Fake News Rattles Nigerian Election Campaign
Tomorrow, Nigeria goes to the polls to elect a new President after a long and messy campaign season plagued by fake news stories. From fabricated endorsements to re-used violent images attached to new false narratives, fake news has spread across different social media platforms and been viewed by millions of Nigerians. Accepted as truth by many, the stories have prompted official announcements from candidates and the current president, with the latter even having to announce that “this is the real me,” and work to shed rumors that he had been replaced by a body double after falling sick. His statement is now pinned to his Twitter page. In one instance, one politician was targeted with a corruption accusation without evidence and, within 10 minutes, there had been thousands of retweets. “Nobody is looking for proof, it’s not about what’s true anymore,” lamented the candidate. Responding to cases of fake news, a team of journalists from across 15 media outlets are working to fact check and correct falsities, but rarely succeed before a story has already spread to thousands, even hundreds of thousands of viewers.
The stories are spread across Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and more, with the tech companies’ preventative measures failing to prevent its spread in spite of concerted efforts. In recent months, Facebook and Twitter have worked to enact policies against the spread of false information, but efforts have not come close to ending the problem, especially in areas like Nigeria with fresh social media uptake across poorly-educated populations new to the technologies. WhatsApp has announced a “sophisticated machine learning system,” that is working to weed out abusive behavior and the company, owned by Facebook, has announced that is has been removing over “two million accounts per month for bulk or automated behavior…we are constantly advancing our anti-abuse operations to keep our platform safe.” It remains to be seen, however, how the companies and the Nigerian elections will be impacted by the spread of fake news over these platforms.