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Curbing fake news

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With the destructive influence of fake news pervading the society, curious stakeholders converged on Lagos to deliberate on how to effectively tackle the menace. OMOLOLA AFOLABI reports that the consensus was that the traditional media should uphold its gatekeeper role.

They all converged virtually to find a solution to a disturbing issue. What could it be other than fake news whose potency is huge enough to throw the society into indescribable chaos?

Among the critical stakeholders was Minister of Youth and Sports Development Sunday Dare who called on the traditional media to strengthen its gatekeeper role in combating fake news in Nigeria.

The webinar was organised by the International Centre for Journalists in conjunction with the International Centre for Investigative Reporting fact-checking project. Its theme was “Gaining Trust for the Media in the Fake News Era.” It was moderated by ICFJ Fellow and former reporter with The Nation, Hannah Ajakaiye.

Dare decried the impact of social media on the gate-keeping legacy of traditional media. According to him, the traditional media has a legitimate duty in upholding the gatekeeper role of the media as the rule of engagement still remains “when in doubt, don’t publish.”

“The role of the journalist as a gatekeeper has, therefore, become more relevant in exploring the political, technological, and societal contexts of misinformation in Nigeria. The social media environment in Nigeria has become even more toxic than the contentious atmosphere that Cambridge Analytica precipitated with its video in 2015. Successive general and local elections have seen an escalation in the deployment of fake news to launch attacks on opponents,” he said.

Decrying the situation where the government is guilty of perpetuating fake news said: “When fake news comes from government, the media should query such information and investigate the claims.”

With regard to seeming lack of control over purveyors of fake news, he said: “The moment one gets an audio, video, document or picture one is not sure of and one proceeds to share it, one has automatically joined the array of fake news perpetrators.

“The media has the responsibility of coming to the rescue. It must ensure that the public gets good, useful and truthful information, particularly now that people can act on the information they get online and on social media such that they could get hurt or even get killed.”

The minister also made reference to the Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, who has been a victim of fake news in his symposium on fake news on the BBC where he said: “I’ve said this before that fake news will cause World War 111 and the fake news will be started by a Nigerian.”

He also appraised the efforts of fact-checking organisations such as Africa Check, Dubawa, and International Centre for Investigative Reporting and The Cable at combating fake news.

“There must be civil punitive measures against peddlers of fake news and we must ensure silver bullet on misinformation, legislation, persuasion, co-operation and enforcement should be deployed,” he added.

He also said the media and journalists should commit to countering fake news as an opportunity to claw back the influence lost to the emergence of the situation.

“The growth of social media, technology and the internet has made everyone a journalist; all that is needed is a connected smartphone. But the tasks of gate-keeping, verification and contextualisation still fall within the jurisdiction of the career media practitioners and they must pick up the gauntlet.

“The opportunity it offers is one that will drive traffic to the websites of organisations that have proven to be credible and reliable as fact-checkers,” he said.

On the activities of the Ministry of Youth and Sports in ensuring a disciplined and responsible technology and social media among the youth demographic, he said: “Nigerian youths spend at least four hours online daily, which implies they are exposed to fake news for the most part of the time they are online. This is why at the Ministry of Youth and Sports Development we continue to work towards ensuring that the opportunities offered by technological improvement are put to good use.

“Since the COVID-19 pandemic made virtual meetings preferable, the social media and the internet generally have been deployed for educating and training the youth, which includes modules that teach responsible use of social media.

“This is the good use of social media and the internet. The youth and people, in general, should add the additional layer of using these platforms for the spread of truthful information and fighting harmful misinformation and disinformation.”

According to the project lead Ajakaiye, the initiative is designed to amplify the reach of credible information by sharing fact-checks published by media partners on their social media platforms. It will also help to crowdsource online misinformation being debunked by participating fact-checkers.

The event had Investigative Journalist, Fisayo Soyombo, multimedia journalist, Ejiro Umokoro and the Director of the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, Mr.Dayo Aiyetan as panellists and was attended by journalists and fact-checkers across various media houses.

Mr Aiyetan who emphasised the urgency of conquering the menace of fake news through legislation said: “Legislation can be used to combat fake news but it shouldn’t be repressive. According to him, people lose trust in those in power as a result of their influence in the media.

Soyombo called for a reversal in the role of journalists as mischief-makers begin to tag their work fake news. He said:

“I’m very worried that people who don’t like critical journalism are branding true work of journalists as fake.”

In his paper entitled “Fake News and the Influence Industry: The Responsibilities of Social Media,” Soyombo admonished social media influencers to be thorough when sharing information, as it is important to do self-examination by examining the implications of sharing news, the level of trust in the source and the motive behind sharing the information.

According to him, efforts as simple as employing Google reverse image search in verifying fake pictures enables even social media influencers to ensure verified news are spread.

He also gave reasons fake news is booming, especially in a pandemic, noting that there are instances of the genuine intention of people to help and the fear of contracting the virus.

Corroborating Dare’s views that online consumption is at an all-time high as a study reveals that an average person spends over six hours online, Soyombo said the second quarter of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) revealed that most sectors of the economy received a contraction. Telecommunications industry, however, grew by 18 per cent.

For example, MTN data usage rose by more than five billion from first quarter to 2nd quarter of 2020.

He, however, warned social media influencers to be cautious as their reach is deep and their followers are people who have developed confidence in them over a period of time.

Ejiro Umokoro, a winner of the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism, award remarked on the digital ecosystem of Journalism.

According to her, the work of journalists must not be affected by the brown envelope scandal.

She also reiterated that biases which come in different forms, including cognitive bias, among others are some of the reasons people share fake news.

She said: “The situation where public opinion is no longer shaped by truthful information but popular information is perfidious. We have to separate opinion and bias to be able to combat fake news, adding that journalism should go beyond sensationalism. It has to connect with people.

“There is also the need to create a distinction between journalism and citizen journalism in order to avoid a breach of social trust. Shoddy journalism is also part of the reasons people perpetuate fake news.”

Umokoro also advocated collaboration with digital and emerging practitioners in the media space.

The fact-checking project is an opportunity for digital influencers to become verifiable sources of credible information to their online followers. She said it would also empower citizens by providing them with accurate information to enable them to make informed decisions. This is according to Jerri Haggins, Director ICFJ Knight Fellowship.

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