The Problem And Prospect Facing Fake News Dissemination In Twitter Among Nigerians
1.1 Background to the Study
This study examines The Problem And Prospect Facing Fake News Dissemination In Twitter Among Nigerians. Information is power and to this end, it has been described in many quarters as a double-edged sword. Information can either build or destroy, depending on the content and intent of the information. Society thrives on information and history has shown that information plays a vital role in the perception and behaviours of individuals or societies. What then is information?
Information has been defined by various scholars based on the context in which information is being considered. For the purpose of this study however, the definition by Koren (2014) will suffice, namely:
Information is data presented in readily comprehensible form to which meaning has been attributed within the context of its use. In a more dynamic sense, the message conveyed by the use of a medium of communication or expression
Information is disseminated with the aid of media or channels such as word of mouth, television, radio, newspaper, magazine, books, journals and most recently, the internet. The internet, (also known as the World Wide Web) and information disseminated on the internet are done with the aid of online-based and social media. For this study, social media is (are) the focus. Social media refers to “those digital media that are interactive, incorporate two-way communication and involve some form of computing” (Logan, 2016). The satisfaction of accessing information faster, cheaper and regularly through social media platforms, has made it arguably, the most patronised information channel in contemporary times. Some popular social media platforms used all over the world include Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, WeChat, WhatsApp, LinkedIn, Instagram and many more. These applications are currently playing a major role in making the world virtually borderless and helping the human race become increasingly interconnected.
The internet is undoubtedly an innovation that has made life a lot easier for human beings. It has made it possible to communicate, do business and build relationships around the world in real time and at negligible costs. Describing the internet as a revolution, (Comer DE, 2019, p. 5) said “without the internet, you would feel cut off from the easy, instantaneous access to information that we take for granted.” He added that “if we imagine life without the internet, we can see that internet services have become deeply embedded in our daily lives and that instantaneous access to information has changed just about everything.” Notwithstanding the positive attributes of the internet however, it has also become a weapon of misinformation and fake news. Debatably, “for every challenge facing a nation, there exists scores of websites pretending to be something they are not” (Stanford History Education Group, 2016, p.4).
Based on the foregoing, one can deduce that the internet through social media platforms, plays a big role in the way people access information and the types of information they are exposed to in contemporary times. Social media has in recent times, aggravated the ‘fake news’ phenomena. The first time the term fake news was introduced to mainstream media was during the 2016 United States of America (USA) presidential elections. The Ethical Journalism Network (EJN) describes fake news as “information deliberately fabricated and published with the intention to deceive and mislead others into believing falsehood or doubtful messages” (EJN, 2017). Describing its enormity, (Ogbette A.S., et al., 2019, p 96) said “fake news is a global issue right now; there is an ongoing discussion about fake news and its impact on global affairs.”
Allegations abound about Russia planting fake news on the internet to influence the outcome of the US elections. Similarly, there was the ‘Pizzagate’ scandal against Hillary Clinton and her then campaign manager, John Podesta who was accused of leading a paedophilia ring in Washington DC. The story was however debunked by The New York Times and the Washington Post (Adeleke, 2016). Ever since, the spread of fake news has become a phenomenon on the internet. According to Ogbette, et al., (2019, p 96), the phenomenal spread of fake news is “caused by the very nature of the internet which allows it to stay continually connected and the way speed is preferred to accuracy. He added that “internet content providers and distributors are in Zero-sum, winner-takes-all battle for attention and advertising revenue, they will therefore, go above and beyond to boost traffic.” According to Vasu, et al (2018, p. 16), people who are more exposed to politically motivated fake news than hard news, are more likely to believe the fake news as the reality. This is especially so because of easy access to the internet and non-existence of regulations which have provided a viable tool for criminals, fraudsters, terrorists and fake news merchants to peddle their wares undetected.
In Nigeria, the internet continues to feed the monster of fake news which has in turn, fuelled conflicts in various parts of the country. Nigeria is a country in tension characterised by security threats in different parts of the country. These threats are manifested in forms of multiple conflicts, systemic and widespread corruption, debilitating poverty, weak institutions, threats of secession as well as perceived marginalisation, anger, hatred and economic challenges in a time when preference for untrue information is rising – i.e., post-truth era (Harsin, 2018; Pate, 2018 September 7). These issues are offensively, progressively and relentlessly destroying relationships, heightening animosities across communities and threatening democratic survival in the country (Pate, 2018 September 7). Arguably, all of that are facilitated by the revolution in information and communication technologies (ICT) that have democratised and simplified access and dissemination of information across space and time (Ibrahim & Adamu, 2016; Pate & Idris, 2017).
Cited in Premium Times Nigeria, Professor Umaru Pate, the Dean, School of Postgraduate Studies, Bayero University, Kano (BUK) explained that like many other countries, Nigeria, too, is battling with the rise in populism politics, youth radicalisation, extremism, terrorism, drug and human trafficking, ethnic nationalism, hate and dangerous speech, fake news and the rewriting of the country‟s history, among others. Indeed, these are critical times for the media and the country. The political climate in the country has changed rapidly in recent years, signaling innovative developments and strange challenges in the country‟s democratic system. By and large, the current political culture in the country is inextricably linked to the growing development of information and communication technologies (ICT) (Audu, 2018 September 9; Pate, 2018 September 7). Cited in Vanguard, Professor Danjuma Gambo, the Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Maiduguri who is also the Director, Public Relations of the university agrees with Professor Pate that fake news can mislead the public and cause tension in an already tense political climate with communal and reprisal attacks here and there in addition to the Boko Haram conflict. He stressed that if the media would cultivate the culture of verifying information and fact checking (if necessary) before going to press, the spread of fake news can be contained (Marama, 2017 August 10).
This has severally affected the delivery and form of political communication and the communication of political ideas in our democratic system, as well as shifted and undermined the accountability for those messages. For instance, what was labelled „yellow journalism‟ and „character assassination/slander‟ have metamorphosed into what is today known as
„fake news‟ and „fraudulent news‟; these are terms that sound „big‟ and portend devastating effects in the society. These terms are fuelled and spread by the power of modern technology (Wasserman & Madrid-Morales, 2018; Agbese, 2017 December 31). In the words of Egan (2018, December 11, online), “online, lies and truth look the same. This has been a boon for professional liars, (who) use these platforms to market falsehood; as vehicles for personal fame, or, as a way to spread propaganda”. These have raised concerns that Nigerians are constantly and increasingly accessing inaccurate and/or misleading content without verification (gatekeeping) or verifiable attribution (Agbese, 2017; Hankey, Marrison, & Naik, 2018).
Fundamentally, the breed of „yellow journalism‟, „fabricated or manipulated stories‟ „fraudulent content‟ and „character assassination‟ and „fake news‟ are largely new technology-dependent (e.g., social media platforms and the internet) rather than traditional technologies such as radio, TV, newspaper or magazine (Okoro, Abara, Umagba, Ajonye, & Isa, 2018; Wasserman & Madrid-Morales, 2018 November 21). Thus, while we grapple with what modern technology has enabled us to do, “we also face a new wave of change, which we have only started to understand the ramifications of” (Hankey et al., 2018, p. 6). For example, the concerns around recent, or newer technologies such as „artificial intelligence‟ and „machine learning‟ show that any regulatory response to stem fake news peddled via new technologies, whether by state actors or technology developers, need to be as “dynamic as the technological mischief it seeks to contain” (Hankey et al., 2018, p. 6).
1.2 Statement of the Research Problem
Misinformation, otherwise (now popularly referred to as) “fake news” has become a ready tool for the spread of hate speech, thus deepening ethnic and religious differences in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country like Nigeria. Although there have been studies carried out on the effect of fake news on the Nigerian political landscape, the effect on national security has not been given required attention. It is therefore imperative to carry out a study on the ways to manage fake news peddled on twitter. If not adequately dealt with, the menace of fake news is capable of aggravating the rising insecurity in different parts of Nigeria.
In view of the afore-stated, it is pertinent to note that failure to stem the tide of fake news in Nigeria may potentially create many more conflicts around the country. It is against this backdrop that this study aims to understand the numerous challenges associated in Expunging Fake News on social media with Twitter: At the end of this study, it is hoped that implementable recommendations will be proffered to serve as a basis for further studies into curbing the menace of fake news in Nigeria.