Nigeria: Deploying Technology to Counter Fake News in the Electoral Process

There are opportunities availed to us by a lot of technological innovations that can be used to verify and counter fake news, especially in our electoral process.

… technologically-driven devices that have helped in fighting fake news include The Factual, Check, Logically, Grover, Full fact, Sensity AI, ClaimBuster, . Snopes.com, FindExif.com, InVID, Hoaxy, Wolfram, amongst others, which are all powerful artificial intelligence devices that can be used to fight and verify false information. They have, time and over again, helped in revealing the truth behind certain controversial issues in Nigeria’s political terrain.

Just a few days ago, news about the purported 60-day extension of the Continuous Voters Registration (CVR) by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was making the rounds across major newspapers, including platforms that have built their reputation and credibility over the years. This generated some level of hysteria amongst Nigerians and even some renowned civil society organisations reacted to the news, which was letter realised to be untrue. However, this was contrary to official information from the Commission through its National Commissioner, Festus Okoye, who confirmed that the CVR will be extended by at least an additional 30 days but without providing a specific timeline or additional information.

While there are some conversations around the extension of the CVR in various quarters, the latest was led by the House of Representatives Committee on INEC and electoral matters, having pushed a motion for the extension of the exercise by 60 days. However, the Commission was yet to officially announce any extension before it became trending news. Unfortunately, no matter how close it is and how “credible” the platform that reported it is, as far as its untrue, its tagged as fake news and no doubt it can affect the process. In fact, this cannot be differentiated from another similar fake news that made the rounds just forty-eight (48 hours) to the just concluded governorship elections in Ekiti State, alleging the disqualification of the candidate of All Progressives Congress, Biodun Abayomi Oyebanji, from running in the just concluded Ekiti governorship election. Although the Federal High Court itself eventually “debunked the existence of any such case in its entire jurisdiction and indeed the Court Order as alleged”, the story had the tendency to do its own damage to the candidate, who however turned out to be the eventual winner of the election.

Despite being one of the most delicate and complicated periods in Nigeria’s democratic dispensation, election periods are usually engulfed with fake and unconfirmed news reports, which have the tendency of jeopardising the processes. In June 2018, a sitting governor in Ekiti State practically “strangled” the State radio station to announce fake results to the public, even before the electoral commission declared the official results. This heated the polity and led to the indefinite closure of the station.

Scenarios abound where individuals and groups use their social media platforms to peddle fake news around electoral processes, malpractices, electoral violence and even fake election results. These have continued to exacerbate mutual distrust amongst electoral stakeholders in Nigeria. Factchecking activities leading to the 2019 elections exposed a series of misleading pictures containing false information, which were at other times doctored to misinform or were deployed in false contexts. These were predominant amongst the aides and supporters of the major candidates in the elections, to either promote their candidates or discredit opponents.

Other organisations like Dubawa, TheCable and other conventional media platforms have mastered the art of using technology to counter fake news, especially during the electoral period. Simple google searches and reverse image searches have proven to work in many scenarios when tracking fake news. For instance, Google reverse image searches are basically the process of searching the internet to identify where certain images had been used, in a bid to locate their original sources.

If mushroom media houses and individuals spread fake news, either due to ignorance or for mischievous reasons, it is expected that credible and reputable organisations will take additional steps to verify the veracity of such information. In this era of the proliferation of technology, it becoming even easier to counter fake news.

In recent times, there have been the emergence of online technological platforms specifically dedicated to countering fake news and basically these platforms have continued to play significant roles in debunking such news that can jeopardise Nigeria’s delicate democratic system. A typical example is FactCheck Elections, an independent, non-partisan and non-profit fact-checking platform with the goal of verifying claims and debunking fake news around electoral activities in Nigeria, using research, data and technological tools. The platform also fact-checks manifestoes, claims made during debates and monitors election results. In most cases, feedbacks are shared via texts, infographics, pictures, videos, animations and social media posts. According to its website, factcheckelections.org, it has set focus on Nigeria’s 2022 gubernatorial off-cycle and the 2023 general elections.

Other organisations like Dubawa, TheCable and other conventional media platforms have mastered the art of using technology to counter fake news, especially during the electoral period. Simple google searches and reverse image searches have proven to work in many scenarios when tracking fake news. For instance, Google reverse image searches are basically the process of searching the internet to identify where certain images had been used, in a bid to locate their original sources.

… there are opportunities availed to us by a lot of technological innovations that can be used to verify and counter fake news, especially in our electoral process. Also, these innovations are available to not just fact-checking platforms but to ordinary Nigerians who are usually the main targets and who are vulnerable to fake news.

Other technologically-driven devices that have helped in fighting fake news include The Factual, Check, Logically, Grover, Full fact, Sensity AI, ClaimBuster, . Snopes.com, FindExif.com, InVID, Hoaxy, Wolfram, amongst others, which are all powerful artificial intelligence devices that can be used to fight and verify false information. They have, time and over again, helped in revealing the truth behind certain controversial issues in Nigeria’s political terrain.

Interestingly, internet and social media are predominant tools used in spreading fake news but are also being used to fact-check the same through searches and the verification of information through the array of online applications used in fighting fake news. As a matter of fact, social media platforms like Facebook are also taking additional strategies to tackle false news, fake accounts and hate speech, and it also held the Election Integrity Exhibition for media, civil society partners and other stakeholders in Nigeria. One of such measures utilised is to ensure that only advertisers and agencies are allowed to promote political contents. This is in a bid to curb the spread of fake news during elections in Nigeria. Thus, news platforms and individuals can verify the claims on official social media pages before publishing and promoting stories around the electoral process.

In a nutshell, there are opportunities availed to us by a lot of technological innovations that can be used to verify and counter fake news, especially in our electoral process. Also, these innovations are available to not just fact-checking platforms but to ordinary Nigerians who are usually the main targets and who are vulnerable to fake news.

Olasupo Abideen is a good governance, youth investment and public policy enthusiast. Abideen serves as the Kwara state coordinator of the NotTooYoungToRun movement and he is the executive director, Brain Builders Youth Development Initiative. Please send comments and feedback to abideenolasupo@gmail.com. He tweets @opegoogle.

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