By Adelola Amihere
Worried by the increasing spate of fake news and the devastating effects already caused by its spread as well as the dangers its continuous spread portends to national security and citizens, the federal government has launched a National campaign against fake news to help check the growing menace.
Addressing a world press conference as well as a formal launch of the National Campaign in Abuja yesterday, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed expressed deep concern over the devastating effects the spread of fake news has had on the nation’s polity and its potential threat to the peaceful coexistence of the country.
According to him, “fake news is a global epidemic that could be worse than all the plagues that the world has recorded put together, a clear and present danger to global peace and security, and a threat to democracy.
“It’s we the people that are in danger not just the government but the ordinary Nigerians. Reputations are destroyed overnight by just one single fake story. Who takes care of those people? Marriages have been broken by fake news. We should look at it. Forget government. It’s not just government that is in trouble.
“People must be reminded of how hate speech and fake news led to the killing of over 800,000 people in Rwanda. Many people don’t know the effects of fake news. I have seen some communal clashes in this country and it was because of unsubstantiated news.
“That is why this campaign is very important. We have laws against stealing and it didn’t stop stealing. There are laws against murder, it doesn’t stop murder. We must continue to mount campaign against fake news.”
Responding to questions fielded by journalists, the Minister while assuring that there will be no coercion or restraint in the fight against fake news, however, urged the media to be the first agent to curb the spread of fake news.
“The media is the strongest conveyor of news whether they are fake or real. But the consumers are the victims themselves so I hope we can all join Hands together because it will help the profession and help the polity.
“There shall be no coercion, there shall be no censorship but at the same time, we also expect some cooperation and self-restraint from the media.
“That is why we said, please just do two things, if you sink a story, ask yourself, is it credible, what is the source? Secondly, don’t share a story whose source or credibility you cannot vouch for. With just those simple rules, you are going to help a lot in stemming fake news.
“The greatest mistake we are making is so many of you can differentiate between fake news because of the background you have but so many people cannot even do that because they don’t have the background and that is why this sensitisation programme is very important,” he said.
On whether there are penalties for purveyors of fake news he said, “There are laws but you see at times it is a bit tortuous, slow and a lot of damage is already done.
“The regulatory agencies are working, but the enormity of the challenges are much. Both the NBC and the Press Council will now be better encouraged and motivated but I can assure you that we are not resting on our oars”.