How Social Media “Twist” is Making Press Release Mislead Media Reportage


Quadri Yahya 

When the certificate saga of a Nigerian new minister first reached news consumers, the media was supercharged not to miss out the minutest detail as such controversy has become rife among people appointed to public offices. 

The Nigerian involved this time was Minister of Arts, Culture and Creative Economy, Hannatu Musa Musawa. 

Since the news hit the press, there have been statements upon press releases feeding the media with updates from the National Youth Service Corps as well as the minister.

Reporters generate news stories from press statements released by government officials, politicians and companies, but social media twist has adulterated the news source. Sometimes, reporters are tricked into reporting an indecipherable altered press release, thereby end up misinforming the public.

For instance, on August 27, an online publisher shared a news article to over 180 members on a single WhatsApp platform concerning the certificate controversy. The platform, like many others, serves as the forum for journalists, broadcasters, Public Relations professionals, academics as well as news consumers for factual updates.  

A few minutes after the news story was posted on the platform, a fellow journalist tagged the story source (a press release) as “a fake statement’’. But colleagues subtly asked the journalist to prove that the media reportage constituted misinformation. 

But without much ado, the media experts consent to wait for more updates as regards the issue. And it came: the statement was fake. But many online news websites have disseminated the false statement. 

Accuracy has not ceased to feature among the qualities of a good journalist. But occasionally, reporters often relay misleading information due to the influence of social media on information sources. 

At another time, erstwhile Nigeria’s First Lady, Aisha Buhari, unknowingly was deceived into sharing a viral graphic later found to be “fake” to her Instagram audience. Some media outlets reported the story, using the statement on the former first lady’s page, but Aisha quickly blamed hackers for the misinformation stirred by the statement. 

In March, a printed statement purportedly claimed European Unions were seeking the nullification of Nigeria’s election which made Bola Tinubu president. 

FactCheckElections observed this trend and spoke with two experienced journalists on how practitioners can effectively use press releases in this age of social media users tampering with official statements. 

Verifying the exact wording of a claim or statement is important, Bettie Kemah Johnson-Mbayo, a Liberian journalist and fact-checker with Dubawa, said at a session organized by ROUNDCHECK.

“Do your search. Search is credible. Follow-up with searches and not depend on just a source. [Also] don’t always wait for the government (statement)”, Bettie stated. 

A Nigerian journalist with The Punch, Sodiq Ojuroungbe also stressed that confirming a signed statement is important for a journalist, adding that it is going viral on social media does not that it is true.

“If there is a way you can reach out to the source directly. In the minister’s case, one can reach out to the spokesperson of the ministry or media aide to confirm. 

“Also, not just because you see it on social media does not mean you should not still reach out to the agency concerned. 

“Assuming someone had reached out to the minister and she confirmed the statement and later in the day, she is coming out to deny it, it is easy to trace it back to the fact that this person has confirmed it. So confirming from the source is very important. Not just because they have posted a statement and just taken it as a journalist. Even if it’s the social media that posted it, you still need to confirm”. 

Furthermore, Poynter also provides tips for journalists to effectively use press releases.  

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