Abuja Declaration on Fake News,Misinformation and Disinformation Ahead of the 2019 General Election

ABUJA DECLARATION ON FAKE NEWS, MISINFORMATION AND DISINFORMATION AHEAD OF THE 2019 GENERAL ELECTIONS

  1. The Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) with support from Fredrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) and MacArthur Foundation organized a 2-day international conference themed: Democracy and Disinformation: How Fake News Threaten Our Freedom and Democracy. The conference was held from 7 to 8 August 2018 at Sheraton Hotel and Towers, Abuja.

 

  1. The conference gathered in Abuja over 100 experts (locally and internationally), civil society actors, media practitioners, bloggers, government officials (including the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC; National Orientation Agency, NOA; Ministry of Information, etc.), to mention a few, to deliberate on the phenomenon of fake news, misinformation and disinformation; their effects on Nigeria’s democracy; and how these could be mitigated.

 

  1. As Nigeria’s 2019 general elections are fast approaching, we are deeply concerned about the likely negative impact of fake news, misinformation and disinformation on the conduct of violence free elections. Currently, the country’s political landscape is tense, given the increasing security threats in different parts of the country, perceived marginalization, anger, confusion and economic challenges. There is a tendency that political actors can take advantage of these gaps either to misinform, disinform, promote apathy or skew voting choices for the forthcoming elections.

 

  1. Bearing in mind that social media is the fastest means of spreading fake news. With a growing number of internet users in Nigeria from 28 million in 2012 to 103 million in May 2018, and that at least 41% of these people use WhatsApp, for example, fake news spread in a speed of light and has capacity to negatively influence public opinion. The recent report also revealed that Facebook users in Nigeria has increased to 26 million active users per month.

 

  1. Recognizing that the controllers of news today are not the government but private companies. For instance, Facebook has data of over 2 billion people and therefore controls how information is managed. Facebook and other social media channels emphasize on what narratives drive the more traffic and make the most money without taking cognisance of issues that encourage conflict and violence activities. South Africa is an example of how a narrative was pushed to show that the biggest problem in that country was the Africans who controlled the land – a narrative that was amplified beyond anything else and this had major impact on the people.

 

  1. Admitting that the society is in a post-truth era where fake news is being promoted above news with empirical proofs. It is considered as a deliberate war against facts, governance, peace and security. Fake news on social media platform is gradually penetrating into the print and broadcasting media. Due to wide and quick reach perception and potential of provoking reactions almost instantaneously in a polarized society, hate and dangerous speech in the media is hazardous.

 

  1. Acknowledging that fake news and hate speech is not only a threat to democracy but also to peace, security and cooperate existence of Nigeria. Fake pictures and videos have also contributed their parts in stoking conflicts in Nigeria. All of these interfere with choices of the people and stoke conflicts in the midst of peace as they are being deliberately peddled to cause division and tension in the polity to put Nigeria backward.

 

  1. Acknowledging that, in some case, genuine news is used as fake news depending on political atmosphere at the time of its usage. Whichever way a message or story is used, what is significant is our capacity to develop an effective counter-narrative mechanism to correct misinterpretation and misrepresentation of facts.

 

  1. Admitting that fake news is not only consumed by those who have access to internet and social media, or elites. Fake news is also widespread amongst uneducated group who have access to tradional media (including radio and television) and could be reached through word-of-mouth advertising. Thus, there is a need for the development of holistic strategy to prevent its widespread.

 

  1. Noting that lack of good governance, transparency and accountability created crisis of trust in the country. This has immensely contributed to the manner at which citizens consume and respond to fake news in Nigeria. In a country where there is total absence of trust in government, independent national electoral commission (INEC), political parties, security agencies, etc, there is a high tendency that false information widely shared will not be logically interrogated before being circulated.

 

  1. Affirming the importance of sensitizing and educating the people, media and all major stakeholders about fake news and how they can respond to it as a tool for fighting the problems of fake news rather than regulating the space.

 

  1. Supporting good and transparent governance closes the gap between supply and demand of information, helping to reduce the vacuum that creates fake news rather than regulating the space. Nigeria’s institutional regulations are more about punishment than standards, best practices and values that are objectively driven and any attempt to regulate social media is almost a waste of time because it is perceived as an open space that does not require regulation.

 

  1. Expressing concern that government may clamp down on freedom of speech, press and opposition under the guise of checking the spread of fake news and any attempt to support such regulations will empower the state to further descend into dictatorship thereby taking away freedom of press and speech

 

  1. Admitting that fake news is a global phenomenon, with developed nations like UK and US battling with it, we may not be able to curb fake news problem, rather efforts should be geared towards reducing its impacts in the society.

 

  1. Calling upon the government to understand that there is no need for any legislation or laws to be developed for regulation, all it needs to do is to enforce existing laws on regulations, which in itself are also vague, considering for instant the use of the word ‘Insult’ on the Cybersecurity Act, to which different meanings can be ascribed to it.

 

  1. Emphasizing that Nigeria’s regulation should place premium on creating standards and community practices and guidelines that drives the media space (including the social media) rather than being punitive. This is because government regulation is more about punishment than standards, best practices and values that are objectively driven.

 

  1. Stressing the need to further research on the causes, patterns/dynamics theories and drivers of fake news as to build evidences and a body of knowledge and understanding on how we can address the problem. Social media channels are spending so much money to check the danger of fake news. They would not be doing all of these if it was not a threatening phenomenon.

The recommendations and conclusions generated from the 2-day conference include but not limited to the following:

       1.Transparency in governance should be encouraged so as to discourage rumour mongering and spread of fake news.

  1. Structures of national unity through which programmes and policies that advance cohesion and integration should be promoted
  2. To counter hate speech and fake news, we need to promote traditional media freedom, safety of journalist, pluralism and so forth
  3. People should apply tools of verification to unbundle fake story and realizing the mechanisms of manipulation that are being applied. Recipients of fake news should apply common sense and verify the source of any news stories before they are shared
  4. To tackle fake news, digital education and literacy is very important
  5. One of the biggest solutions to fake news is the strong, vibrant and credible media houses because if there are credible and trusted sources, citizens will go to those sources for information and disregard other sources.
  6. As a longer term strategy, civic and political education is incredibly important
  7. Training whatsapp group administrators to ascertain the veracity of information shared
  8. Election monitoring/observation in a coordinated manner
  9. We need to be clear about the definitions of fake news before we talk about regulation
  10. There is a need to look at data protection and privacy
  11. Enhance people’s involvement on political issues
  12. How do we make messages appeal to our audience, we need to think about partnerships
  13. There is a need for transparency

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