Information management is key to democracy. It is a major tool of governance in all societies. It is “the core element that drives the digital society, information is the key to how the digital society adds value and redistributes power” (Park, 2017). The popular maxim stating that “information is power” by Park, established the extent of the influence of information management for political control and influence of public opinion. In an attempt to gain power, politicians around the world including Nigeria place a premium on information management to achieve their cause(s). In the course of doing this, the issue of propaganda became prominent with the use of the same information as a tool to gain prominence. In an attempt to dominate the information flow, politicians manipulate content to achieve a specific agenda. Stakeholders have expressed worry over the spread of false information during the political process. It is in the realization of this goal that different measures are suggested and adopted to address the challenge of political disinformation. One of the measures gaining popularity in Nigeria is fact-checking.
Post 2019 election observers’ and media organisations’ reports in Nigeria documented evidence of election campaigns being heated up by fake news, video documentaries that outline falsehoods aired on television before moving to the social media. Viral tweets saw distrust ahead of the election as misleading descriptions attached to pictures were not taken in Nigeria.
Neither side of Nigeria’s political parties is innocent of political disinformation. The two major Nigeria political parties ran media operations to disseminate misinformation and fake news the moment the ban on political campaigning was lifted. The social media and other news media reported how President Buhari’s Special Adviser posted a video on Twitter which showed his supporters at a big rally when in reality the images were from a religious gathering the year before (the election). A photo of a major road construction was also posted and being cited as an example of the president’s public works. Pictures of the public works were made in Rwanda. He also narrated how a tweet accused Abubakar Atiku of sharing food and money during his campaign. The tweet came with a photo of food packs with money attached and a caption saying: “Keep them in poverty, then give them handouts. Atiku in Sokoto yesterday.” This is evidence of how fake news has become ingrained in Nigeria’s political culture.
Worthy to be noted was a video that went viral, claiming Governor Uzodinma’s Convoy was attacked by unknown gunmen. Nonetheless, “the claim that Governor Hope Uzodinma’s convoy was attacked was false. The video used to paint the false narrative was taken out of its original context. The actual incident took place in Kenya last year (2020) and not in Nigeria” (Jonathan, 2021).
It is evident that much more misleading political disinformation of this nature would have been consumed by electorates unaware of the actual story, if not for verifications reported by fact-checking organizations.
Disinformation and Political Process
Kandel (2020) viewed information disorder as “Distorting facts, manipulating information, sharing information without understanding the consequences, vilifying others’ beliefs and faiths, and running behind propaganda and fake news with or without vested interest in some of the disorders.”
Eventually, more studies around information disorder opened up newer ways to look at the issue. Wardle and Derakhsha (2017) categorized information disorder into three; disinformation, misinformation and malinformation. Their conceptual framework “distinguished messages that are true from those that are false, and messages that are created, produced or distributed by “agents” who intend to do harm from those that are not.”
With the above understanding of information disorder, Kendel (2020) states that political disinformation is an information “that is intentionally false and designed to cause harm. It is motivated by three distinct factors: to make money (financial); to have political influence, either foreign or domestic (Political); or to cause trouble for the sake of It (psychological or Social)” therefore, in this light, political disinformation intention affects politics negatively and also erodes public trust on the political process. In 2015, to influence voters’ to cast votes for the APC, its presidential candidate at a campaign rally in Kano State promised to create three million jobs annually, in the same manner, in the South Western state of Ondo State, his running mate Prof. Yemi Osibanjo pledged to create 20,000 jobs annually in every state.
Five years later, in evaluating the promise of the president and his running mate, a job creation bill was never initiated, rather in his Democracy Day address in June, 2019, he promised to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in ten years. The bottom line is were the total of 18,6 million jobs created between 2015 and 2019 before another promise lifting out of the poverty line?.
Effect of Political Disinformation
The effects of political disinformation in Nigeria as observed by Pate (2019) was the escalating herder-farmer communal clashes in parts of the country which was attributed to misinformation, untruth and political propaganda. The farmer-herder conflict was fundamentally a land-use contest but was aggravated recently by a misrepresented information tweet which turned the conflict into a serious security challenge in South-Western Nigeria leading to the loss of lives and properties.
In December, 2020, it was circulated that Fatai Aborede, a politician and farmer was killed by Fulani herdsmen while returning from his farm in Igangan, a community that has cases of killings and kidnappings. The death of Fatai led Agitator Sunday Adeyemo, popularly known as Sunday Igboho to visit the community to evict Salihu Abdulkadir, the Sarkin Fulani, claiming that he was responsible for the killing and kidnapping of members of the community, a claim which was widely condemned. Igboho thereafter moved to Ogun State to evict the Fulanis resulting in attacks and reprisal attacks leading to loss of lives and property.
The conflict in Ogun State was aggravated by a political disinformation tweet of a misrepresented picture of a man holding a burnt baby with a description that the picture was a casualty from the Igangan crisis.
Political disinformation is harmful and injurious to the integrity of patriotic citizens because it turns their personal issues to sensitive national or international issues. Bishop David Oyedepo, the Founder of The Living Faith Church also known as Winners’ Chapel, was involved in an international scene January, 2020 when it was reported by a print media that the United State of America Embassy in Nigeria rejected his application for the renewal of his visa. It was a deliberate attempt to use the religious festive period and the beginning of a new fiscal year to drag the nation into political and religious conflict by creating a picture of misleading application rejection narrative to draw empathy from the Bishop’s faithfuls. It was evident that his broadcast on the “State of the Nation” which always addresses national topical issues, democracy and governance must have figured him out. A timely tweet by the US Embassy in Nigeria saved the situation and an additional statement by the Chairman, Editorial and Media Board of Winners Chapel, Prof. Sheriff Folarin debunked the story.
Similarly, Brennen (2017) affirms the injurious effect of misinformation by saying “once made available on social media platforms, fake news goes viral. Because of the sensation generated by such misinformation, many people became voluntary or involuntary carriers of the information, many of this distorted information often outperform genuine traditional sources of information.” (p. 179). It is no longer news that the Nigerian government accused Twitter for arousing the tension of the EndSARS protest in 2020 which led to the suspension of Twitter operations in Nigeria after it deleted President Buhari’s tweet because it breaches the social media’s organizational policy. This political narrative generated a misleading tweet that went viral, claiming that Twitter is desiring to mend things with the Nigerian government, as soon as the fake tweet goes online. Blogs, one of which was the Nairaland that had more than 3 million followers circulated the tweet without verifying the genuineness and source of the tweet.
Fact-Checking Purveyors of Political Disinformation
However, suggested solutions to potential political disinformation from a number of different perspectives include technological, social, media-centric, educational and regulatory. Stiftung (2020) said “Two main strategies (which have proven successful so far) are currently used at the global level to prevent and combat the spread of fake news (political disinformation) and its use for political manipulation: fact-checking and media literacy.”
Technological development has greatly affected and caused changes in modern ways of communication; these changes have affected societies while the media have also become a force to reckon with because of novel efforts to check disinformation. This is the reason “media literacy is an extremely important concept to understand the functioning and policies of media institutes to ensure that individuals are not exposed to manipulative effects of media production and to be able to analyze media content accurately.” (Akmesa, 2020).
Therefore, to be elected means politicians have to develop the skillful use of media to enable them get their messages across. The need by politicians to ensure the electorates receive and comprehend the content of their political statements, employ the service of experts in social media, marketing, advertising, television and other media fields to convey their messages to voters. Acquiring knowledge of media literacy is critically important and would need to be taught just as management is part of most courses, to enable future voters and leaders to learn to understand the role and influence of the media in the political process.
Technology has made it easy for everyone to create media and the irony is that no one can tell who created what message, why it was created and its credibility. This makes media literacy very tricky. Notwithstanding, media literacy helps the public to think critically, become a smart consumer of information, recognize one’s point of view, and understand the author’s goal.
Fact-Checking as Solution to Political Disinformation
Adhikari (2021) said “fact checking has developed into a profession and a field of its own” and “is the process by which someone verifies whether a piece of information is true or not or better said, whether a piece of information is backed by verifiable facts or not.” and “publishing fact checked information has been shown generally to have a positive effect in terms of correcting inaccurate Information” (Tompkins 2020). Fact checking organizations can now verify pictorial claims and give detailed information like the date, time and where a photograph was taken.
For example, the picture of a man carrying a burnt child in a tweet claiming to be Igangan casualty by Femi Fani Kayode would have caused nationwide killing, if not for fact-checks that reveal that the picture was from southern Cameroon Amabazonian genocide.
It is salutary that the fact-check profession has developed technologies to verify the authenticity and genuineness of videos. The courts accept videos tendered as evidence; for this reason video clips are being manipulated, doctored and circulated, while also using fact-check technology, to verify video sources are revealed. The video clip circulated on social media by the Nigeria President Adviser on Social Media showing a large crowd at a big rally, which was claimed to be of party supporters, was revealed to be images from a religious gathering in Jigawa State organised a year before the 2019 elections.
Google has developed fact-check tools such as the explorer, markup tool and APIs on its fact-check dedicated site where a user can visit to verify claims from a web about a topic or a person. Apart from sites created by fact-check organisations where a user can submit a claim to be fact-checked, there are various kinds of browsers, plugins and apps for detecting false information.
Credibility of fact-check
To support the credibility of fact-checking, Grabmeier, (2021) said “fact-checking works to reduce false beliefs across the globe.” He made this statement after a study conducted by Wood and Porter (2021) proved that fact-checking worked with little variation in Argentina, Nigeria, South Africa and the United Kingdom, and the positive effects were detectable within two weeks.
Wood (2021) added, “When we started doing Misinformation (information disorder) work about five years ago, it was the consensus that correcting misinformation wasn’t just ineffective, but that it was aggravating the problem and making people more entrenched in their false beliefs.” But “we found no evidence of that in these four countries. What we did find was that fact checking can be a very effective tool against misinformation.”
In the study, 2000 respondents were sampled in each of the four countries, one-half received only the misinformation, while the other half received misinformation followed by the correct version of the information fact checked by the local fact checking organization. The respondents were rated on a scale of 1 to 5 about the degree of their belief in the false information.
When the results of the two groups were compared, the group that received misinformation and fact check produced more accurate belief, while misinformation didn’t always lead to less accurate beliefs. The findings show that fact checks increase factual accuracy by 0.59 points on the five point scale. Misinformation decreased factual accuracy by less than 0.07 on the same scale.
The researchers returned two weeks later to three countries where the study was conducted and asked the sampled population “How much they believed the false statements they evaluated earlier. Results showed that the positive effects of fact checking were still robust two weeks later” (Grabmeier, 2021).
Misinformation can sway opinion; that is why it is necessary to fact-check statements, information or claim, especally the one with political inclinations because opinion can largely inform actions and if actions are based on false information, thereby making wrong decisions inevitable. These decisions can lead to unintended consequences. It is, therefore, to be noted that once political misinformation is on a social media platform, it could negatively impact the opinion of the electorate or could go viral and shape the outcome of an election.
Research has pointed at fact-checking as one of the potential tools to combating the challenges of misinformation. It promotes accountability, challenges political misinformation by revealing the (in)accurate aspects of politicians’ campaign messages aimed at influencing voters’ decisions. The focus on fact-checking as an antidote to political disinformation has exposed the strategies of propaganda adopted by politicians to score cheap political points. This article has shown that manipulated pictures, videos and false claims that had in the past been used by politicians to cause commotion, breakdown of law and order, destruction of lives and properties, and harmed and caused injury to the integrity of patriotic citizens can now be subjected to verification techniques of fact-check to reveal with factual accuracy the intent behind it.
Finally, other approaches of combating political disinformation are now complemented by social, media-centric, regulatory and media literacy solutions. This had led to an increase in the number of fact-checking organisations being established in Nigeria. Dubawa, a fact checking platform, incorporated in 2014, is breaking new grounds in institutionalizing fact checking. Dubawa fact checks and reports on its website in three major Nigerian Languages including Kanuri, has spread its branches to some West African countries. It has run many programmes and collaborated with organizations aimed at developing leagues of fact-checkers who will counter political disinformation at scale.
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