Fake news has grown in stature to become one of the major pitfalls of our current information age.
I recently came across an article written by the BusinessDay writer David Hundeyin about the current dictator in Rwanda; where he exposed how badly informed the bulk of Africans have been about the country and its leader. In the article, he claimed Rwanda was not half as developed and progressive as the news handles claimed. Further, he explained that a huge chunk of the disinformation about the country had come from news sources; many of whom were more interested in image laundering than truth telling.
Apparently, the article provoked a small section of Rwandans who were sympathetic to the president. They displayed their provocation by threatening his life. In his response on Twitter, he laughed the threats away and referred to Paul Kagame as a “Serengetti Adolf Hitler”. The journalist’s insistence on reporting the news as it is led him into trouble. His provable facts and biting criticism was even in itself referred to as ‘fake news’.
But why am I giving this back story?
Fake news is a huge problem for us in Africa. And yes, the Nigerian media are solidly on the guilty list. On the 27th of December 2012, the current Governor of Kaduna State Nigeria, tweeted that; “In US and Europe, the governments are working to reduce debt and fiscal cliff; our Jonathanians are rushing to borrow away the future of our nation”.
Action required against scourge of fake news
On the 3rd of January 2014, tweeted as a follow-up tweet to an initial claim of him being a target of assassination; he wrote that “on this note, I am going to bed. I am #7 on the GEJ sniper’s list. So I will only worry when GMB, Asiwaju, Amaechi, Akande, etc are killed!”
Indeed, these comments were at the time, inflammatory at best. At worst, they were successful attempts to whip up sentiments in favor of an opposition; to a government that was becoming increasingly unpopular. These comments, which amount to fake news, went unchecked of course.
It is illustrative that the same person tweeted, as a response to another tweet calling him a liar and said; ‘Calling a person (including @elrufai) a liar in itself is not a crime in Kaduna state. Just post some fake pictures, videos or words that amount to injurious falsehood; leading to disruption of our state’s peaceful coexistence and you will have our undivided attention. Go on, try”
These above are small examples that are centered on our politics. There are numerous examples in our daily life when news is twisted; reworded or limited to create paranoia, instill doubt or inspire hate. The product of all these is that we now live in a society completely skeptical about everything.
The bulk of us are easily swayed by sensationalism, some select few are skeptical to the point of no return; others disfavor everything that does not come with a verifiable tag.
Today, there are fact checking journalists. The worldwide web has several fact checking platforms. We are a people drowning in too much information; but skeptical about which of these information can be regarded as truth.
The challenges are as troubling as they are existential.
Indeed, the value of a piece of information lies in what you can do with it. But the value of truth is another story entirely. How do we define what truth is going forward? How do we know the identified sources of truth-telling have not given into the temptation of propaganda?
It is even far worse because we identify with polarizing narratives such as “leftist”, liberal, conservative, stoic and the likes. We are decidedly aware of our place and idea of the world. However, we disagree on what the truth is and are reluctant to agree on what it should be.
Tackling this menace should naturally begin with our individual desire to fact check. The basis for our believing truth claims should not be hearsay. Belief should be subject to a process of doubt, scrutiny and then acceptance/rejection. We can then build this individual narrative into a systemic one.
Our institutions should not be the extended shadows of one man. We should be a people as a collective and a body of strong principles. There are also current attempts to limit speech as a panacea to tackling fake news. This narrative was initially spun out of a hate-speech idea and then reproduced into a bill.
Generally, the future ahead from the point of view of information sharing, fake news, social media and the likes; is an uncomfortable one. We will need to be aware and awake to the realities as they unfold.
…and oh! HAPPY NEW YEAR!