Aidoghie Paulinus, Abuja
The Federal Government, on Wednesday, in Abuja, launched a national campaign against fake news in the country.
The government said the essence of the campaign was to sensitize all Nigerians to the dangers posed to the peace and security, and the corporate existence of Nigeria by the phenomenon.
Speaking during the launch in Abuja, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said there was an epidemic sweeping the world, saying that if left unchecked, it could be worse than all the plagues that the world has recorded put together.
Mohammed added that the development was a clear and present danger to global peace and security, even as he said it is a threat to democracy.
“It is the epidemic of Fake News. Mixed with hate speech, it is a disaster waiting to happen.
“For the media, the epidemic is even worse. This is because fake news, in most cases designed to misinform, undermines confidence in the media. And once the people lose confidence in the media, the society is in trouble,” Mohammed said.
Speaking further, Mohammed made reference to the free online encyclopaedia which defined fake news as ‘a type of yellow journalism or propaganda that consists of deliberate misinformation or hoaxes spread via traditional print and broadcast news media or online social media.
“This false information is mainly distributed by social media, but is periodically circulated through mainstream media.
“Let’s be straight. Fakes news is not new. It is said to be as old as the printing press. What has made it an issue of concern is the means and speed at which it is now spread around the world, and that means is the social media. Anyone with a phone and internet access can author and make fake news go viral in minutes.
With the number of mobile phone users in the world expected to pass the five billion mark by 2019, you can see the kind of crisis we face,” Mohammed added.
On the impact of fake news, Mohammed said the global epidemic of Fake News is already having far-reaching repercussions across the world.
He added that a recent study by researchers at the Ohio State University in the United States concluded that Russian interference and the fake news it promoted probably played a significant role in depressing Hilary Clinton’s support on election day during the 2016 United States presidential election.
In India, Mohammed said about a dozen people have been killed in the past six weeks just because of fake news or hoax messages.
The victims, he said, were lynched after they were falsely accused of child abduction based on fake messages circulated via the social media platform, WhatsApp.
“Right here in Nigeria, the situation is not better. And it is not restricted to the social media. Last Thursday, the front page headline of a national newspaper was: Court orders National Assembly to begin impeachment of Buhari. The problem with that news item is that it is fake news.
“According to the certified true copy of the order, the Presiding Judge of the Federal High Court in Osogbo ordered and I quote: ”The applicants are hereby granted leave to issue and bring an application for the order of mandamus to compel 1st to 3rd respondents to start impeachment proceedings against the 4th respondent, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
“This was manipulated to read that the court has given the go-ahead for the National Assembly to commence impeachment proceedings against the President. Fake news!
“Today (yesterday) Wednesday, July 11th 2018, the Vanguard newspaper reported that an INEC investigation has revealed that pictorial depictions of childhood voters during the February 10, 2018, local government elections in Kano State represented a ”clear manipulation of images to create a fake story.”
“Of course, you are all aware of a recent report by the BBC, that fake news circulating in the social media is fuelling the farmers-herders crises in Nigeria. Gory pictures from other lands are circulated freely via Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter, purportedly being from the killings in Jos or Benue.
“In 2017, a fake report circulated on the social media claimed that five students of the College of Education, Gidan Waya, were ambushed and killed by Fulani herdsmen in southern Kaduna. That report turned out to be false. No student was killed. I can go on and on,” Mohammed said about fake news.
Mohammed also said in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country like Nigeria, fake news was a time bomb, adding that in recent weeks, many anarchists have been doing everything possible to detonate the bomb.
“But for the prudence and vigilance of Nigerians, they – the religious and ethnic bigots among us -would have set the nation on fire, especially over the farmers-herders clashes, as well as communal clashes,” Mohammed declared.