By Lolo Ayaba
Over the years, the issue of fake news has assumed a frightened dimension especially in Nigeria where it is becoming increasingly difficult to know the differenc between real and fake news.
With the advent of social media, it has become very easy for fake news to spread like wildfire during harmattan.
Unfortunately, the ugly trend has gradually crept into mainstream media making it difficult for readers to discern and differentiate which news is real or fake.
Apart from deliberately misinforming readers the effects of fake news can never be overemphasized in a heterogenous, multiethnic society like ours where people are divided along ethnic and religious lines.
In recent times, there have been circulation of fake pictures by top political aides to score cheap political points while misinforming Nigerians.
The issue of fake news became alarming that a platform, dedicated to checking and debunking fake news and misinformation in the country ahead of the 2019 general elections, was recently launched.
The platform is expected to take up the task of verifying and scrutinising potentially false news, pictures and videos trending in social media with a view to authenticating them and debunking them when found to be false.
Reacting to the implications of fake news in Nigeria and how it could affect the upcoming elections, Human Right activists and Executive Director Network on Police Reform in Nigeria , Okechukwu Nwanguma , noted that fake news is dangerous. Its one of the biggest threats faced by society. Most fake stories we hear about revolve around politics but it’s impact on society in general is huge.”
“It can polarize society, particularly during political events. Thousands of reports about politics and election are hoaxes. Nigerian politics has always been ethnically and religiously divisive and exacerbates divisions in society.
Nwaguma added that “the biggest factor behind the success of fake news stories is their high level of social engagement- public engagement through social media.”
Similarly, Abdul Mahmud a Lagos based legal practitioner said that fake news is a consequence of the post-truth era that we are in at the moment. It is an unteachable era in which governments and the citizens promote utter falsehoods, push alternative facts that are basically fictions into the public domain. The purposes for promoting falsehoods and for pushing alternative facts are: 1) to distort reality; 2) to delegitimize truths. Both purposes ultimately make the accountability of governments not only unrealizable but difficult to achieve. For citizens caught up as consequences of the post-truth era, what matters is how they engage lying governments in the cycle of untruths. Everyone, governments and citizens , become purveyors of lies, falsehood and untruth.”
According to Nkem Chigbogu Kenneth, an aspirant vying for Lagos West senatorial district, under UPP party, “fake news is very easy to identify. The implication of this digital wildfire (fake news) is wide ranged because it’s one of threats faced by societies. It polarises society during political events.. It goes as far as polarising coups within a nation and also national relations.”
“We need to be careful about unconfirmed stories that’s all I would say because a word is enough for a wise and mature mind.
How it affects the upcoming election is a very difficult question and very hard answer to give but to try, we need to find out two things. First is,how many people have been exposed to this wildfire(fake news) and second is,how many of them changed their views, opinions in reaction to it? In a nut shell I would say junks of yellow journalism or propaganda is dangerous to our health and society.”
Explaining further, Asuzu Ugochukwu, CEO Precious Promises Ventures, a printing and publishing outfit in Lagos, noted that fake news can cause a conflagration. “It can ignite an inferno that would be difficult to control. Fake news is simply a fabrication of a non-existent event. It’s quite different from what the useless government controlled by the Islamic caliphate refer to as hate speech. Fake news can send people thinking in a wrong direction. It doesn’t represent the real or actual position of things or situations” , he said.
In addition, he stated that, there should be regulations. There should be constitutional amendments to spell out punishment for culprits. If there’s enough evidence for prosecution, the purveyors of fake news should be prosecuted in line with the extant laws and constitutional provisions. There will always be fake news no doubt, just like there will always be corruption, it’s part of human nature”.
The spokesperson, Lagos state police command, CSP Chile Oti, said that fake news is designed to mislead people. “Sometimes it could be inciting. It is something that must be discouraged because it creates distrust and may lead to civil strife and unnecessary bloodletting.
It has become a source of concern nowadays because the internet and social media applications has made dissemination of fake news so easy and so rapid”,
“The Lagos State Police Command under the watch of CP Imohimi Edgal is in the forefront of fighting this menace by using the relevant sections of the law against cyber crime to prosecute offenders.
You can be rest assured that the Command will meticulously prosecute any reported case of malicious falsehood and other cyber related crimes no matter the time and season.”