Saturday, 23rd September 2023

CSO moves against spread of fake news, trains fact-checkers nationwide

By Onyedika Agbedo
22 April 2023   |   2:50 am
A Civil Society Organisation (CSO), Safeguarding Online Civic Space (SOCS), has urged Nigerians to desist from disseminating fake news, warning that continuing to do so could bring down the country.

Fake news

A Civil Society Organisation (CSO), Safeguarding Online Civic Space (SOCS), has urged Nigerians to desist from disseminating fake news, warning that continuing to do so could bring down the country.

The group, which is being funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to safeguard Nigeria’s online civic space before, during and after the 2023 general election, urged the media to partner with it to combat misinformation and disinformation.

Addressing a press conference in Lagos last Thursday, the Chairperson of SOCS, Dr. Funmi Akinyele, noted that fake news took different shapes during the last elections.

According to her, the integrity of this year’s general election was significantly tested in the online civic space as millions of Nigerians, particularly eligible voters, got their information from social media.

She added: “As projected, the digital civic space played a crucial role in the decisions that a myriad of Nigerians took during the Presidential and National Assembly elections held in February 2023 as well as the Gubernatorial and State Houses of Assembly elections held in March 2023.

“Considering the ripples left behind by this menace of fake news during the last elections, the overarching goal of this project is to protect online civic space by combating voter misinformation and disinformation, while improving access to accurate civic information inclusively. The SOCS Group is funded by United States Agency for International Development (USAID), through the Strengthening Civic Advocacy and Local Engagement (SCALE) Project. Unfortunately, some individuals, either by omission or commission, have distorted information, leading to misinformation, disinformation and malformation. The misuse and repression of both offline and digital.

civic spaces, no doubt, have contributed to the perceptions, mostly negative, of members of the international community about Nigeria

“To address this, the Safeguarding Digital Civic Space for Electoral Integrity (SDSEI) project is engaging critical stakeholders across government, telecommunications, civil society and the general public, united by an overarching interest in protecting the online civic space. The intended outcome is to maximise the benefits and minimise the threats for proper enlightenment, freedom of expression and education of the populace on their civic and voter rights, irrespective of cultural, religious and political affiliations.”

Akinyele explained that under the SDSEI project, fact-checkers across the six geo-political zones in Nigeria have been trained to combat the spread of fake news.

She disclosed that the project has so far been able to reach more than 1,000 youths through public awareness programmes via school outreaches at higher institutions in Lagos, Kano, Abuja, Ibadan and Port Harcourt.

“The SDSEI project has engaged industry stakeholders, including telecommunications operators and regulators in dialogues regarding their role in preventing internet shut downs and other ways to facilitate protection of civic rights online.

“This project in the last four months has been able to reach thousands of online voters and information seekers using digestible information sheets and relatable skits on the 2023 elections. In addition, this project has raised an army of youths, 108 fact-checkers, poised to burst fake news in the digital civic space. We are happy to let you know that these fact-checkers were actively involved in bursting fake news that could have hindered the integrity of the space during both the recently concluded general and gubernatorial elections,” she said.

While appealing to the media to collaborate with the organisation to combat fake news, Akinyele said: “We ask the media to continue to help combat misinformation, disinformation and fake news by fact checking and providing accurate reporting.

“We expect that you will provide online broadcasts, reports and web links that illustrate the SDSEI goals mentioned previously. Together, we look forward to building a strong relationship that will last far beyond the project. We request that you please use your platforms to create an environment where the goal of safeguarding digital civic space is achieved.”

On his part, the Lead, Research Centre for Development Action, Mr. Austin Aigbe, said SOCS did a lot of fact checking during the last general election.

He advised the present generation of youths in the country to take the issue of fake news and cyber bullying seriously because of its adverse effects.

“It is always very annoying seeing the media, even traditional media, publishing fake news,” he said.