The year 2020 will be etched in the minds of many for many various reasons. At the top of this long-list sits the novel coronavirus which affected almost everyone globally. Hardly was a sector spared – from the old to the young, Christian to Muslim among others and in relation to the pangs of the deadly virus that has claimed over 700,000 persons globally according to the John Hopkins University (JHU).
Since the index case was recorded in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, the urge to access more information regarding case definition, cures, and vaccines among other related matters has soared.
Some persons took advantage of this urge for COVID-19 related information to do mischief. They do this by dishing out unsubstantiated claims with or without recourse for the effects on the general public. And it was this that led to the proliferation of misinformation on the disease in many parts of the world. For the Nigerian media, the story is the same.
Having just transiting from combating misinformation that greeted the 2019 general elections, when political actors skewed information in their favour as part of efforts to proselytise the electorate, the year 2020 came as another challenge for the media to continue to fight misinformation and strengthen its efforts at rightly providing accurate information for the people as and when due.
Just like every other new phenomenon, many misconceptions greeted the pandemic in Nigeria, particularly regarding prevention, cures, vaccines, and case management.
As such, many half-truths were flying through the air in a bid to provide truthful information to the public.
Just as misinformation continues to grow, so has the army of fact checkers grown in size.
In one of the moves, Dubawa, Nigeria’s first fact checking and verification hub, armed over twenty fact checkers and researchers across many print, broadcast, and online platforms to fight misinformation across the country.
The two batches of the 2020 Dubawa Fellowship were funded with support from the Heinrich Boll Stiftung Foundation and the National Endowment for Democracy.
Temilade Onilede, Dubawa’s Programme Assistant, said the fellowship was inspired by “the need to tackle the societal menace of mis- and dis-information in Nigeria and Ghana and creating a safer media ecosystem where truth and accuracy can thrive without jeopardizing freedom of expression.
“The project requires candidates’ willingness to think about ways to expand the reach of verified information to grassroots communities that are targeted constituencies for political, social and cultural disinformation.”
Onilede also added that the fellows are charged to enhance the establishment of fact checking units/departments in their respective newsrooms during or after the fellowship programme.
Aside Dubawa, the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) also recently launched FactCheckHub, in partnership with the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR)
Dayo Aiyetan, Executive Director of The ICIR, said “there’s a lot of misinformation in the world, Nigeria inclusive. I said then that misinformation will not end after the election, and it has not.
“And it looks like every cycle around our life, our activities, we throw up all kinds of misinformation, whether it’s an election, pandemic – like the coronavirus has done or whether it’s about a natural disaster, an attack, whether it’s about our security situation, economic situation, about corruption.
“We want to engineer an environment where every single person can be a fact-checker, so that if an ordinary person sees misinformation or fake news, he or she will be able to identify, decipher that this is fake news so that they don’t share it,” he added.
Leading the trend, the Africa Check started a misinformation campaign on social media tagged #KeepTheFactsGoing series! Each week, Africa Check shows people how they can get their facts in order before sharing something online.
With support from Meedan, a UK-based organisation, Nigeria Health Watch, also used Meedan’s COVID-19 Expert Database to counter misinformation around COVID-19 and other public health challenges in Nigeria. Through the partnership, Nigeria Health Watch identified potentially false or misleading COVID-19 claims and debunked them by using multimedia messages produced from Meedan’s team of experts.
“Misinformation poses a threat to the public response to outbreaks, eroding the public’s trust, and their willingness and ability to take preventative measures,” Vivianne Ihekweazu, Managing Director at Nigeria Health Watch said.
People’s Check launched the ‘Verify Nigeria’ project to fact-check and verify viral health misinformation and disinformation that has affected people’s health and life in Nigeria through different visual elements. It also trained students and citizen journalists on health fact-checking.
Round Check also joined the fight against fake news and misinformation by correcting long term myths and by making the social space free again for truthful information.
What proliferation means for the society – Don
Director, School of Communication and Information Technology at the Moshood Abiola Polytechnic (MAPOLY), Abeokuta, Dr Goke Raufu, lamented that misinformation has adverse effect on the Nigerian ecosystem, adding that a lot of concerted efforts need to be put in place to checkmate the excesses of misinformation in the country.
Raufu said fact checkers are necessary because “we need reliable persons and organisations that will help in checking facts, correcting facts and making them to the entire populace. It is a good development and I dare say that those institutions and individuals must now try as much as possible to work against being hacked and being compromised because we are in a world where nothing will be left undone to compromise all good things, fact checkers and institutions inclusive.”
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