Nigeria election triggers deluge of ‘fake news’ on social media | Social Media

Lagos, Nigeria — Since last November, Felix Oyewole has seen a flood of political content pour down his social media news feed ahead of Nigeria’s upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections on May 25. 2.

These days, the 23-year-old student in Lagos isn’t sure which posts are correct and which aren’t.

Some of these posts have targeted Peter Obi, the Labor Party presidential candidate. The surprise leader has been accused of paying church groups to speak at their forums and has been tagged as part of a separatist group, the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB). Another claim is that Rabiu Kwankwaso, the presidential candidate of the New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP) does not have an academic doctorate that he claims to have obtained, other than an honorary degree.

“I think this trend is crazy,” Oyewole, a first-time voter, told Al Jazeera. “Sometimes I just laugh really, they’re sensitizers.”

Before the vote, there was an explosion of fake news on social media platforms. Dividing content on topics such as religion and ethnicity is also scattered across social media networks such as Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and WhatsApp.

Experts say that while social media allows Nigerians to share information in real time, political strategists are weaponizing this ahead of upcoming polls.

Idayat Hassan, director of the Abuja-based think tank, Center for Democracy and Development [CDD]told Al Jazeera that disinformation and disinformation are “making this election difficult” as political actors encourage the spread because they see it as a means to an end.

“The real motive is to authorize other candidates or to suppress and solicit votes,” she said.

In January, a BBC report uncovered how Nigerian politicians secretly pay social media influencers up to 20 million Nigerian naira ($43,000) or promise contracts. government and political appointments to spread misinformation about opponents. Some of these influencers are also being recruited into “situation rooms” to monitor the spread of fake news, the report adds.

Nigeria’s electoral commission has also sounded the alarm about disinformation, with various political factions accusing it of favoritism.

Olusegun Agbaje, Independent National Election Commission, said: “Fake news providers do not stop making malicious efforts to smear the commission. [INEC]Lagos resident commissioner told the press in January.

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Disinformation has never been far from Nigerian politics.

Ahead of the 2019 election, rumors that President Muhammadu Buhari had passed away while undergoing medical treatment in the United Kingdom and had been replaced in Abuja by someone close to Sudan, had spread across the country.

But some argue that disinformation has reached new dimensions in the current election season as political actors broaden their reach and are more adept at crafting messages than elections. pre-elected.

Even “the media, who are supposed to give out authentic information, have fallen for misinformation and [had] Veronica Igube, a legal and governance analyst at Lagos-based sociopolitical research firm SBM Intelligence.

Odanga Madung, senior election researcher at the Mozilla Foundation told Al Jazeera that these patterns are consistent with observations from Kenya’s 2022 election and trends in different democracies in Africa. .

This raises concerns that this could mislead gullible voters, sow political indifference or worse, lead to violence before, during and after the election.

“The [misinformation] sometimes affects how well people vote,” Madung said. “Most political campaigns are really attempts to control information, and many of them [politicians] recognize that the way voters interact with the information they give them, is what leads to their victory on the ballot box.”

According to the Nigerian Communications Commission, more than half of Nigerians are unemployed but two-thirds of the population have internet access, making paying cash for articles an attractive temptation.

But some young people, motivated by a willingness to be part of a change in the political landscape, are also unwittingly aiding the sale of misinformation.

Indeed, half of the 93.5 million eligible voters are youth, according to INEC, so “young people who want change at all costs are willing to do anything even if it involves selling fake news,” Hassan said.

“People also see this as a job, like a normal May 9 job,” she added. “Overall, it makes misinformation much more insidious.”

In October 2022, American billionaire Elon Musk completed his controversial takeover of Twitter. Experts say there’s been a noticeable lag in the app’s ability to track misinformation.

“He fired most of the people who were moderating content on the platform,” Madung said. “So… there was no local context for them to start checking credentials on the platform.”

‘Disinformation is a pandemic’

To mitigate the damage caused by fake news, activists and fact-checking groups are working to identify and remove misinformation on social media platforms.

Olasupo Abideen, founder of FactCheck Elections, an Ilorin-based nonprofit, told Al Jazeera it has 50 trained volunteers working in “near real time,” across 36 states. of Nigeria.

“Disinformation in itself is a pandemic and we are working hard to ensure that it does not affect the electoral process… we believe that Nigeria is in a fragile state ahead of the election. this so we want to protect it,” he said.

Hassan’s CDD has organized seminars for more than 400 journalists, bloggers, administrators and election commissions, to equip them with digital tools to combat misinformation – in the states of Lagos, Gombe, Rivers, Kano and Enugu, as well as the capital Abuja.

It has also launched a “social media war room” for fact-checking, reporting popular social media accounts for spreading “fake news” and monitoring the reactions of social media networks. festival.

Meta, which owns the Facebook and WhatsApp brands, the most popular networks in Nigeria, has previously been criticized for not doing enough to control the spread of misinformation.

WhatsApp in particular has become a hotbed of misinformation, especially for gullible older citizens who have been sending messages back to friends and family without verification.

Adaora Ikenze, Meta’s head of public policy for Anglophone West Africa, said the company is working with fact-checking partners and INEC to remove multimedia content shared out of descriptive context. vote-stuffing bias, vote-rigging and violence.

Meta is also working on “making political ads more transparent” and launching an election operations center to identify potential threats in real time, she told Al Jazeera .

“We know that no two elections are alike, which is why we are taking action to ensure that we are responding appropriately to the specific threats in Nigeria. We continue to closely monitor the situation and will take further measures as necessary,” she said.

But residents say they are increasingly wary of any content regardless, and hesitant voters say levels of hesitation are increasing, just 10 days before the vote.

It really affects my choice now because I’m really sure about who I want to vote for but… now I’m confused,” Oyewole said. “Hopefully I’ll make a wise choice before election day.”

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