Fake News And The #EndSARS Protests – Fuel or Water?

I will start these strings of thoughts with a quote from the 1930s – “A single spark can start a prairie fire,”.

Writing these words, I feel the same way Comrade Mao Tse-tung felt as regards the possibility of a revolution not only in China but in Nigeria. The only difference is that my generation can set off the sparks at a record time with just a single click via the instrumentality of social media. One smartphone backed with inspired hashtags can set off mass demonstrations across the world and particularly in Nigeria as we saw with the #EndSARS movement.

Unquestionably in the early 2000s, It was clear how social media contributed to helping young people organize effective resistance movements and nonviolent actions. But, after the mid-2000s, many have started becoming more cynical about whether these technologies were helping or hurting these movements.

The debate as to whether social media has been a curse or blessing to Nigerians has been on for decades. It will continue. The government is having sleepless nights trying to “censor/regulate” the nation’s online space with the intent of combating harmful misinformation and dissident expressions that are capable of tearing the nation apart. Young people on the other hand do not trust the government as they are sure the real intent is to restrict freedom of speech and expression. Wherein lies the balance? Wherein lies the way forward?

They say we live in an information age. I totally agree. But I think we also live in a disinformation age.

The EndSARs protest like many other protests was in no doubt fueled by Nigeria’s rising profile in internet penetration and smartphone access. The technology was an efficient vehicle for the rapid transmission of information about planned events and political developments, thereby facilitating the organization of protest activity. But technology is what it is – technology -depending on how you use it. The figurative case of a knife in the hand of a murderer producing different results compared to a knife in the hand of a surgeon. Later on in the life of the protests, it began to suffer by the very tool that made it.

During the #EndSARS protest, more than 28 million social media posts bearing the #EndSARS hashtag was recorded on Twitter alone. Analytics show that only a small quota of this outstanding figure was used to mobilize demonstrations, garner local, diasporic, foreign backing, and sympathy for the movement. The majority of postings, shares, tweets, and retweets were proliferated fake contents inserted to fuel an already edgy state of affairs.

Before the hoodlums that we see today came offline, they already existed online.

Misrepresentation of happenings during the #EndSARS protest was in full-blown circulation with a deliberate goal to scale up fear and anger. Fake stories and accompanying imagery of alleged state action against its citizens trended on social media. The obvious intent was to arouse a sense of fear and anger, encourage Nigerians to think intuitively by “liking”, retweeting, sharing content that painted instituted authority as villains thereby distorting the mutual trust needed to restore peace. These images were later found to have originated from theatre scenes, automobile accidents, past events (even beyond the shores of Nigeria). Many have come to debunk concocted stories. Many will in the coming days. Sadly, the deed had already be done, FIRE instead of WATER was unleashed.

There is no denying that there were fatal incidences as a full out of the #EndSARS protest. However, misinformation on social media fanned by violent, hate-mongering, and communally insensitive posts from influencers and supposed leaders is now undermining the movements’ public image and its ability to attract large and diverse segments of society

The surge of fake news is now killing the credibility of the #EndSARS protest and may eventually be the death of it.

Real leaders of the revolution must be truth-seekers and not lie pedlers. Real revolutions come from a place of truth. For if the foundation is based on lies, it will surely sink. It won’t be long before the skirt is uncovered and the true sex revealed.

Even if it has to be a fire, let it refine the stories before posting. If it has to be water, let it not drown us.

©️ Segun Oduyemi, Lagos Nigeria 2020

This article is sponsored by SAME GROUNDS, a movement that advocates that young people should organize more intelligently.

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