The study examines the dynamics of disinformation in electoral violence in Nigeria. Many studies have been done on role of disinformation in electoral violence in the Western world, yet the role of disinformation in electoral violence remains understudied in Nigeria. This is the gap the study intends to fill. Data for the study are collected from archives, newspapers, journals, books and internets sources including social media platforms – Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and Instagram which are analysed qualitatively using historical approach. The study interrogates the change and continuity in the role of disinformation in electoral violence from the era of traditional media to the emergence of digital technology, 1964 to 2019. The study also suggests measure to tackle the menace posed by disinformation, especially in the Nigerian political space.
Disinformation is regarded as an act that involves concocting and spreading deliberately information that is not true with the aim of causing harm and threat to the intended targets. The central theme in disinformation is that the spreader is fully aware the information or news item is false but shares to achieve a specific objective of injuring the reputation of someone, institution, groups, or country. Disinformation is misleading information that has the function of misleading someone (Fallis 2015). This means disinformation deals with publishing misleading information and the source/publisher derives gains from the information disorder. It must be said that disinformation is as old as man but has assumed more prominent space in recent times because of its destructive and devastating effects on the society, following the introduction of digital technology. Wardle and Derakhshan (2017) state that ‘disinformation including misinformation has gained ground in the community of activists, scholars, and non profit apologists attempting to understand and mitigate these conditions.’ In addition, renewed interest of scholars among others has led to further interrogation of the concept and practice of disinformation.
Electoral violence is a situation where there is threat or actual violence, thuggery, harassment and attacks on lives and property of opponents during electoral cycle. The acts of violence are often triggered by either deficit in the electoral process or deliberate attempt to gain undue advantage by one of the contestants. Electoral violence usually has negative impact on democratic governance because of its divisive and destructive nature. Indeed, International Foundation for Election Systems (2011) posited that electoral violence is “any violence (harm) or threat of violence (harm) that is aimed at any person or property involved in the election process, or at disrupting any part of the electoral or political process during the election period.” The implication of this is that electoral violence promotes underdevelopment and loss of lives and property as well as states of instability and insecurity.
Nigeria has witnessed electoral violence since the 1950s and the media have played some roles in the violence. While the traditional media have been very pivotal in contributing to entrenching democratic governance in the country, some of the media houses have also helped to amplify disinformation during electoral cycle which often snowballs into violence. In the same vein, the emergence of digital media, especially social media (Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram just to mention a few) has revolutionized the media space.
This revolution can be seen in the broadening and expansion of the production and access to information through the smart phones, websites, and other gadgets. This has also created unprecedented rise in disinformation in the country, especially during the electioneering process marred by electoral violence on the country’s electoral culture in the identified period. The study, therefore, examines the role of disinformation in electoral violence in Nigeria between 1964 and 2011. It examines patterns of disinformation in pre-digital and digital age and their impact on electoral violence in the country.