Fake news, disinformation, misinformation and malinformation have become of serious concern in the Nigeria media space. Also caught in the web of this information disorder are both the new and conventional media. (Apuke & Omar, 2020; Ojebode, 2018). It has been observed that the prevalence of information disorder in Nigeria can be adduced to lack of fact-checking skills among media handlers. Cable 2019 cited in Raji 2020, however, said the establishment of Dubawa and other fact-checking organisations in Nigeria and in Africa at large, have brought positive results in efforts to address the problem of information disorder. Despite collaboration between fact-checking organisations and media houses on how to address the information disorder in the information ecosystem, many young people and students, including those studying journalism are accused of sharing fake news, disinformation, misinformation and malinformation pieces.
The mixed-method research recently conducted by Ilesanmi (2021) to examine the level of fact- checking competence among journalism lecturers in Ondo State, Nigeria revealed that fact-checking competence among journalism lecturers was very low. Majority of the lecturers use Google to confirm the genuineness of information. Almost all of them do not know how to use other modern fact-checking tools while majority of them still consider normal news gathering skills as modern fact-checking skills.
Ilesanmi (2021) also reported that modern fact-checking skills are not being taught in Nigerian tertiary institutions. Furthermore, it was revealed in his study that years of service of the lecturers have positive association with fact-checking competence. In other words, the more years the lecturers spend in academia, the more their fact-checking competence increases.
Additionally, it was revealed that the majority of journalism lecturers in Nigeria have not had any fact-checking training prior to the research. To worsen this, there was no plan by the institutions to organise future training on fact-checking competence for the lecturers, who are often saddled with the responsibility of training journalists in the country.
The findings of Ilesanmi (2021) have revealed that tertiary institutions in Nigeria are not equipped materially and in terms of personnel to cater for fact-checking requirements that are in demand in modern day journalism practice. The study has shown that journalists are ill-equipped in terms of fact-checking competence because their training years in the tertiary institutions are devoid of the right skills and knowledge needed to combat fake news, misinformation, disinformation and mal-information. In view of this dearth of fact-checking competence among journalism teachers in tertiary institutions in Nigeria, this paper presents strategies that can be adopted to fill this gap
Time to deepen collaboration
There have been concerns on the lacuna between the academia and the industry in Nigeria. This has been attributed to several failures in the country, especially in terms of providing solutions to several issues in the country (Atueyi, 2016). Unfortunately, the same gap is observed between Nigerian institutions and departments offering journalism and media studies as courses and in the media industry.
Sequel to this, there is a need for journalism departments and institutions offering fact-checking as a course to collaborate with fact-checking organisations, like Dubawa, to enhance the competence and skills of both journalism lecturers and students. This will go a long way to equip the two groups with the relevant skills needed to verify information and address the inadequacies of the information ecosystem in Nigeria.
This form of collaboration has been reported between Dubawa and news media organisations, tech firms and bloggers to curb the unhindered spread of fake news in Nigeria with attendant positive results (Raji, 2020). With this positive report, such collaboration should be extended to teachers and students of journalism in tertiary institutions in Nigeria, since they create the breeding ground for journalists. According to Gaye (2021), media literacy to detect fake information must not be narrowed or widened. This will empower more people to develop competence in information verification, especially the young adults.
Re-brewing the old wine
In a similar vein, there is no gainsaying that there is a need for training and retraining of journalism teachers. The high level of fact-checking incompetence among them can be attributed to the fact that modern fact-checking is novel and has just began to gain popularity (Daniel & Flamini, 2018; Raji, 2020). The proliferation of fake news can be attributed to the emergence and increase in social media use (Apuke & Omar, 2020).
Therefore, journalism teachers need to be trained and retrained in the use of modern fact-checking tools, such as reverse image search, photo forensics, demonstrator, noise analysis, cheapfakes and deepfakes. Others are TinyEye, Way back Machine, Invid, video verifier and Wikimapia. The teachers in particular can therefore transfer the knowledge to their students. This form of training can only be possible if the institutions collaborate with fact-checking agencies like Dubawa.
More of “Dubawa”
There is a need for the establishment of more fact-checking organisations in Nigeria. This will help to increase information and media competence, expose students and journalists to more opportunities to learn fact-checking skills. Dubawa Fellowship was established “to foster a culture of fact-checking in newsrooms and hopefully encourage newsrooms to have fact-checking desks” (Premium Times, 2019). In a similar vein, Africa Check and Ghanafact and other agencies have been established to enhance media literacy and fact-checking competence in a bid to curb the spread of fake news and misinformation.
In Nigeria, Folarin (2020) noted that fact-checking organisations have made considerate investment in capacity building initiatives for journalists, researchers, and students in the area of building fact-checking, verification skills and promotion of digital and media literacy as a way of flattening the dis-misinformation curve in the country.
Beyond the human process of verification, many organisations are already deploying automated systems to maximize impact and get better results. Therefore, more of these organisations will boost media literacy in the country and consequently reduce the level of information disorder.
Re-Engineering the Curriculum
Just like several studies, Ilesanmi (2021) has provided evidence on the need to update journalism curricula among institutions in Nigeria. Many tertiary institutions offering journalism as a course still teach the basic news writing skills with the belief that they are impacting the students with fact-checking knowledge. As of June 2020, the only real elements of media or news literacy teaching that occur in tertiary institutions in Nigeria was when the few fact-checking organisations visited few schools as outside speakers (Cunliffe-Jones, P et al, 2021).
Ilesanmi (2021) has shown that the lecturers mainly use Google to verify information and this is also found among students as well (Donovan & Rapp, 2020; Wineburg & McGrew, 2017). The students usually accept information on the surface value but rarely confirm the genuineness of information before they share on social media, contributing to the spread of fake news (Brodsky, Brooks & Scimeca, 2021).
Green (2019) asserts that going by the prevalence of many false claims on social media, skills in verification and fact-checking should be a core part of any curriculum for aspiring journalists. He added that these skills need to go beyond simply telling audiences whether the content is true or not and expatiate more on accuracy and trustworthiness
Also, a research on the survey of students’ media literacy skills in Nigerian universities conducted by Woju et al (2019) showed that majority of the students who have acquired rudimentary computer and internet knowledge and skills did not have substantial critical understanding and competence/skills as well as communication abilities required for effective and efficient professional practices in the current digitized platforms. Therefore, updating the journalism curriculum will be an appropriate and timely intervention.
Raising the Bar
With collaboration, retraining and establishment of more fact-checking agencies, it is considered necessary to raise the requirements for employing or recruiting journalism lecturers. It is important for institutions to set fact-checking competence as part of requirements to employ journalism teachers. This will spur upcoming academics in this line to acquire such skills. This will also ensure that journalism educators teaching students are competent and knowledgeable to impact fact-checking knowledge on the students.
Don’t Despise Little Beginning
Taking fact-checking skills as far down as to junior secondary schools will help the students to grow and develop with the skills. Computer operation is taught from nursery schools up to the university level in Nigeria. Cunliffe-Jones et al (2021) had earlier noted that the Nigerian school curriculum, recently approved for junior and senior secondary schools, featured as of June 2020 limited teaching of ICT/computer including use of the Internet and search engines and data processing, but no other elements of broad media literacy. Integrating fact-checking competence into curriculum for early schools will help the spread of wider media literacy in Nigeria.
Worthy of commendation in this regard is Dubawa’s Week For Truth during which trained volunteers took the gospel of media and literacy information as well as basic verification and critical thinking skills to many secondary schools across all five Anglophone West African countries Dubawa operates in – Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and The Gambia.
There is no gainsaying that more efforts still need to be put into improving fact-checking skills and competence among student journalists and their teachers. This paper reviewed the latest research by Ilesanmi (2021) and provided strategies to improve fact-checking skills in Nigerian higher institutions. It is believed that establishment of more fact-checking agencies, collaboration between academia and fact-checking organisations, training and retraining of journalism lecturers as well as taking fact-checking skills to secondary schools will enhance wider spread of media literacy and reduce information disorder in Nigeria.
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