Connect with us


Seeking sustainable peace and development through fact-checking




 IT held at the Nigeria Army Resource Centre, the repository of Nigeria’s military history. On the premises of this expansive facility is military hardware the kind of which wartime Nigeria paraded. What is more, a massive structure, in the shape of a pistol lying on its side, houses the Nigeria Army Museum. Here, an enclosed walkway is adorned with photos and mementos that celebrate the successes of our military men and women; they also carry the tragedies that are part of our checkered history.

How this facility lent itself to an event such as a National Fact-checking Course is not immediately noticed in its serious, sensitive and rather tense atmosphere. But, somewhere in the words of Dr. Joseph Ochogwu, Director-General, Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (IPCR), this connection is found:

“The weakness of our institutions in fact-checking and probing the integrity of information exchanges in the nation’s ecosystem, has further emboldened unscrupulous content creators and distributors to perfect their nefarious acts with selfish gain. This situation has exacerbated tensions, provoked political mistrust, fostered polarization among Nigerians and triggered wider socio-economic, cultural and religious changes…The deeper implications of fake news and misinformation include…widespread loss of lives, destruction of properties, displacement of a huge number of Nigerians and hindrance to socio-economic development.”

From April 23rd to 25th, 2024, media professionals, security operatives, civil society organizations (CSOs), community leaders and government officials went through several training modules designed to equip them with the skills required to be able to identify and fight the spread of fake news and ensure sanity in the information eco-system.  The IPCR, premier peace think-tank and research agency of the Federal Government, together with peace advocacy organizations, Tomruk iHub Multiverse and DAKRISBENIC Foundation for Unity and Development in Africa (DAFUDA) assembled the experts and tools for the event.

With the theme, Combating Fake News in the Security, Intelligence, Economic and Public Service Eco-system, the National Fact-Checking Course was easily a chip off the United Nations’ Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech which was launched in June of 2019 by UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres. Whether it is the conventional or New Media, increasing disorder in the information ecosystem continues to hold dreary implications for world peace and security. It is this realization which, Dr.  Ochogwu said, formed the basis for “a coordinated action in all forms towards addressing the root causes of fake news for sustainable peace and development at local, national, regional and international levels.”

With recent advances in information and communication technology, it is contradiction in terms when the tools for development are the same tools that account for the destruction of society. But as Dr. Odeyemi Olayiwole, lead presenter at the event concurred in his paper, Crisis Management: Leadership Strategies for Addressing False Information, purveyors of fake news are not guided by ethical or moral considerations. Because they are merely in pursuit of an agenda, Dr. Olayiwole said, an effective response mechanism ought to be put in place to fight it. Prescribing the setting up of digital platforms for this purpose, he also suggested the need for established official communication channels, verification of facts, and quick response, among the ways of dealing with fake news.

Dr. Olayiwole averred that fake news thrives in a culture of deceit, and that trust and credibility on the part of the leadership in an organization is an essential requirement for the fight against it. According to him, official reaction to fake news should be focused on the issues, not people; solution, not complaint; and on facts and figures.

But how can fake news be identified? This question and many other issues thrown up in the preceding paper were responded to in the sessions that followed, by the various resource persons lined up, and in the various ways they deemed fit. Above the din of it all was the understanding that the human being is first an emotional being before being logical. Hence, our emotion must always be on leash to be able to identify fake news. But, understanding the concept comes from the answers one gets from the questions that follow: Is it original? Is it manipulated? Has it been shared before? What is the integrity of its originator? Why is it shared?

A hands-on programme that it was, the technical sessions were an opportunity for group work, where practical exercises and case studies became the furnace that sharpened participants’ perspectives on the various topics covered. And, among the topics which sought practical ways of dealing with the issues were: Understanding the Social Media; Exploring the Information Disorder Ecosystem; Fact-Checking Strategies; Understanding Cultural Norms, Beliefs and Bias; Technical Tools for Fact-Checking; and What is Fact-Checking and Why is it Important? Long and dreary as they came, they were fleshed out with the use of Reverse Image Search engines such as TINEYE, YANDEX and BING, which were some of the tools participants were introduced to and which were used in the several exercises carried out.

Against the backdrop of the prevailing information disorder in the media, especially the social media space, the course identified three elements of information disorder: misinformation, disinformation and mal-information. Misinformation was defined as incorrect or misleading information; disinformation, as false information intended to deceive; while mal-information is deliberate exaggeration of the truth or passing of information in a way that is harmful.

The consensus at the event was that information is a two-edged sword that has built societies and also destroyed them depending on what it is intended for. Indeed, peddled with the intent to harm, words have a frightening propensity to inflict the greatest harm on the greatest number of people. And because of its duplicitous character, participants were urged to always be on the look-out for signs of fake news.

On the whole, the course exposed participants to the modern phenomenon of fake news, called attention to its dangers, and provided the skills and tools to be used to rid the information eco-system of its menace. And as participants left the still-glittering Asokoro District of Abuja, where it all took place, a lot had happened to suggest that indeed not all that glitters is gold. Hence, the need to begin to deploy their newfound expertise for the stability and progress of the country.

Goyit, is the Director, Broadcast New Media, Plateau State Ministry of Information and Communication

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *