The recent BBC investigation revealing that politicians are behind some online misinformation campaigns ahead of the country’s 2023 election is a clog in the wheel of the progress being made by fact-checkers and media moguls who are pumping financial resources and deploying all their arsenals into the media industry to foster media literacy, to ensure transparent democracy and healthy media content in Nigeria.
The investigation also revealed that the dirty trick does not come free. Politicians pay millions to influencers to disseminate misinformation just to mar the image of opponents: a strategy to convince the masses that the opponent is a villain that should not be associated with nor voted for.
The BBC’s Global Disinformation Team spoke to whistle-blowers working for two of Nigeria’s political parties, and prominent influencers who have described it as “an industry”. The whistle-blowers given the pseudonyms; Yemi and Godiya and working for two political parties said they are compensated with cash, lavish gifts, government contracts, and even political appointments for their work.
According to the report, Godiya noted that her party has paid an influencer “up to N20 million naira ($45,000) for delivering a result”.
“We’ve also given people gifts. Other people prefer to hear: “What do you want to do in government, be a board member, be a special assistant?” Godiya said.
She stressed further that political parties tell influencers to elicit as much emotion as they can with their paid posts.
“We use images that may not even be relevant to the story we are trying to spin. We can take pictures from East Africa in the 1990s in war zones and attach them to a tweet about how my ethnic group is being killed. When people get emotional, they retweet, they like, and it gets traction.” She added further.
The report stated that political parties have situation rooms where they strategize, develop plans and monitor their campaigns’ success as well as follow up on the success of the false narratives assigned to influencers.
Strategist Yemi noted that parties develop fake stories to develop their candidates’ chances during the election.
Yemi said, “You can deliberately misinform.”
The whistle-blowers said the hired influencers are sometimes given tweets to publish, and other times, an idea that they should frame in their own words.
They said influencers are paid based on the number of followers they have and mostly in cash to avoid a paper trail.
The whistle-blowers also said in situation rooms where political parties strategize and monitor their campaigns’ success, the performance of false narratives assigned to influencers is also monitored.
The report said one influencer with almost 150,000 Facebook followers, who asked not to be named, said he is paid by political parties to post completely false stories about political opponents.
The influencer, however, said he does not do it openly, but rather, hires micro-influencers to plant false stories.
FactCheckElections also spoke to avid social media users who disclosed that political parties have a chain of WhatsApp loops where they share false information to be circulated daily.
One of the sources, who pledged anonymity said, “I belong to about four WhatsApp groups of different political parties where daily they share false news that must be circulated. They even monitor the processes and people’s reactions.
“This is where their influencers pick the false stories up and share them on every social media platform and then give feedback at the end of the day. These people are going to any length to jeopardize the coming election with false information to the public. It amazes me to see the efforts put up to manipulate voters against their opponents.”
FactCheckElections have also debunked online misinformation.
For instance, we debunked a claim that the Lagos State Signage and Advertisement Agency (LASAA) issued a directive to restrict other political parties in the State from placing campaign billboards, except for the ruling All Progressives Congress.
In another instance, a Twitter user claims Peter Obi, the presidential candidate of the Labour Party (LP), has endorsed Atiku Abubakar, his counterpart in the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
We also verify a misleading claim by the Presidential Candidate of the African Action Congress (AAC), Omoyele Sowore, saying that Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, the Presidential Candidate of the ruling All Progressive Congress slept through the second accord meeting and didn’t utter a word.
Furthermore, to minimize the influx of false information designed by political parties, FactCheck Elections, in one of its continuous trainings on fact-checking, sensitized students, journalists, and civil society organisations on how to identify and debunk false information before, during, and after the election.