How is CDD Countering Fake News and Disinformation in Northern Nigeria?

The Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) is implementing a project on countering Misinformation and Disinformation in Kano state and Northern Nigeria. The Centre designed the Project in recognition of the changing information culture in the North. The picture of average northerner glueing his ears to his radio set is transforming to the image of his finger scrolling up and down to read Facebook posts, watch YouTube videos, and forward a message to WhatsApp groups.
On 4th and 5th December 2019, CDD trained twenty (20) social media influencers in Kano state on combatting misinformation and disinformation. The social media influencers trained constituted of Facebook pages and WhatsApp groups administrators, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube influencers who use English and Hausa (which is the lingua franca of the region) to interact with their followers. The participants were trained on different fact-checking tools and skills, identifying and countering various forms of fake news and methodologies to counter trending false claims.
At the opening session of the 2-day training, we gathered participants expectations which includes recognising the difference between misinformation and disinformation, how to combat the menace of fake news in Kano state, northern Nigeria. We tried to meet the expectations with our presentations and training, which were practical and also technology-based when appropriate.
During the two day training, the participants identified significant challenges to be encountered in their fact-checking exercise as;

  1. bias based on political and ideological differences;
  2. credibility of sources;
  3. Popularising the fake news in an attempt to counter it;
  4. The reach of popular news agencies and influencers, who have a wider audience compared to the fact-checkers;
  5. The use of automation and fake social media accounts;
  6. People’s natural inclines to believe fake news,
  7. Possible attacks on fact-checkers,
  8. Breaking news syndrome and the psychological first knowledge illusion.

Why are we doing this in Kano state, Northern Nigeria?
Disinformation has been a significant challenge to the flow of information on northern Nigeria’s cyberspace. The distortion of facts, disinformation and misinforming masses have been a general trend in the use of these social media platforms in Nigeria North, with Kano as its primary Centre of socio-political and religious discussions. Due to the largest concentration of people in Kano, misinformation that starts from the state quickly goes to the nooks and crannies of not only northern Nigeria but the country at large. Another major challenge is, most disinformation and misinformation in the state are shared in Hausa Language and go viral without it being noticed by contemporary fact-checking organisations who fact-check mostly in the English language. Even if fact-checks is done in English, they hardly reach the primary audience.
Some measures taken to stop the spread of disinformation in the state were found ineffective. In 2018, police in the state arrested a WhatsApp admin and members for peddling fake news against a certain woman, but this did not stop others from peddling disinformation and going scot-free.
It is quite Ironic that during the 2day training, we had a real-life experience of fake news served us in Kano.   A piece of fake news circulated on the arrest of one of our participant, Zainab Nasir by the Police. The story claims Zainab was arrested for posting feministic, uncultured and irreligious post on Facebook.   Our participants jointly did a fact check report and shared on popular news platforms in Kano state including on the popular Kano Focus and Freedom Radio.
Disinformation is mostly shared by “Sojojin Baka” (men and women working for politicians and political parties through peddling political propaganda), but occasionally some external hands that are not directly working with politicians or political parties contribute to the menace. A few years ago, these “Sojojin Baka” used to have only conventional media to air their political views and shape political discussions in the state. Today social media produce a new set of “Sojojin Baka” and allow them to express their opinions at a cheaper, more reliable and faster way without following media ethics. On their way to achieving their goals, the new online “Sojojin Baka” feed their thousands of followers with disinformation and misinformation and sometimes get rewarded for it.
Agents of Disinformation have also influenced religious debate further straining the volatile state. Recently, a disinformation campaign ran about “Black Friday” in the state. The peddlers claimed “Black Friday” was aimed at desecrating the Muslims “Sacred Friday” by the United States. Different stories were shared on Facebook and WhatsApp groups urging Muslims to boycott the Black Friday in the same way they did to Denmark when the controversial Danish cartoon was published.
We at the CDD are very proud to be collaborating with social media influencers and administrators in Northern Nigeria to combat misinformation and disinformation. Already, the partnership has successfully worked with the Nigerian Police Force, and Media to do two fact checks. We are compiling and reporting accounts that habitually share fake news in Hausa and English languages to relevant social media platforms. As part of civic education, CDD In partnership with Tijani Gandu is releasing a song on the ills of disinformation. We will continue to run radio show and work with Kannywood to combat the scourge of disinformation in Northern Nigeria.
The Project is supported by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED)

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