Confronting the menace of fake news

Fake News is the dissemination of false information. Fake information is always negative in nature and intended to smear persons, institutions or government.

They are fabricated to cause chaos in the society or incite one citizen against the other.

Circulation of false information is as old as human existence, but it assumed wider and dangerous dimensions with the evolution of the social media.

Mr Lanre Ajayi, a former President of Association of Telecommunication Companies in Nigeria (ATCON), says fake news has enormous powers of destroying a country completely, creating wars and causing disasters.

According to him, the level of destruction in the wake of the #End SARS protest indeed shows the tragic consequences of fake news.

He argues that something must be done urgently to check the flow of fake news on social media.

Dr Livinus Abonyi, a Consultant Medical Scientist at the College of Medicine, University of Lagos, on his part,says social media contributions to the #EndSARS protest and the mayhem that followed offers an insight on the positive and negative potential of the social media.

He says while the influence of the social media to the protest was positive in the early stages, it turned out negative when hoodlums hijacked the otherwise peaceful protest.

“The segment of youth that came out to protest practically expressed the suppressed feelings of many citizens who had suffered intimidation, harassment and extortion. amongst other negative activities of the discredited SARS unit of the Nigerian Police Force.

“So, they gained so much and acclaim over a short period from the public through the social media which jolted the government,” he says.

Mr Nathaniel Okoro, a social commentator and Convener of People’s Forum, an NGO, agrees with Abonyi that social media has both positive and negative influences on the #EndSARS protest and the attendant mayhem.

“”For me, the first 10 days or so saw active positive contributions of social media to the protest, but after the Lekki issue, the fake and sensational news took over the social media space.

“Since one cannot point to a concrete provable reasons, one can only conjecture because sometimes perceptions might be stronger than the reality.

“So, the absence of a credible, verifiable, unbiased source of information from government fed the fires of fake and sensational news”he says.

For Dr Olubunmi Ajibade, a Senior Lecturer in Mass Communication, University of Lagos, government did not react early enough to the fake news that was trending during the #EndSARS” protests.

According to Ajibade, “fake news occupied the media space before authentic information arrived late.

“Even where it is obvious that government has done well to improve the social conditions of the people, its efforts are not adequately communicated in real time,” he says.

Ajibade advised the government to adopt proactive rather than reactive approach to information management.

Prof. Lai Olurode, a Professor of Sociology at the University of Lagos, says successive governments in Nigeria had moved further away from the people and advised that “government must strive to identify real opinion leaders across the land and put words of truth in their mouths.”

” Our land is too fertile for really bad news and rumour mill. Government must come to the people’s level if serious calamities are to be averted,” he says.

Mr Bola Babarinde, the Chairman of All Peoples Congress in South Africa, also stresses that it is important that government be more open and consistent with information.

“Absence of details on what government is doing creates information gap which purveyors of fake news take advantage of to spread their own mischievous information,” he says.

Mr Joshua Adewunmi, a retired Permanently Secretary in old Ondo State, on his part, advised government to always provide information to citizens on its policies and programmes to discourage fake news.

Mr Abayomi Adesanya, a former Chairman of Ekiti Local Government in Ondo State, advises that in future, government should not allow protests to last long no matter how few the protesters may be.

“In future, quick intervention or preventive measures should be deployed during protests.

“Government should have dispersed the protesters with tear gas, hot water, pepper spray, rubber bullets and sleeping gas, among other means that are not life threatening,”he argues.

For Dr Lukman Raimi, a Lecturer at the University of Nigeria, the adverse consequences of fake news had caused huge financial losses to individuals, groups and organisations.

“Poisonous ideas and misleading information from fake news have ignited wars in Nigeria and other communities,” he said.

Dr Tunde Akanni, a Senior Lecturer in Journalism at the Lagos State University, Ojo, advised government to involve media academics and professionals in fashioning relevant laws that could stem ‘misinformation ‘ in the media space.

Government, he says, ought to have come out with relevant laws for the operation of social media as it made its entry.

“It is not too late, but it is a bit behind time for government to begin to find out what is wrong with social media use in the Nigerian society,” he says.

Babarinde, the APC chieftain in South Africa, believes a complete clampdown on social media would not be the proper way to combat fake news.

“The best approach is to, instead, introduce tracking system that can trace the originators of such fake news and put in place legislations that can duly punish the perpetrators of such an act,” he says.

Dr Theo Adebowale, a Lecturer in the Department of Political Science at the Adekunle Ajasin University in Ondo State, also warns against total clamp down on social media, saying this would be counter productive.

To forestall such protests in future, he advises government to engage the army of youths regularly for them to be productive.

Government, he adds, should embrace more community-based approaches in dealing with issues affecting the youth like the use of traditional rulers, community leaders, community development associations and opinion leaders in reaching out to them.

Mr Emmanuel Ukpong, a Public Relations consultant, suggests that enlightenment and education be deployed in checking the menace of social media.

He advises government to use its agencies like the National Orientation Agency to look for creative ways of discouraging people who circulate fake news.

Government, he stresses, must also resist the urge to legislate against social media as it would be “dictatorial and counter productive.”

Ukpong further suggests that government should convene a National Youth Conference to ventilate the opinions of youths and formulate responsive policies in their interests.

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