Fellowship 2021Kwame Karikari FellowshipResearch

Influence of misinformation on voters’ electoral decision during the 2019 presidential elections in Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory

When social media first entered the Nigerian technology space in 1995 through the  UNESCO sponsored project, named the Reginal Informatics Networks for Africa (RINAF), it served as a means of interaction among people in which it was used to  create, share and exchange information and ideas in virtual communities and  networks. The people from virtually all walks of life make use of social media to  connect, enhance their businesses, broadcast news, relax, and use it to promote  political participation (Amuoluwapo, 2017). 

Egbunike (2015) in his article “The Untold Story of Social Media and the 2015 Nigerian  Election” observed that the granting of license to internet service provider by the  Nigerians Communications Commission (NCC) and the explosion of mobile phones  technology made Nigerians become technologically equipped to explore, share and  make their voice heard, turning the social media into an electioneering tool for creation  of political awareness, mobilization, participation in elections and in keeping check of  electoral candidates. Somehow, misinformation infiltrated the media and became a  great threat to democracy. It grows daily as many sources and platforms keep  emerging, the majority of which were creation of politicians who deliberately spread  misinformation through the social media to interest groups or innocent citizens who  are ignorant of the false content of the information and the intention of the source  which fuel hate speech, distrust and abuse of freedom of expression and threaten the  unity of the country. 

During the 2019 electioneering campaign in Nigeria, Apuka and Omar (2020) noted  that fake photos, doctored video contents, and news exacerbate tensions to cause  conflict, fake media posts to intensity regional and religious crises were freely shared  on social media. Furthermore, misinformation has taken international dimension in  Nigeria’s electioneering campaign with a post on Facebook linked to a Tel Aviv political Consulting firm which smeared the 2019 opposition presidential candidate. 

To curtail the negative effect associated with the spread of misinformation before the  2019 elections, “First Draft,” a British Nonprofit Organization which focuses on tackling  misinformation along with other 16 Nigerian media organizations came together to  fact-check and debunk political campaign misinformation that might arise during the  2019 general election. (Kazeem 2018).

In the same vein, media organizations in Nigeria, coordinated by International Centre  of Investigative Reporting (ICIR), came together ahead of the 2019 election to combat  misinformation and other media factors that could negatively impact or influence the  election. Their aim was to investigate claims and rumours that would be circulated on  social media and debunk them before they go viral (The Cable, 2016). 

Bearing in mind that the social media is the fastest means of spreading  misinformation, coupled with increase in number of internet users in Nigeria which  rose from 25 million in 2012 to 103 million in May 2018, the Centre for Democracy and  Development (CDD) with the support of Fredrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) and Macarthur  Foundation organized a 2-day International Conference, with the theme : “Democracy  & Disinformation: How Fake News threatens our Freedom & Democracy.” The  conference gathered over 100 experts in Abuja to deliberate on the phenomenon of  fake news, misinformation /disinformation, their effects on Nigeria democracy and  how these could be mitigated. 

Government agencies were not left out of the struggle to mitigate the effect of  misinformation before the 2019 general elections. The National Orientation Agency  (NOA), a government agency with statutory legislative backing to enlighten the  citizenry and create awareness for behavioral change and modification, was  strategically positioned to create awareness, enlightenment and develop sensitization  programmes to inform the citizen on the ills of misinformation and its implication on  voters’ decisions. The Agency through the instrumentality of its nationwide structure  put together events where issues related to voters’ education and misinformation  were discussed. 

All efforts put in place by government agencies, media, and Non-governmental  Organizations to curtail and tackle the spread of misinformation before the 2019  election Campaign made little or no impact as misinformation persist to the point that  social media was turned to a battle ground where misleading information were posted,  retweeted and main political parties turned their campaign headquarters into fake  news factories. 

International media organizations, such as the BBC’s reality check team observed that  “Written posts, photos and videos have been shoved on social media platforms,  publicly on Facebook and in private WhatsApp groups, spreading unsubstantiated  rumours about the candidates”.(Nwaoko, 2019). 

There is no doubt that misinformation cases in Nigeria are on the increase, no week  passed by with no cases of misinformation investigated and articles published to  debunk and reduce the spread. Dubawa.org and other fact-checking organizations are  at the forefront of debunking claims and creating media awareness to make the  citizens aware of the dangers of sharing misleading information. 

The struggle for political influence and popularity over the opponent has greatly  increased the spread of misinformation, the measure of popularity which is  determined by the number of votes accredited to a candidate made the scramble for  votes a legitimate business for the politicians, leading to unhealthy rivalry which in turn  makes the political candidates employ misinformation techniques to gain votes.

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