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UNESCO, MAIN train social media users on dangers of hate speech, fake news

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Kayode Adebiyi, Bolaji Gelax, Joseph Gbadamosi and Abimbola Abikoye discussing at a group breakout session during the training


Speakers at a two-day workshop on Building Capacity of Nigerian Social Media Producers/Bloggers in Countering Hate Speech & Fake News have stressed the need for social media users, influencers and bloggers to be mindful of the contents they share on their various platforms in order to minimise hate speech and fake news.

They also emphasised the need to use social media to drive democratic culture. Held last week, the workshop was organised by Media Awareness & Information for All Network (MAIN). It was funded by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) under the international programme for the development of communication. According to National Information Officer United Nations Information Center (UNIC) Nigeria, Dr. Oluseyi Soremekun, a range of factors are transforming the communications landscape, raising questions about the quality, impact and credibility of journalism.

“At the same time, orchestrated campaigns are spreading untruths – disinformation, mal-information and misinformation — that are often unwittingly shared on social media,” Soremekun said.

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Widespread fake news, he said, heats up the polity and threatens democratic governance with the resultant fear and tension jeopardising public peace and security.

According to him, “peoples have risen against peoples, tribes against tribes, regions against regions because of fake news peddled especially through online platforms by people with different motives. Fake news erodes public trust in government and weakens community participation in governance. It hurts people, destroys personalities, and has the tendency to cause violence in the society. Fake news is potent in fuelling propaganda and hate speech and even violence.”

Soremekun said that on May 21, 2020, the United Nations launched ‘Verified’, an initiative to combat the growing scourge of COVID-19 misinformation by increasing the volume and reach of trusted, accurate information.

According to him, “the campaign, though borne out of the COVID-19 pandemic, is adaptable for other thematic areas. It requires everyone to consider the five Ws before sharing contents online that is: Who, what, when, why and where.”

In handling fake news, he said it is important to check the timeliness of the information, relevance, authority, accuracy and purpose.

In his presentation, Acting Head of Department of Journalism, Lagos State University, (LASU), Dr. Jide Jimoh, who spoke on “Combating hate speech in the media,” argued that hate speech has been a major concern for media institutions, international and local agencies and governments.

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In sharing contents online, he advised social media users to be temperate in the use of language, adhere to ethical guidelines, which would guide freedom of expression. While combating hate speech, there should be no inflammatory or sensational reporting especially in conflict situations, conscious of gender and other sensitivities, seeking alternative voices rather than that of the combatants only.

For Jimoh, hate speech should be looked at from the content and context of use.

Specifically, “it must meet certain standards.”

He said, “the following test, developed by the Ethical Journalism Network (EJN) and based on international standards, highlights questions in the gathering, preparation and dissemination of news and helps place what is said and who is saying it in context: Status of the Speaker — How might their position influence their motives?Should they even be listened to or just ignored? — Reach of the speaker — How far is the speech traveling? Is there a pattern of behaviour? — Goals of the Speech — How does it benefit the speaker and their interests? Is it deliberately intended to cause harm to others? — The Content itself —Is the speech dangerous? Could it incite violence towards others? — Surrounding Climate — Social / Economic /Political — Who might be negatively affected? Is there a history of conflict or discrimination?”

Chairman, MAIN, Prof. Lai Oso, in his paper, entitled, “An Overview of digital media” in Nigeria, said social media users must not share any content until they are fast check to be sure it is genuine. If contents are not fast checked, it can destroy the social fabrics of the society.

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They should have the requisite skills about how to use the social media and inherent dangers in misuse. Editor of The Guardian on Sunday, Kabir Alabi Garba, in his “Social Media and National Security: A Reflection”, said media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp carry fake news and inflammatory messages that can compromise the country’s security architecture.

He said, “promoting hate speech and foul language on social media have moral and legal consequences on the society and journalism practice.”

To Garba, though people understand that “hate speech and foul language attract legal consequences, they do not know what obligations are created by law against perpetrators of hate speech and foul language in Nigeria.”

He said, “this implies that malicious contents on social media platforms are catalysts that spread insecurity and incessant fear among citizens.”

He raised the need for social media users, government and security agencies to do the needful so as to minimise the rate of inflammatory messages on social media platforms.”

Garba said there is need for government and other relevant agencies “to have active social media accounts so as to counter propaganda, hates speech and other dangerous contents that have the potency to adversely affect the security architecture of the nation.”

He also said, “the mainstream media in collaboration with the National Orientation Agency (NOA) should enlighten citizens on the adverse effect of fake news, propaganda and malicious content on social media platforms. This can be achieved through consistent campaign.

“Owners of social media accounts that spread inflammatory contents should be traced and relevant actions be taken by the security agencies.

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“The government should commit human and financial capital on research in the area of social media usage and national security. The above would help in coming up with a framework that would help eliminate or rather minimse the rate of inflammatory contents on social media platforms.

“New laws must provide protection from criminals but also ensure secure behaviour by those entrusted with sensitive data – who will doubtless continue to leak information in ever-greater amounts, as we have observed throughout the past decade.”

Oso, who also spoke on “New media & democracy”, observed that the absence of gatekeeping and editorial control affects
the output of social media. In his words, the poor or lack of professional standard raises issues of credibility and trust in the platforms.

He said the conversations and exchanges on the social media are mostly focused on ethnic, religious sentiments, abuse and name-calling instead of serious and reason-based argument.

Conclusively, he said many, if not majority of Nigerians, are still outside the net. According to him, “Gender, socio-economics of information and communication.” and geographical factors, lack of skills and other sources of inequality still disempowered many from access to the new technologies.”

Meanwhile, UNESCO has partnered with United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to launch an online consultation to combat and address the ever more urgent concern for those working to build informed and inclusive societies.

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The consultation, Forging a Path for a Better Information Ecosystem: Effective Governance, Media, Internet and Peacebuilding Responses to Disinformation, aims to gather innovative evidence, experiences and perspectives on the impact of disinformation. The consultation is open until Friday, October 23, 2020 and will provide the foundation for the creation of resources against disinformation for specific constituencies.

Disinformation erodes public trust in state institutions and news media, widening social divides and destabilising already fragile environments. It can hurt public health outcomes, as well as compromise long-term democratic and human rights advancements.

To tackle the COVID-19 “disinfodemic”, UNESCO published two policy briefs analysing the spread of viral disinformation on the coronavirus and outlining a typology of responses to the threat.

UNESCO has also offered massive online training courses for journalists, in order to provide them with the necessary verification tools and knowledge to cover the health crisis. In addition, UNESCO issued guidelines on international standards on freedom of expression, access to information, privacy and the safety of journalists for when judicial operators rule on cases when fundamental rights are restricted by responses to the pandemic outbreak.

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