This report argues that fake news in Cote d’Ivoire is a predominantly political
phenomenon and that it poses a considerable threat to political stability. Falsehoods
in Cote d’Ivoire spread most rapidly on social media platforms such as Facebook
and WhatsApp, as well as via word-of-mouth. Indeed, the interaction between these
online and offline spaces has amplified the pace at which falsehoods can spread around
the country in recent years. Although social media is increasingly popular, particularly
among young people, there is a particular challenge associated with fake news spread by
word-of-mouth in the country. This is not a new challenge, but it is one that has been
amplified with the growth of online platforms.
The overlap and interplay between the two means that fake news that starts online can
spread rapidly into offline spaces in ways that fact-checking initiatives often fail to match.
Drawing on desk-based research, interviews, and focus group discussions the report
illustrates the ways in which fake news has considerable real-world consequences. During
the October 2020 presidential elections rumors of targeted violent attacks on ethnic lines
led to reprisal attacks between conflicting ethnic groups in the town of M’Battao. Equally,
a fake news story that went viral in May 2021, inciting violence against Nigeriens living
in Cote d’Ivoire, led to the death of at least one Nigerian.
These examples are concerning given that the country still faces considerable post-
electoral unrest and instability following a nine-year on-off conflict that ended in 2011.
This study finds that the prominence of fakenews is exacerbated and facilitated by the
dearth of timely and credible information provided by the government. Silence creates
the space for conspiracy theories and rumors to flourish. Even when the government does
provide information, people do not trust it be true, preferring instead to rely on social
media influencers and people they know personally who provide more regular, though not
always accurate, updates.
Online avatars, who hide behind pseudonym’s are a prominent feature of the information
eco- system. With the most prominent, Chris Yapi, having over half a million Facebook
followers and being widely regarded as a credible source of information by many Ivorians.
One in every 12 Ivorians with a social media account follows Yapi.
The government’s preference for punitive measures to try and clamp down on those
who are involved in spreading fake news has not stemmed the flow of falsehoods. If
anything has provoked further online activity as citizens desperately seek space to express themselves freely. Rather than legal crackdowns, which are often viewed through partisan
political lenses, there is an urgent need to create greater education around understanding
and sharing information both online and offline in the country.