can spot information disorders like misinformation when you get them. Reading different types of fact-checks on Dubawa for instance, can build your knowledge about information disorder, prevent you from believing in similar ones that you will be exposed to and hence, from sharing them as well. There is also a game designed by Sander Van Der Linden and Jon Roozenbeek that can help you with prebunking.

    Now, most news sources have some inherent biases regardless of the objectivity principle that guides news organisations. While some have very low biases, others can be rated as highly biased, depending on how they cover issues, especially those that affect either their proprietors, funders and/or the journalists who work in the organisations. Assessing the source of news (if it is known) and evaluating the interests of the source in the shared information can help curb the spread of misinformation. Propagandists have also been known to sometimes falsely attribute their claims to prominent people in order to give it credibility. Although this news bias chart did not rate news organisations in Nigeria, it can give you a few tips on how to rate the media organisations that you are exposed to.

    You may also want to assess your emotions when online. Your mood, a lot of times, dictates how you react to posts on social media. So if you are angry or anxious, you are more likely to share misinformation, compared to when you are calm and more rational. Researchers have found that using social media when you are angry may make you more susceptible to sharing misinformation. Let’s say you were harassed by policemen on your way home from work, then you got home and saw this photo claiming that suspended Police Chief Abba Kyari had been extradited to the United States – applying this study’s postulations will imply that you are more likely to share the photo without being critical, compared to if your journey home from work had not been eventful.

    Another important way to curb the spread of misinformation is to alert people to the fact that such information, regardless of how much they have gone viral, is false. You can do that by showing, through logical reasoning, that the facts do not add up. You can also provide links to other websites that contain evidence that can be used to debunk the misinformation. If the misinformation has been in circulation for a while, chances are high that fact-checking organisations like Dubawa would have done a check on it. Visiting the websites of fact-checking organisations, getting the links to their fact-checks and sharing it to all the platforms where you can find the misinformation that have been fact-checked is crucial. It is necessary to break the chain of misinformation by countering it with evidence because people tend to believe misinformation if they are exposed to it consistently, even if it is not ordinarily logical. 

    What’s more, countering misinformation with evidence will serve as a caution to those sharing misinformation, while you will also be more guarded about the authenticity of the information that you share since you will not want to be called out for committing an error that you preach against.

    To end, information disorder is not going away soon. Individuals need to continuously empower themselves to better counter misinformation as advances in information and communication technologies continue to enhance the skills of information disorder merchants to create more sophisticated, complex and believable disinformation.

  • Why Facebook is more popular than Twitter in Kenya: A user perspective

    I first heard about Facebook from a childhood friend, at the time we had not been in contact ever since we graduated from primary school and transitioned to high school. I was excited about the idea of keeping in touch with a very good friend. This was in 2009. Five years before this time, Facebook had launched in the United States of America. 

    My friend would go through the hard work of setting up the account, sending me the login details and then a few tips to navigate the platform. Weeks later, I returned to school without giving much thought to the platform. When the holidays came, I went back to the platform to explore it in detail, learning how to update my status, add friends, upload photos, poke people and use the live chat, gradually it grew on me.

    My encounter with Twitter is very much similar to that of Facebook, I learnt about it through friends who sold it as a platform where we could connect with celebrities. And we would all wake up to chirp  ‘Good Morning’ to Lady Gaga and all our pop idols. I later abandoned my Twitter account and stuck to Facebook, this was the case for my friends too. To Kenyans, this is no surprise.

    The 140 characters, which I later learnt was technical limitation rather than an intentional choice, partly driven by the 160 character limit of SMS. As a young adult, I wanted a platform where I could express myself without limitations. With Facebook, I could have long-form posts, share photos, join groups and follow pages of my favourite celebrities amongst other things. Part of the reason Facebook took off in a wider audience, I believe, of course not overlooking the work and effort to market it.

    What’s more, as a society (Kenya and the rest of the world) we are inherently social and Facebook found a way to digitize what people do – keeping a circle of friends, expressing themselves and sharing their best memories. Facebook postulates its purpose as connecting people with their personal networks including friends and family. Twitter on the other hand is a much more detached connection basically centred around real-time changing conversations. 

    Moreover, the market in Kenya was taking shape with rising broadband availability and Internet participation by an increasingly diverse audience. Here are some reasons Facebook is the choice social media platform for many Kenyans.

    Everyone and their mothers are on Facebook. 

    Facebook may not have been the first social media platform in Kenya, we had myspace at some point, but it is by far the most popular accounting for over 8 million users as of January 2020. 

    Despite a 6.8 percent decline in users compared to 2019, Statista reports that Facebook was the most frequently used social media platform in Kenya as of 2020 with Twitter coming in fourth after Youtube and Instagram.

    At some point, everyone with a smartphone and a liking for social media has had a Facebook account.  

    Facebook For Business

    Kenyans are known for their business acumen and Facebook Business Pages made it easier for people to discover and interact with brands online, setting the premise for online shops. 

    In 2008, Facebook launched Pages, a sort of mini-website within Facebook where businesses could post goods and services and users could like, comment, share and even get notifications when the business posted anything new. 

    Individuals could easily sell goods and services online without having to incur the inhibitive expense of brick and mortar shops. Going as far as utilizing Facebook groups as marketplaces, whether this was the intended purpose for the groups notwithstanding. But, Kenyans are known for their ingenuity. 

    Facebook has gone even further to create tailored products for and campaigns such as Boost with Facebook in Kenya (and 14 other African countries) so to tap into the fast-growing market

    Facebook Free Mode

    The Facebook free Mode is a lightweight version of Facebook where one can post, comment, and like posts without a connection to the internet. It allows people to flexibly move between two modes, free and paid data.The free mode however denies users access to media posts, snippets, videos, and featured clips. 

    The service is enabled by local mobile network-providing companies and is part of an ambitious effort to bring hundreds of millions of people around the world online. 

    Facebook Ads

    By combining how people communicate and a robust set of targeting tools, Facebook ad platform launched in 2007 transformed the advertising landscape. Twitter’s ad platform was launched in Kenya as recently as 2015.

    Leveraging on user data generated from users’ interests (through liking of pages) and sharing of personal information such as employment type or location, amongst others Facebook’s ad platform became incredibly useful for businesses both big and small. Facebook would link ads to specific (and targeted) audiences creating a minegold for advertisers. 

    Additionally, the versatility of ad options, photos, videos, carousels allowed advertisers to do more for less in one place. Buttressed by a string of other inventions that made advertising online easy, Facebook would dominate digital advertising, raking in as much as $28.5 billion revenue in 2020 worldwide.

    Versatile Features

    While Twitter is catching up to some of the features offered on Facebook such as live-streaming and spaces (equivalent to Facebook rooms), admittedly, Facebook has far more features with plenty even unbeknownst to many users. 

    Facebook remains the go-to place for blog-like posts, market-places, group discussions, job boards, royalty free music, and more.

    Conclusion

    Although Facebook is the largest and most popular in Kenya, Twitter’s strength is real-time dissemination of information. No other social platform comes close on this front. 

    Twitter has carved a niche as a breaking news source, a major tool in social activism and serves as a wider pulse of the world and what’s happening within it. In this sense, Twitter remains unmatched. 

  • The smart use of social media in era of online Mis/Disinformation

    The prevalence of social media in society is almost unquantifiable  and its influence in society has no doubt altered  the pattern of human interactions in unprecedented ways.  While many scholars have pointed out that social media use is not without harm, other experts  are of the opinion that Social media matters and  has become paramount in the personal and professional lives of individuals and organizations. 

    Though both views are fundamentally supported with studies and experiences to guide their distinct but crucial view points, one thing that is now undebatable is the role social media plays in amplifying and intensifying the flow of mis/disinformation amongst users. 

    Aware of this reality, an information manager Professor Martin Potthast, who  wrote a paper on “A Stylometric Inquiry into Hyperpartisan and Fake News” uncovered that “the circulation of fake news on social media poses significant challenges for organisations and brands. In fact, fake news that promotes a specific viewpoint or opinion about a product, brand, or organisation which may not be true can be deliberately designed to mislead consumers on social media.” While this assertion is scary, it signals the need for users to take total responsibility on the pattern of their social media usage. 

    Even more, the definition of Social media as “a group of interest-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0 and that allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content,” suggests the unpleasant fact that just anyone with a social media account can share and post any content of choice. 

    This phenomenon not only calls for an urgent precaution but also a conscious and smart use of social media by users. Thus, below are some ways to achieve this: 

    • Be skeptical towards personal social media accounts

    Social media impersonation is not a new topic. If you’re following a personal account that continually spits out new information, it is important to be skeptical about the reliability of news being shared as it’s important to ask questions and do some research. Social media platform algorithms are designed for optimized user retention and engagement, and are not looking for misinformation or disinformation; that is your  job to do. So ask a few questions that can help you figure out what exactly is happening. Raise questions such as:

    Does the account that shared the post have emotional or professional stakes in these claims?

    What is the content asking you to focus on?

    Is this information reasonable?

    Is it reputable, or does it cite reputable sources?

    Why is it valuable to the account that shared it?

    • Think before you post, repost or re-share

    Fake news shared on social media is powerless if it’s not forwarded or amplified by users. In most cases, Misinformation and Disinformation enjoy prominence on social media because users rarely take time to think about the content or even the implications of their actions. 

    According to Jang and Kim in their efforts to understand the nature of Misinformation on social media: “the perceptions and behaviours underlying the sharing of fake news are not clear. In fact, little is known about the motives for sharing disinformation on social media platforms, users simply keep sharing.” Don’t be among users who  according to Jang and Jim “just keep sharing”; think before you share. What is the implication of my actions? Why am I sharing this information in the first place? What is the impact of the information? Is it proven to be true? 

    • Don’t rely on Social media as primary source of information

    Depending on social media as a primary source of information can be hazardous. So follow a diversity of people, news sites and perspectives to get reliable information. Relying upon a small number of like-minded news sources, especially on social media groups may limit the range of material available to you and increase your odds of falling victim to hoaxes or false rumors. This method is not entirely fool-proof, but it increases the odds of hearing well-balanced and diverse viewpoints.

    • Go beyond the headline: Don’t share without reading the whole content

    In the online world, readers and viewers on social media should be skeptical about news sources shared on social media. In the bid to promote clicks, many online outlets resort to misleading or sensationalized headlines that will bait social media users into clicking and forwarding the link without properly reading the content.

    The attention of users is hooked by the use  of provocative or attention-grabbing headlines, even if that news is deceptive or inconclusive. Thus, keep your guard up and understand that not everything you read is accurate as many digital sites specialize in false news.  Even more crucially important is the fact that learning how to judge news sites and protect oneself from inaccurate information is a top priority in the digital age. So go beyond the headlines, read the content before you share. 

    Conclusion

    The spread of Mis/Disinformation on social media can be unavoidable but you can help minimize the spread by simply thinking critically before sharing any information you come across. Maintain a healthy level of curiosity for what you read on your feed, understand how social media platforms curate what you see, and use investigative practices often. Social media is a powerful tool, for both businesses and individuals, when approached with appropriate intent and consideration. So when you next use social media, put in mind that you also have a role to play. 

    The researcher produced this media literacy article per the Dubawa 2021 Kwame KariKari Fellowship partnership with Crest FM to facilitate the ethos of “truth” in journalism and enhance media literacy in the country.

  • Is Adamu Garba’s Crowwe First Social Networking Platform in Africa as Claimed?

    Claim: Ex-presidential aspirant and CEO of IPI Solutions, Adamu Garba, recently claimed that Crowwe, an online interaction app built by his company, is the first social networking platform in Nigeria and in Africa in a post on his Facebook page.  

    The claim is false. There have been other social networking platforms built in Africa as early as 2005. 

    Full Story 

    Since its release in July 2020, the Crowwe app, developed by Gloomme Business Connection, a subsidiary of IPI Group Limited, has witnessed a lot of backlash from the Nigerian populace.

    On Google play store and Apple app store, Crowwe attracted a lot of disparaging remarks in the review section, largely due to Garba’s stance on controversial issues in the country’s socio-political landscape.

    An example is Garba’s stance on the Federal Government’s ban on microblogging platform, Twitter in Nigeria.

    While defending the government’s action, Garba had described the American microblogging and social networking service as “an insurrectionist tool” capable of undermining the sovereignty of the country.

    Also, in October 2020, during the nationwide #EndSARS protest, which was aimed at disbanding a unit of the Nigerian police force, Garba took a controversial stance by alleging that the protest had transformed into a political agitation capable of breaking law and order in the country while threatening to sue Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey, for retweeting a link for donations to support the movement. 

    Screenshot of a review comment on the apple play store

    Screenshot of the ratings and review of Crowwe app on apple play store

    On June 14, 2021 it was observed the app was deleted from the Google Play store. Many had attributed this removal to the damning comments and low ratings on the app page, but the ex-presidential aspirant claimed that he was the one who asked Google to take down the app.

    In an interview with Punch, Garba claimed he asked Google to take down the app from Google Playstore because he needed to update the code.

    Garba stated that it was in a bid to make some improvements that he asked Google to take down the app.

    On June 15, 2021, Garba took to his Facebook page to give a personal explanation as to why there are a ‘million’ requests for his app to be taken off the playstore but maintained his former stance that the absence of the app on the play store had not resulted from low ratings.

    Garba listed five “crimes”, which he said, might be responsible for the backlash the app has received.

    However, in his listings, Garba mentioned that one of his “crime” was that his company built the first social networking application in Africa.

    His words, “…third Crime is that my company build the first social networking application in not just Nigeria but Africa, apparently, it did not suit the narrative that above all else, it was the Fulani man’s company that build (sic) the app…”

    Screenshot of Adamu Garba’s Facebook post.

    Verification 

    In verifying the claim, Dubawa searched the internet for similar platforms that had been built in Africa over the years.

    It was first discovered that as early as 2005, South Africa already had a social networking application known as MXit which was built by Herman Heunis.

    Heunis was born in a rural area in Namibia. He moved to South Africa where he went to Stellenbosch University in 1977 and started his vocation in computer programming 3 years after.

    He founded Mxit in 2005, growing it from a small company with a team of eight into an African technological giant with more than 100 employees with users in more than 120 countries around the world. 

    South Africa, MXit, a free instant messaging application with an estimated 7 million users, was described as the most popular local social networking platform. 

    Screenshot of MXit app on phones.

    MXit, just like other instant messaging apps, has the ability to receive messages offline. For feature phones, they have group chats, chat tabs, and offline messages, all on data-light (technology that consumes 10 times less mobile bandwidth). 

    For iOS 7, Mxit 7 has features like doodle and voice chat.

    The company was however sold off in 2012 to Alan Knott-Craig Jr. It later closed down in 2015. 

    Despite being a web-based social networking platform, Afroterminal was founded in 2009 by two Africans in diaspora, Chioma Anyanwu and Charles Akpom. 

    It was an African-focused social network that would provide a single online platform for Africans around the world to connect, share news and relevant information regarding the continent, discuss ideas for the continent’s socio-economic development and build virtual and personal relationships over the long term. 

    It allowed memberships from diverse countries – with regular members hailing from all 53 African countries.

    Another social networking platform built in Africa was 2go. The application was developed by 2go Interactive (Pty) Ltd in Cape Town, South Africa. It was created in 2007 by some students of University of Witwatersrand.

    It supports over 1,500 different devices, including feature phones, in addition to Android, BlackBerry OS and BlackBerry 10 smartphones. 

    2go is a chat-based mobile social network targeting users in emerging markets, particularly in Africa. 

    2go users message each other for free, meet new people and share updates and photos with friends and family.

    In Nigeria, Yookos a Christian-focused website, was founded in 2011 by the leader of Christ Embassy International, Pastor Chris Oyakhilome, with the aim of conveying spiritual messages among members of Christ Embassy, in Africa. However, it penetrated beyond Africa as traffic steadily increased. 

    The website, thereafter, became popular and accommodated more people. In 2012, there appears to have been a deliberate push to extend the social network’s subscriber base beyond religion.

    Yookos was later developed into apps for smartphone devices where users can join communities, meet new people and follow topics of interest. 

    It also affords users a platform to buy and sell in their local marketplaces.

    By 2015, the KingChat App was built as a fast, simple and personal smartphone messenger that allows users to send messages. It allows users to send and receive messages, pictures, audio, location and video messages.

    From research, there have been many other social media applications built by Nigerians in Nigerians and Africa, even though some of them stopped being operational after a while, many others are still functional.

    Conclusion

    Crowwe is not Africa’s first social networking platform. There have been several social media applications built in Africa since 2005. However, there are possibilities, it is the first social media app built in Nigeria with an additional online payment system.

    The researcher produced this fact-check per the Dubawa 2021 Kwame KariKari Fellowship partnership with SaharaReporters to facilitate the ethos of “truth” in journalism and enhance media literacy in the country.

  • Trump to return to social media with own platform

    The former President of the United States (US), Donald Trump, is planning to return to social media with his own network.

    Jason Miller, adviser and spokesperson for Trump’s 2020 campaign made this known in his appearance on Fox News MediaBuzz on Sunday.

    The former president was banned by Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram following the belief that his posts incited the US Capitol riots on January 6 2021.

    The former president was permanently banned by Twitter in January after warnings about his activities noting his activities on the platform contradicted their public interest framework.  

    Facebook also banned Trump indefinitely and subsequently referred its decision to indefinitely suspend the former president’s Facebook and Instagram accounts to an independent Facebook-funded body composed of international experts.

    Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, said the risks of Trump using the service were too great. 

    Months later, Jason Miller said; “I do think we are going to see president Trump returning to social media with his own platform and this is something I think is going to be the hottest ticket in social media. It is going to completely redefine the game”.

  • Examining National Orientation Agency’s Engagement with Its Digital Community in Combating “Fake News” Online

    Abstract

    Nigerian government has adopted a multi-pronged approach to the threat of misinformation and disinformation in recent times: Launching public campaigns against fake information, tightening its noose against mainstream media by ways of sanction and heavy fine, and also threatening stiffer social media regulation. In its public campaign approach, it has partnered with the National Orientation Agency (NOA). This study seeks to assess the level of efforts put up by the agency on its social media platform to educate its online public; evaluate how far the agency’s message on misinformation resonates with its online community; assess the level of engagement and partnership with other stakeholders in fighting information disorder in Nigeria. 

    Adopting content analysis and interview as research methods, study shows that while the agency created a considerable number of valuable contents on its platform,  little evidence shows sufficient readiness to up-take campaigns on information disorder on social media. Two, there is evidence of cooperation and deliberate partnership with other public and civil society stakeholders in the campaign against misinformation online as the agency retweeted valuable contents from its online partners, yet it relies more on them for its content creation on anti-fake campaigns. Lastly, the agency’s online public found the contents authored by it less valuable and less resonating than contents shared from its partners. As a result, its online public engaged more with posts retweeted from other partners.

    The study concludes that while the federal government is bent on regulating social media and sanctioning abuse of the media, it abrogates its duty by depending more on civil society and foreign agencies to educate and enlighten citizens on the danger of misinformation on democracy and national unity.

    By recommendation, more study is imperative to investigate what motivates online communities of users to engage with messages created and shared on anti- fake campaigns.

    Introduction:   

    In July 2018 and April 2020, the Nigerian government launched a “public campaign against fake news” (Premium Times, 2018) and also launched “campaigns to media houses and cooperation with Facebook and Google” (AllAfrica, 2020). The overall objective was to create media literacy among Nigerians, particularly young people who are highly active online and social media. According to the minister of information, Mr. Lai Mohammed, the campaign against fake news “was linked to the possible effects of rumours towards the escalation of related crisis across the country” and that the campaign would include active collaboration with digital as well as traditional media and the National Orientation Agency to educate Nigerians on the effect of fake news on Nigeria’s democracy and its corporate existence as a nation. 

    The foregoing was sequel to concerns being raised over the capacity of social media and technology companies to control the kind of contents being trafficked on their platforms (Ray Walsh, 2o20). This is in the face of several partnerships at the instance of technology companies, particularly Facebook and Twitter, with fact-checking organisations to help verify viral claims making the round in the public space and flag down anyone suspected to be deliberate purveyors of misleading information. 

    Stakeholders have concluded that disinformation and misinformation are very dangerous to the society and democracy, even though UNESCO has said “disinformation is particularly dangerous because it is frequently organised, well resourced, and reinforced by automated technology” (UNESCO 2018). Recent study shows government officials, politicians, and electoral candidates are more culpable  in spreading false information (Raheemat, 2020, Raji, 2020).

    It is quite commendable that some countries of the World are coming up with policies and legislation to tackle the spread of false information in the public space and, in some cases, exploring these measures to gag free speech (Funke Daniel, 2018).  Nigerian government, while it is also threatening policies and legislation to regulate the social media, has adopted media  public education, partnering with the National Orientation Agency (NOA). 

    Leveraging on the latter measure, this study seeks to understand how the agency has engaged its online community to achieve the desired goal as highlighted by the government. The study thereby tracked the content created on the agency’s twitter handle within a period of seven months (May-November, 2020) to assess the efforts of the Federal agency in up-taking the campaign to educate Nigerians on the effect of fake news and create media literacy campaigns for social media and online users. 

    The objectives of this study are:

    • To assess the level of efforts by the agency on its social media platform to educate its online users;
    • To evaluate how far the agency’s message on misinformation resonate with its online community;
    • To assess the level of engagement and partnership with other stakeholders fighting information disorder in Nigeria.  

    This study is justified for a number of reasons. First, it leverages the proposed involvement of the National Orientation Agency by the Ministry of Information and Culture to support its anti-misinformation campaign in Nigeria. 

    Second, the study chooses to interrogate the extent of the partnership between Nigeria’s ministry of education and technology giants in relation to mitigating the spread of disinformation and misinformation. Third, the period covered in this study (May -November, 2020) is chosen to assess how the agency has taken the campaign to its online public after a couple of months following the minister’s statement in April 2020.

    Third, the twitter handle of the agency is chosen in evaluating the National Orientation agency because its Director General stated in an interview with this researcher that it is one of the engagement platforms which it uses to reach Nigerians online.

    Information gathered from the agency’s website shows that:

    • The agency boasts of over 5000 staff spanning across 36 states of the federation including the FCT and the 774 local Government Offices.
    • It claims to have over 15 engagement platforms tailored to reach the highest number of Nigerians using its major segmentation approaches.
    • It claims it has reached over 64% of Nigerian citizens.
    • It also claims no other organ of government has this kind of spread and capacity for public enlightenment and sensitization campaigns. (https://www.noa.gov.ng)

    Lessons from Other Lands

    Issues around false information have become a hard nut to crack to many stakeholders, particularly when evidence abounds that online and social media platforms have become willing tools in the hands of perpetrators of false information. Very recently, a peaceful campaign, tagged #EndSARS, against police brutality and recklessness by a section of the Nigerian youths was hijacked by hoodlums and anti-#EndSARS protesters through the mercenary of false information. This, perhaps prompted the Nigerian government calling for a renewed process towards regulating the social media. The Nigerian government, through the Minister of Information, “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).     

    Truly, Nigerian is not alone in this regard. Library of Congress Law (2019) has reported some steps being taken by the UK government to tackle false information through a combination of legislation and policies. For instance, The Fusion Doctrine provides that the intelligence services are responsible for identifying social media platforms that distribute misinformation and disinformation. The Rapid Response Unit was established within the Cabinet office to help ensure debates are fact-based. The National Security Commissions Team’s purpose is to tackle communications elements of threats to national security, including (but not limited to) disinformation (Clare Feikert-Ahalt, 2019).

    In April, 2018, the government of Australia launched a campaign, tagged “Stop and Consider” to encourage “voters to pay attention to the sources of their information in light of the federal elections held in May”.(Funke Daniel, et al, 2018). 

    Even the French Constitutional Council had worked on a law drafted by President Emmanuel Macron’s government which aims at fighting the “manipulation of information” instead of “fake news” (Alexander Damiano Ricci, 2018).

    Meanwhile, as reported by the Education for Justice (E4J of the Doha Declaration and supported by the State of Qatar, 2019) that some scholars have advocated for a more-civil solution to tackling misinformation warfare, which they call “inoculation theory.” This seeks to inoculate individuals against misinformation and disinformation by providing them with the means to build resistance to messaging and propaganda, reducing their susceptibility to misinformation and disinformation, and leading them to question the veracity of the information being presented to them as well as the legitimacy of the source presenting the information. 

    Asides this and just as it has been in Nigeria, E4J (2019) also highlighted media literacy campaigns as part of the solutions to misinformation as it has been launched in other countries like Sweden and Denmark. Some countries have also introduced units dedicated to identifying, collecting and reviewing disinformation and fake news, and alerting the media and general public about it such as the EU East StratCom Task Force (E4J, 2019, making a reference to Morrelli and Archick, 2016). 

    In the light of the above, this study seeks to take a close look at how the strategies highlighted above play out in the campaign plans and strategies adopted by the National Orientation Agency in Nigeria to engage its online communities in the fight against mis/disinformation.

    Social Media Engagement Theory  

    Leveraging on the model of Social Media Engagement Theory (SME) developed by Di Gangi et al (2016), this study subscribes to the proposition that an organisation creates a chain of value, experience and benefits when it develops a User-Generated Content (UGC) that resonates with its audience on social media. As Di Gangi et al (2016) hypothesised, the central premise of SME theory is that higher user engagement leads to greater usage of the social media platform. Usage is defined as the frequency of a user’s contribution, retrieval, and/or exploration of content within a social media site. 

    The more frequently users take part in a variety of activities, the more valuable the social media platform becomes to the organization and fellow users, resulting in the co-creation of value. Organizations benefit when they leverage UGC to develop new insights, to realize cost savings, to grow brand awareness, and ultimately to generate innovations. Users benefit from the ability to socially interact within the social media platform to fulfill personal needs and interests. 

    The National Orientation Agency of Nigeria is the body tasked with communicating government policy, staying abreast of public opinion, and promoting patriotism, national unity, and development of Nigerian society. It is, therefore, expected that one of the strategies to uptake that campaign by the agency is to develop templates that can target online and social media users who are within the online community of the agency and make its message resonate with them. 

    Several researches have linked the spread of misinformation to the development of communication technology and the accompanying social media platforms (Ziga TURK, 2018). Di Gangi 2016 (quoting (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2010) defines social media as “a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and exchange of User Generated Content.” Since the contents created and distributed on social media is susceptible to being pathological, considering the speed of the algorithm, it is the thesis of this study that when online and social media users are effectively engaged in the fight against misinformation, their understanding of how fake-content creators operate will reduce the spread.   

    Therefore, this study  provides answers to four basic questions:

    • To what extent did the National Orientation Agency (NOA) create valuable content on its social media platform to amplify anti-fake campaigns?
    • How far have the agency’s messages on misinformation resonated with its online community?
    • What is the level of NOA’s engagement with other stakeholders fighting information disorder in Nigeria? 
    • What is the level of engagement by NOA’s public with other stakeholders fighting information disorder in Nigeria?

    Methods

    This study employs both quantitative and qualitative research approaches. For the quantitative approach, the study developed a template for the tracking of contents posted on the agency’s social media handle, precisely Twitter. The agency boasts 863 followings and 115,000 followers on twitter till date. Based on this, we tracked: 

    •  The overall tweets posted by the agency between May and November,  2020;
    •  The frequency of relevant tweets directed at media literacy or fact-checking by the agency within the period;
    •  Number of “retweets”, “likes”, “comments” and video “viewing” by its online public on media literacy or fact-checking within the period;

    For the qualitative aspect, the study relies on the interview granted to the author by the Director General of the National Orientation Agency via email. The study also incorporates a YouTube interview granted by the DG to @Channel Television on #EndfakeNews which was retrieved from (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YxgDTtJE8AU&feature=youtube)

    Results:

    Q1. To what extent did the National Orientation Agency (NOA) create valuable content on its social media platform to amplify  anti-fake campaigns?

    A total of 1,621 tweets were posted by the National Orientation Agency (NOA) on its twitter handle between May and November, 2020.

    Of these, 51 tweets (3.15%) were found to be relevant to media literacy and fact-checking on misinformation in Nigeria. In addition, 24 tweets (out of the 51 relevant items) representing 47.06% were authored by the agency while 27 (52.94%) were retweets from other partnering public and civil society sources.

    Table 1. Showing contents created on the agency’s platform

    Overall tweetsTotal relevant tweets on media literacy and fact-checkingTotal relevant tweets by the agencyTotal relevant tweets by others
    1621512427

    Q2. How far have the agency’s messages on misinformation resonated with its online community?

    Of the 24 relevant tweets authored by the agency, it enjoyed 954 retweets, 266 comments and 1,461 “likes”. While the video post (at https://twitter.com/i/status/1324344627281989633)  published on November 5, 2020 generated the highest number of 127 retweets and the highest number of 3.5million views; the one posted on October 31 had the highest number of 179 ‘likes and the highest number of 69 comments. 

    Table 2. Showing how the agency’s public engaged with its message

    Tweets by NOA“Retweets” by its online public“Likes” by its online public“Comments” by its online public
    249541,461266

    Q.3. What is the level of NOA’s engagement with other stakeholders fighting information disorder in Nigeria? 

    Apart from the posts authored by the agency, it retweeted 16 posts from the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), 2 Posts from National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), 3 from the World Health Organisation (WHO), 3 from Nigeria Health Watch (NHW), 1 from the Presidency, 1 from the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and 2 from other individuals.  

    Q.4. What is the level of engagement by NOA’s public with other stakeholders fighting information disorder in Nigeria? 

    While it is commendable that the agency retweeted relevant tweets from other partners, NOA’s online public engaged more with tweets from other partners than its own. For instance, despite that the agency retweeted only one post from the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs (FMHA) on September 3rd, 2020, that same tweet generated the highest number of 1,500,000 retweets (99.8% of all retweets) by NOA’s online public, followed by the one from NOA with 997 “retweets” (0.7%) while the Presidential aide’s tweet came third with 545 “retweets” (at 0.04%).

    On relevant tweets, there were 2,006,125 “likes” within the period. Of these, tweet from presidential aide on new media posted on November 2nd, 2020, generated the highest number of 2 million “Likes” on NOA’s platform (at 99.7% of all ‘likes’), followed by the one from Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs with 3000 “Likes” (0.15%) while NOA’s tweet came third with 1,544 “Likes” (0.08%).

    While NOA’s tweets generated 267 comments (23.9% of all ‘comments’), the post from Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs (FMHA) generated the highest number of 444 comments (at 39.7%), followed by the post from presidential aide with 350 comments (31.3%).

    (Message/Content Visualisation)

    Only 6 relevant videos used to educate online audiences and to create “fake alerts” were tracked during the period . These came from CDD, NOA, and WHO. The one from NOA had the highest of 3.5million views. The video retweeted from the WHO generated the second highest of 2.7million viewings, followed by 4 videos retweeted from CDD which generated 1,083 views. 

    Table 3. Showing how the agency’s online public engaged with posts by NOA and other sources 

    Other Stakeholders“Retweets” by NOA’s Public%Likes” by NOA’s Public%“Comments by NOA’s Public%No of VideoVideo viewing by NOA’s Public%
    CDD1860.01%2320.012%252.24%41,0830.02%
    NCDC4690.03%9650.05%
    NOA9970.7%1,5440.08%26723.7%13,700,00057.8%
    WHO1090.01%3290.02%322.9%12,700,00042%
    NHW350.002%550.003%
    Presidency5450.04%2,000,00099.5%35031.3%
    FMHA1,500,00099.2%30000.15%44439.7%– – 
    Total1502341100%2006125100%1118100%66,401,083100%

    Figure 1. One of the posts tweeted by NOA, July 11, 2020

    How NOA’s Public Engaged with other Posts 

    CDD’s Post

    16 posts (31.4% of all relevant tweets) were authored by the CDD and retweeted by the agency. These then generated 186 retweets by NOA’s online public, with 25 comments and 232 likes. Of these 16 posts from CDD, there were 4 videos which generated 1083 viewings.

    Figure 2. Post from CDD, retweeted by NOA

    Figure 3. Post from CDD on June 25, 2020

    Figure 4. post from CDD on June 29

    Posts from NCDC

    2 tweets (3.9%) authored by the NCDC were retweeted by NOA. This was retweeted in a frequency of 469 times, with 126 comments and 965 likes. No video. 

    Posts from WHO

    The only one relevant post retweeted from WHO was a video. It generated 109 retweets by NOA’s public with 32 comments and 329 likes. The video generated 2.7 million viewings. Extract from the video is in text below:

    “...As one who had coordinated #COVID-19 response in Lagos with @followlasg, it was easy to see what other people pass through…You can see it’s not a death sentence, listen to experts, stop fake news and #stigmatization– WHO tweet

          (Tweet from WHO and retweeted by NOA on June 6, 2020)

    Post from NHW

    3 tweets from NHW, representing 5.9% of relevant posts were also retweeted by NOA and generated 35 retweets by NOA’s public with 55 likes. No comment. No Video.

    Figure 5: Posts from NWH, retweeted by NOA (July 8, 2020)  

    Post from FMHA

    Only 1 tweet used as media literacy from FMHA, represented 3.7% of relevant posts. It was retweeted by NOA and generated the highest number of 1.5million retweets by NOA’s public with 3000 likes and 444 comments. No Video.

    Post from Presidential Aide

    Another tweet from a presidential aide, Bashir Ahmaad, representing 3.7% of relevant posts was retweeted by NOA and generated the highest number of 2 million ‘likes’ by NOA’s public with 545 ‘retweets’ with 350 comments. No Video.

    As tweeted by @BashirAhmaad:

    Do not let your social media posts be the reason for people to take arms against each other, stop spreading the fake news for a better Nigeria, message from the National Orientation Agency @NOA_Nigeria. 8:25 AM · Nov 2, 2020

    NOA’s Online Engagement: The Director General’s Responses

    As part of the methods of evaluating the Federal Government’s responses to the menace of false information, particularly on social media, this researcher made efforts in reaching the Director General of the National Orientation Agency via e-mail to speak on  the campaign plans of the agency and the methods of executing those campaigns in educating Nigerians on the evil of fake information in the public space. The responses are highlighted below in the form of questions and answers. Here, the researcher’s posers shall be referred to as “Q” while the DG’s responses shall be represented by “Ans”. 

    Q.The agency says (on its website) it has over 5 engagement platforms it uses to reach Nigerians. What are these platforms?

    Ans: The agency reaches Nigerians through a number of platforms. These include the agency’s website (www.noa.gov.ng), as well as through its e-mail ([email protected]). Asides these, the agency also reaches its community through its various social media platforms including Twitter (@NOA_Nigeria), Facebook (National Orientation Agency, Nigeria) and Instagram (noa_nigeria).

    Q. The agency also says it uses 3 major segmentation approaches to do its enlightenment campaigns. What are these approaches? 

    Ans: The agency carries out its enlightenment campaign in three segmental approaches using the National level, State level and the Local government levels which are often undertaken by the Community Orientation and Mobilisation Officers domiciled in all the 774 LGAs and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). 

    Q. “Fake news” has become endemic in Nigeria. What are the campaign plans the agency has or has been running to carry out enlightenment programmes for Nigerians on its danger and negative impact on our democracy?

    Ans: There are plans which the agency has been exploring to engage Nigerians on various platforms of interaction with a view to bringing to the fore, dangers inherent in the spread of fake news in our society.

    Q. What have been the approaches adopted to carry out these campaigns?

    Ans: We have been developing counter narratives using postcards for social media posts, jingles (both audio and video, community engagement, public enlightenment using the Agency’s Public Address Van, holding workshops/seminar with stakeholders, training of staff on how to identify and respond to fake news as well as preparing questionnaire to get feedback. Also, the Agency regularly organises press conferences to intimate news media on efforts of the Agency regarding fight against fake news and hate messages.

    Q. How does the agency create contents on the platforms earlier highlighted to engage Nigerians on anti-fake campaigns?

    Ans: The Agency generates contents on topical issues of national relevance with a special reference to the feedback mechanism of NOA.

    Q. Do citizens respond to/engage with these contents? What are the pieces of evidence that these campaigns or messages on these platforms resonate with citizens?

    Ans: Robust citizens’ engagement on our online platforms is an evidence that NOA gets responses from the public. We also conduct e-polling to gauge the pulse of people on topical issues. Feedback mechanism by the PRS department also indicates evidence of engagement with Nigerians.

    Q. Are there impacts of these campaigns? 

    Ans: The Agency has been able to effect a new set of values resulting in attitudinal change of citizens regarding fake news. Sustained campaign against fake news has recorded successes especially on social media.

    Q. What have been the noticeable impacts?

    Ans: Some of the noticeable impacts have been attitudinal change and instilled patriotism.

    Q. How does the Agency evaluate its impacts on the citizens?

    Ans: We do this through e-polling and feedback mechanisms of the Agency.

    Q. Does the agency collaborate with other government and non-government agencies to tackle the scourge of misinformation in Nigeria?

    Ans: Yes

    Q. What are these agencies?

    Ans: We collaborate with the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, FRCN, NTA, Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Budgit, Open Government Partnership (OGP) and so on.

    Q. What strategies does the agency use for this collaboration? 

    Ans: Some of our strategies for collaboration include seminars, workshops, sensitisation, community engagement, online engagement and capacity building.

    Discussions 

    This study shows that while the agency created a considerable number of valuable contents on its platform, there was little evidence of sufficient readiness to up-take campaigns on information disorder on social media. This is evident from the fact that only 3.5% (n=1,461) of the total tweets for the period were relevant to fighting fake information online. 

    On the question of partnership, there was evidence of cooperation and  partnership with other public and civil society stakeholders in the campaign against misinformation online as the agency retweeted valuable contents from its online partners.

    Evidence shows that there was a considerable level of cooperation and partnership with other public and civil society stakeholders in the campaign against misinformation online as the agency retweeted valuable contents from its online partners. This corroborates the responses of the director-general of the agency that it has a robust partnership with other stakeholders, such as the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, FRCN, NTA, Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Budgit and Open Government Partnership (OGP). 

    While evidence shows that only the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), World Health Organisation (WHO), Nigeria Health Watch (NHW), and the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs (FMHA) were active on the agency’s online platform as stakeholders fighting misinformation, result from the tracking of the agency’s twitter handle shows that other key ministries and agencies such as Ministry of Information and Culture were either not working on information disorder online or not creating any contents that resonate with the agency’s effort in fighting misinformation on social media.

    While this study did not find out if the attitude of the agency’s online audience to its contents was  positive or negative, evidence shows that there was a considerable level of engagement with its content by its online community. Although , the director general of the agency observed that the “robust citizens’ engagement on our online platforms is an evidence that NOA gets responses from the public’, result of the tracking of its twitter handle shows that the agency’s online public found contents authored by the agency less valuable and less resonating than contents shared from its partners. As a result, its online public engaged more with posts retweeted from other partners with a range of activities such as “like,” “comment’ and “share”.

    To show that its online engagement with its audience was considerably low, there is more to be desired considering that the agency’s tweets for the seven-months period generated only 964 retweets despite being followed by 155,000 followers online.  Therefore, its claim that it reaches at least 64% Nigerians on its enlightenment campaigns is perhaps, more offline than online. 

    The fact that audience engagement was low also shows that the agency has not really subscribed to the proposition engendered by the Social Media Engagement Theory (SME, Theory) which suggests that “an organisation will be creating a chain of value, experience and benefits when it develops a User-Generated Content (UGC) that resonates with its audience on social media. While observation shows that the agency makes spirited efforts to cover many issues of national importance, its efforts at creating media literacy campaigns and publishing fact-checks on its platforms have been grossly inadequate.

    Similarly, it is not clear how the agency creates content on its social media platforms, although the director-general in an interview revealed that “the agency generates contents on topical issues of national relevance with a special reference to the feedback mechanism of NOA.” Some of these issues of national relevance, as revealed from the tracking exercise adopted for this study, include information disorder around COVID-19, #EndSARS protest, national unity among others. However, the fact that the agency created 24 relevant tweets on media literacy and fact-check (47%) out of the total 51 recorded during the period, shows that it largely depends on other relevant stakeholders to create relevant contents which it retweets for media literacy and fake alert systems.  

    Conclusion and Recommendations

    This study has investigated the level of preparedness and seriousness on the part of the Nigerian government through its ministries and agencies to take its campaign against “fake news” and misinformation to its online and social media community of followers. Deploying the method of social media content analysis of the National Orientation Agency’s twitter handle, the findings of this study show that the federal government, through its agencies has done less to create resonating messages to its online public on anti-fake campaigns. 

    It is also observed that the agency was more interested in media literacy than fact-checking. All the fact-checks tweeted within the period were posted by its other partners including CDD, WHO, NCDC, National Health Watch (NHW) among others. 

    Again, this study shows the federal government depends more on civil society and foreign agencies to wage war against misinformation, given that more of the content posted on the agency’s twitter platform on misinformation were authored by other partners operating within the misinformation ecosystem. 

    The merit in this circumstance is underscored by the evidence that federal agencies are open to cooperation and partnership. Yet it is more worrisome that while the Ministry of Information and Culture had identified National Orientation Agency (NOA) as its key partner in the campaign against fake content in Nigeria, no single relevant tweet was found on the agency’s platform as either created by the Information Ministry or tweeted by any of its officials.  

    This rather illustrates hypocrisy on the part of the Federal Ministry which has bent more towards social media regulations than education of its citizens against the threat of mis/disinformation.

    By recommendation, more study is imperative to investigate what motivates online community of users to engage with messages created and shared on anti- fake campaigns.

     *This study is conducted for the Dubawa Fellowship programme, and is supported by Heinrich Boll Stiftung Foundation Abuja office.

    References:

    Adeniran, R. (2020). “Cure Myths and False Ratings Lead COVID-19 Fact-Checks in Nigeria, With Governments as Most Targeted Entities”. https://dubawa.org/cure-myths-and-false-ratings-lead-covid-19-fact-checks-in-nigeria-with-governments-as-most-targeted-entities/

    Alexander, D.R. (2018). France moves to fight the ‘manipulation of information’ instead of ‘fake news’. https://www.poynter.org/fact-checking/2018/france-moves-to-fight-the-manipulation-of-information-instead-of-fake-news/

    AllAfrica (2020). “Nigeria: Coronavirus – How Nigerian Govt Is Fighting Fake News –   Lai Mohammed”. https://allafrica.com/stories/202004150698.html

    Di Gangi, P.M & Wasko, M. (2016). “Social Media Engagement Theory: Exploring the Influence of User Engagement on Social Media Usage”.https://www.researchgate.net/publication/Social_Media_Engagement_Theory

    Education for Justice (2019). “Information warfare, disinformation and electoral fraud”. https://www.unodc.org/e4j/en/cybercrime/module-14/key-issues/information-warfare–disinformation-and-electoral-fraud.html

    Feikert-Ahalt, C. (2019). “Government Responses to Disinformation on Social Media Platforms: United Kingdom”. https://www.loc.gov/law/help/social-media-disinformation/uk.php

    Daniel, F., & flamini, D. (2018). “A guide to anti-misinformation actions around the world”. https://www.poynter.org/ifcn/anti-misinformation-actions/

    Okakwu, E. (2018). “Nigerian govt launches campaign against ‘fake news” https://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/more-news/275846-nigerian-govt- launches-campaign-against-fake-news.html  

    Raji, R. (2020). “A Six-year Mapping of Fact-Checks Shows Growing Partnership Between Newsrooms and Fact-Checking Organisations in Nigeria”.https://dubawa.org/a-six-year-mapping-of-fact-checks-shows-growing-partnership-between-newsrooms-and-fact-checking-organisations-in-nigeria/

    Being the video by CDD on June 30 and July 1 https://twitter.com/i/status/1278440221378576386

    Being the video of Interview granted to the @Channels Television by the DG of the National Orientation Agency (NOA) (·         https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YxgDTtJE8AU&feature=youtu.be)

    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

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