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.
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?
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)
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 tweets||Total relevant tweets on media literacy and fact-checking||Total relevant tweets by the agency||Total relevant tweets by others|
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|
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%).
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 Video||Video viewing by NOA’s Public||%|
Figure 1. One of the posts tweeted by NOA, July 11, 2020
How NOA’s Public Engaged with other Posts
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 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?
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.
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.
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