• The Dangers Of Fake News | Independent Newspaper Nigeria

    The dangers of fake news | independent newspaper nigeria - nigeria newspapers online
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    Pre-celebration on Novem­ber 11, 2018, of first anni­versary of the Armistice – what is known as “the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month” that ended First World War on November 11, 1918 – John Hubbel Weiss, associate professor of history at Cornell University, in an opinion piece, “WWI ‘fake news’ made truth the first casu­alty,” published on news.cornell. edu on November 7, 2018, writes that the current notion of “fake news” can be tied back to this pe­riod, when the public began mis­trusting the press narrative about the real state of the war.

    Weiss says: “Widespread mis­trust of the press as the purvey­or of ‘fake news’ began with the Armistice of 1918. In the case of Germany, the press maintained a triumphalist approach, suppress­ing stories about the military di­sasters of the summer of 1918 and running uninterrupted editorials that victory was near. Through­out the war troops, who had just suffered massive losses of men and territory, were dismayed to read optimistic accounts of bat­tles unrecognizable to those that had participated in them. As the saying went, in portraying wars in the press, truth was the first casualty.”

    Similarly in an April 22, 2022, article, “The ICRC vs. Fake News: Setting the record straight in the First World War,” published on blogs.icrc.org, researcher, Cédric Cotter, writes, “The term ‘fake news’ has been a constant presence in the media for several years now. The deliberate spread of false information seems to have become one of the great perils of our time. Yet the issue is nothing new.

    “In fact, all conflicts give rise to propaganda, in which fake news is mixed in with rumours, information becomes a real weap­on of war and the facts seem to be entirely relative. The First World War was no exception and many historians have taken an interest in the spread of rumours about atrocities perpetrated by the en­emy, brainwashing and how pro­paganda was received by civilians at the time.”

    Fake news is malicious pro­paganda aimed at damaging the image and reputation of those targeted. Because the average human being wants to read, lis­ten or watch bad news about their neighbour, bad news, laced with fake news, sells like hot cakes. That’s why the “new media” traf­fics fake news to drive ratings and for monetary gains.

    The disadvantages of fake news far outweigh its advantag­es in terms of unpending lives, and socio-economic and political order that can lead to inevitable consequences, such as family feuds, intra and inter-tribal con­flicts, civil strifes and cross-bor­der skirmishes and wars.

    Across many countries, fake news has been sowed in attempts to sway votes and influence the outcomes of elections. An exam­ple is the United States of Amer­ica, where former President Donald Trump falsely claimed he won the 2020 General Election, with his supporters storming the Capitol on January 6, 2021, to dis­rupt Congress from certifying Joe Biden as President. There’re fears that fake news can scramble the November 2024 poll!

    In Nigeria, fake news almost derailed the 2019 and 2023 pres­idential elections. The opposi­tion, using social media, made heavy weather of alleged mas­sive electoral malpractice by the ruling party in cahoots with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) – even as they claimed to’ve won the same “flawed” elections – which they failed to prove at the election pe­titions courts.

    Earlier on in his administra­tion (2015-2023), there’s a series of fake news about President Muhammadu Buhari’s incapaci­tation, and death while on med­ical treatments abroad, and the cloning of a “Jubril of Sudan” as his replacement at the Aso Rock Villa seat of power in Abuja, Ni­geria’s capital city. Also, President Tinubu – even as a candidate – re­portedly died several times over­seas, and/or underwent periodic procedures to replace “batteries that keep him alive.”

    During the 2023 campaigns, fake news purveyors not only “manipulated and distorted vid­eos and speeches” attributed to Tinubu, but also predicted that he wouldn’t be sworn in as Presi­dent, as the military would take­over at his inauguration; and as President, he won’t dare to visit any country for fear of arrest over alleged drugs offences. But Tinu­bu’s inaugurated on May 29, 2023, and has visited several countries around the globe thereafter.

    Yet, ahead of the next gen­eral election in 2027, fake news saturates the polity, this time to undermine and demarket govern­ment’s diverse strategies – already showing encouraging signs – de­signed to ameliorate the econom­ic pains admittedly inflicted on the citizens following Tinubu’s re­moval of fuel subsidy and floating of the Naira.

    Social media “remains the platforms of choice for the pur­veyors of fake news, anti-state groups, anarchists, secession­ists, terrorists and bandits,” says Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s former Minister of Information, who recalls that while in govern­ment, his ministry uncovered 476 online publications dedicated to spreading fake news against the Buhari administration.

    Mohammed, the Managing Partner of Bruit Costard, a lob­byist and public relations firm, spoke lately in Lagos at an event to mark the 90th birthday anni­versary of Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, entitled, “The Media in the Age of Disinforma­tion,” as first reported on March 23 by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).

    Noting the far-reaching con­sequences of fake news, disin­formation and misinformation, Mohammed, an advocate of social media regulation, says “fake news has become exponential through the use of Artificial Intelligence and deep learning techniques to create highly realistic fake or ma­nipulated videos, audio record­ings or images.”

    “The consequences of disin­formation and misinformation are far-reaching,” Mohammed says. “They undermine democrat­ic processes, sow discord within communities and pose significant threats to public health and safe­ty. Today, even the media is at the risk of losing its credibility be­cause of the proliferation of fake news on social media.

    “Therefore, the media, as cus­todians of the public trust, must take decisive action to combat the scourge of disinformation and misinformation,” and “prioritise the integrity of information over profit motives and take proactive measures to detect and remove harmful content from their plat­forms.”

    To arrest the disturbing trend, Mohammed recommends that so­cial media platforms and other intermediaries amplifying disin­formation and misinformation should be held responsible, and be checkmated “through robust regulatory frameworks to curb the spread of false information while safeguarding freedom of expression.”

    In terms of targeting indi­viduals, Mohammed shares how “fake news” – alleging he’d stolen $1.3bn from the coffers of the Ministry of Information (between 2015-2018) and stashed it overseas – nearly ruined his 40-year-old marriage. The gist in a nutshell: Mohammed, on an official assign­ment in Lagos in 2018, retired to his house, and to bed. But his wife woke him up past midnight, “as there were some serious issues to discuss.”

    “I could not fathom what was that urgent or serious to warrant being woken up at this time of the night,” Mohammed says, adding that the accusation from his wife was “a bombshell” narrated to him in Yoruba language, but roughly translated thus:

    “Daddy (wife addressing him), death can come knocking at any moment, please let me also, as your wife, be a signatory to your overseas account in ‘Ali Finan­cial,’ which contains 1.3 billion dollars.”

    Mohammed says he didn’t believe his wife could take, hook, line, and sinker the fake story in circulation, crediting humon­gous sums of money in overseas accounts to government function­aries/ministers under President Buhari’s administration.

    “I spent the next two hours or so, sweating to convince my wife that there is no iota of truth in the allegation,” he says. “I had to fetch a calculator and reproduce the Federal Appropriation Act for 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 in the middle of the night and explain to her why it is simply preposterous for me to have 1.3 billion dollars in a foreign account.

    “I explained to her that there is no year my capital budget ex­ceeded N5 billion, which then, at about N400 to a dollar, was just 12.5 million dollars. I explained that, even if I managed to divert every kobo of it to my personal account, it will take at least 104 years to save the sum of 1.3 bil­lion dollars being peddled that I stole.”

    Mohammed adds: “My wife insisted that the whole world believed the story and that her friends had as a result besieged her with all kinds of requests. She said every effort on her part to deny the existence of this for­eign account only succeeded in depicting her in the minds of her friends as a selfish, greedy and uncaring friend. Is my wife truly convinced of my innocence? The answer is in the wind!”

    Going forward, there maybe no hiding place for purveyors of fake news, as several countries have regulated – and many others, including Nigeria, are making moves to regulate – social media activities within the bounds of law, with or without infringement on citizens’ rights to free speech. A word is enough for the wise!

    *Ezomon, a journalist and media con­sultant, writes from Lagos.

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