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The Fact-Checker: June 7, 2020

6 mins read

Media messaging in a time of crisis: The Tools, Targets and Technicians

Would you consider coronavirus our greatest enemy today? Or would it be preferable to categorise it as one of the myriad ills plaguing our society, competing for our attention? In a land where you’re more likely to die by hunger, religious or ethnic killings, or become depressed by news about the 2020 budget which places renovation of the National Assembly over primary health care; can we afford to ignore the virus, hoping that it will go away on its own? The answer to this question is not as straightforward as it should be. What matters most at any given time is what gets said to the people by the media.

In light of recent happenings around the world, coronavirus took a backseat the past few weeks. From the preventable death of George Floyd to the vigils and protests that followed in several countries in solidarity, people seemed to forget that a moment ago, social distancing was the word of the year. In Nigeria, a social media war ensued after a series of high-profile cases of violence against women sparked outrage in the country. Suddenly, the dominant message across the globe about saving the world from a deadly virus changed to the imperative of fighting injustice.

The rallying cries #JusticeForUwa, #JusticeForTina and #JusticeForJennifer have reverberated among internet users in the country, influential and average users alike, joining virtual campaigns inspired by the Black Lives Matter protests sweeping the United States. Uwa, a 22-year-old university student, was raped and found beaten to death in a church in Edo State. Tina, a 16-year-old secondary school student, was shot and killed by a happy trigger policeman in Lagos State. Jennifer, an 18-year-old, was attacked and raped by a gang of five men in Kaduna State. In Jigawa, 11 men were arrested for allegedly raping a 12-year-old girl. All these happened in less than a month.

But the cries don’t end on social media! On Friday, a walk was convened in Abuja and Lagos to declare a state of emergency on the rising cases of sexual abuse and violence in Nigeria. For example, Lagos, the most populous state in Nigeria, has a total of 5,440 confirmed coronavirus cases.

At this point, many governments seem unable to control the actions of their citizens in protest against injustice. While rape, police brutality and oppression have always existed, they have produced trauma only in the minds of the victims. With no mental imagery to elicit an emotional connection with victims of rape, state actors have been unable to frame campaign narratives about social issues that affect victims of social disorder, thus failing to focus the political debate on matters citizens ought to care about the most–those that diminish the humanity of fellow citizens. Propaganda (primarily during elections) was used to play on the cultural weaknesses of a target population so they could be more easily manipulated and controlled. 

By manipulating or “influencing” the way your citizenry thinks, you can manage the way many citizens vote and what policies they give consent. If you can convince them that the answer to unemployment is mass recruitment of graduates into inefficacious ministries or sharing of looted funds to the poor, you may win simply by legitimising mediocrity. Several political and social thinkers have examined the centrality of media messaging to the choices people make about those given the power to shape experiences.

“The only reason governments operate the way they operate, the only reason money works the way it works, the only reason power exists where it exists, is that we’ve all agreed to play along with some made-up mental stories about those things and pretend that they are true and real”,  says Caitlin Johnson. Isn’t money just paper? Aren’t presidents only people? If you can control the stories that the masses tell themselves about what is in their best interests, you control everything.

Often, governments manipulate with the help of the media. The news media was traditionally the primary source of information for Nigerians. According to the FrameWorks Institute, “news coverage influences what issues people think are important for the government to address (agenda-setting), the lens through which people interpret issues (framing), and what information will prove relevant for social and political judgments (priming).” However, these actions are not always done in the best interests of the people.

According to Chomsky in the book, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, the news organisations operate through five filters: ownership, advertising, the media elite, flak and the common enemy. These filters determine how the news narrative is framed. Although they are constitutionally empowered to act as the fourth estate of the realm; in reality, mass media firms are corporations; they need to make a profit through the sale of their products – news and YOU!

However, the media are not the only “villains”. Technology platforms assuming the role of content moderation are complicit. You, as a user, sharer and creator of online (mis-, dis-, mal-)information are also a part of the problem. Aman Sethi once put it thus: “It’s easy to say that people believe what they believe because their consent has been manufactured. But what if people know exactly what’s going on and still believe what they believe, right? Then that’s terrifying.”

In sports, any team that plays only defence won’t win. You need to play offence, as well as defence. That’s a key lesson of sports. As citizens, you’re not just victims of government or business manipulation; you can also control the narrative or be a co-narrator to add other messages to what gets circulated. To be able to do this, you need to dig deeper into issues. Go beyond the 24-hour cycle of news and keep bringing that issue of most significant concern to you up until policymakers hear your narrative for change. Believe that your voice matters. If it didn’t, businesses wouldn’t pay millions of naira to tell a dramatic story about a toothbrush you would buy anyway; governments will not employ people to send out false information to you on social media.

In a democracy, we are the new media! We are the tools, targets and technicians. What are we going to do about narratives that shape our experience? We need to be media literate and see ourselves as agents of change and co-owners of the messages in public space.

Coronavirus Q & A 

  • Has the US pulled out of WHO?

The United States president, Donald Trump, has been in the news for accusing the World Health Organization of mismanaging and covering up the threat of COVID-19. He also believes that the health organization is dependent on China; hence, he stated that he would put a hold on funding the WHO for 60-90 days till necessary adjustment is made. More recently, the controversial president has threatened to make the hold permanent also threatened to give the US membership a second thought. While these were reported, there was no mention that the country has finally pulled out of WHO.

  • Can covid-19 spread through Second-hand clothing?

It might sound reasonable if anyone said you stand a chance of catching COVID-19 by purchasing ‘Okrika’ (a popular term for second-hand clothes in Nigeria) because these brands are usually imported and are likely to have been infected before they arrive in the country. But, it is far from fact.

According to the WHO, “the likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low, and the risk of catching the virus that causes COVID-19 from a package that has been moved, travelled, and exposed to different conditions and temperature is also low.”  In addition to this, the usual practice is to wash these clothes after acquiring them and before wearing them. So, how viable can the virus be after being washed and heated dry? Considering that, health authorities have also suggested that you clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces for safety.

  • Can paper money spread COVID-19?

While studies have shown that banknotes may transmit disease, there’s no conclusive scientific study that suggests that COVID-19 may be spread through contaminated currency notes.

More so, experts have not established how long the new coronavirus can survive on banknotes, nor informed of its transfer potential. Therefore, merely touching currency notes does not guarantee transmission, especially if one maintains proper hygiene after handling – thorough, and refraining from touching the face. (Read full Fact-check here)

#FakeNews Alert 

Be sceptical of news like this, especially when it is published by a blog. If this information is factual, it will be widely publicised by credible news platforms. Until then, do no share.

From the news report, it is clear that this statement holds no fact, just one group accusing another of planning an attack. Moreso, the parties involved have a history of rivalry between them not to mention that the platform that published this claim is not credible.

Receive every claim with a sceptical mind especially if it is from a blog such as this?

Which other platform has published this? Is it credible? Who is the source for this report? Is he/she credible? 

Ebele Oputa is a frontline leader who helps organizations do new things or do existing things more efficiently. She has provided strategic, technical and programmatic oversight as well as editorial support of Dubawa since its inception. She is an experienced Programme Officer with a demonstrated history of working in the non-profit organization management industry including the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime. Skilled in Negotiation, Training, Leadership, Project Management, and Strategic Communications, Ebele has a Master of Laws (LLM) focused on International Trade and Commercial Law from Durham University.

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