In today’s fast-paced digital age, we are bombarded with information from all directions. While access to information has never been easier, the downside is the prevalence of misinformation, fake news, and disinformation.
With over 140 million internet subscribers in Nigeria, a vast number when it is compared to its over 200 million population, the proliferation of fake news has led to growing concern about its potential impact in shaping public opinion as well as influencing national issues.
The Trend of Misinformation in Nigeria
Ahead of the 2023 general elections, a BBC investigation revealed that some political parties secretly paid some social media influencers to spread disinformation about their opponents.
The findings revealed that the parties have situation rooms where they strategize, develop plans, and follow up narratives assigned to influencers who share fake news about their opponents.
Social media platforms have become a big arena for the spread of misinformation where users unapologetically share harmful contents which align with their biases.
For instance, a Twitter user, TC Onwe @onwe_tc claimed in a tweet that the Electoral Act empowers INEC to print cards but it does not criminalize individuals printing their cards. However, the claim was found misleading and offensive under sections 117 and 16 of the Electoral Act, 2022 to print a PVC. INEC is the only institution authorized by the law to print PVCs.
In the same development, a viral post on Facebook claims trucks carrying 40 ft long containers loaded with money have been arrested in Lagos enacting the bank from the APC presidential aspirant, Bola Tinubu’s compound.
In 2022, the minister of information, Lai Mohammed lamented how fake news had on different occasions threatened the security in the country.
The minister said fake news and misinformation endanger the peace, security, and development of any nation
The statement suggested that no matter who becomes president, the government will still be controlled by Northern Nigeria. Soyinka clarified that he never made such a statement and attributed it to the unethical behavior of internet trolls.
This is where fact-checking comes in, fact-checking is a process involving investigating a claim and publishing evidence.
But for this effort to curb the spread of misinformation to pay off, fact-checking organizations must look to penetrate the various media platforms people source for news or information, especially with the ubiquitous use of social media.
This is because one of the concerns for fact-checkers has been that while fake news travels at light speed, fact walks at snail-pace.
FactCheckElections conducted a study to gain a better understanding of how people are commonly exposed to misinformation and their perceptions of the effectiveness of radio in combating fake news.
According to the survey, 87% of the participants have encountered fake news on social media platforms.
Also, interviews with individuals who rely on sources other than social media revealed that they still receive misinformation from those who do use social media, but may not have access to fact-checking because most fact-checking organizations use social media platforms to debunk false information.
Juliet Olabode told FactcheckElections that when her children come across certain claims on social media, they share them with her. However, she has never heard them mention fact-checks when the claims are proven to be false. “I listen to radio programs as my source of information as I do not have access to social media platforms. So, I get fake claims from my children but I have never heard them say anything about it being debunked and this can be very traumatic.” She stressed
Misinformation and Mental health
Many adults who spoke with FactCheckElections stressed that having access to misinformation and not the facts could be traumatic and have an impact on their mental health. They emphasized that much of the fake news is depressing.
Also, 50 % of respondents to the survey believed that elderly people are more vulnerable to being exposed to fake news.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation lamented the social, mental, political, and economic impact of misinformation on the readers, saying people feel mental, social, political, al and/or economic distress due to misleading and false health-related content on social media during pandemics, health emergencies, and humanitarian crises.
WHO equally stressed that mental health problems are common among seniors and may include isolation, affective and anxiety disorders, dementia, and psychosis, among others. Many seniors also suffer from sleep and behavioral disorders, cognitive deterioration, and confusion states as a result of physical disorders or surgical interventions.
Thus, there is a need for the spread of fact checks across all boards. Since most verifications are shared on social media platforms, many who do not have access to the internet are deprived of having terrified information and may be subjected to mental health challenges.
Like Olabode, many others who spoke with FactcheckElections stressed that many radio users have no access to fact-checks done by the organization’s fighting misinformation as they share facts-checks on social media platforms.
Radio as a Tool for Fact-Checking
Radio is a popular and accessible source of information for many Nigerians, particularly those living in rural areas where internet access may be limited. In addition, radio is relatively affordable, making it accessible to a wide range of people.
Sources also expressed their confidence in the credibility of information from the radio, adding that it is easily accessible and affordable. They also suggested the need to incorporate fact-checks in radio programs.
Sources who regularly tuned into radio stations said they trust the broadcast medium. Among the sources are elderly people, who mostly listen to radio stations.
Funke Ogunrinde said radio is accessible and cost-effective, hence, her choice of information source.
“I prefer to get information through the radio because it does not cost me anything. It does not require data or a current power supply. So, it is easy for me to pick up and on my radio, tune it to my favorite station at any time of the day.” she said
Those who were interviewed acknowledged that while there may be occasional misinformation on the radio, it is relatively rare because broadcasters are careful about what they share with the public. Unlike social media, where anyone with a phone and internet can spread information without verifying it, radio broadcasters are subject to regulation by monitoring bodies that oversee what is broadcasted.
Mrs. Basirat Yekeen an elderly woman, who resides in Ibadan, in Oyo state commented that she had never heard of misinformation on the radio, although she acknowledged that it may be broadcasted. She said, “I have never heard misinformation on the radio before; I am not saying it’s not being broadcast, but I have not heard it before.”
A 25-year-old resident of the Ipokia local government in Ogun state, Aminat Guzanu, also expressed her preference for radio as a source of information. She believes that social media platforms are flooded with fake news, and hence, she relies on radio shows.
“I have faith in radio shows, especially Faaji FM. If there is something that is becoming popular or widely talked about, I make sure to listen to their updates on the matter as I cannot depend on social media due to the prevalence of misinformation,” she noted
Experts have emphasized the roles Traditional Media can play in combating fake news and misinformation, noting that fact-check programs should be incorporated into radio programs.
Mrs. Zainab Sanni, a multimedia journalist and fact checker at “News Verifier”, highlighted the importance of radio stations in spreading fact checks to local communities, particularly to those who may not have access to social media, saying the use of radio to spread fact checks can guarantee that you can get across to local communities and the vulnerable people who would not go and check a fact check on social media and that is where radio threw social media reach when it comes to the spread of fact-check.
Sanni emphasized the need for radio stations to have fact checkers on standby during their programs, to verify information shared by public officeholders and others.
She also suggested that radio stations should partner with fact-checking organizations to help amplify their efforts in curbing misinformation.
“To encourage the incorporation of fact-checking into radio programs, radio stations should dedicate programs to fact-checking and continuously debunk misinformation.
“Radio stations should have fact checkers on standby during their interviews, to spot-check the information being shared by public officeholders and others. They should strike partnerships with fact-check organizations to ensure they help amplify the fact-checks done by these platforms.
“They should equally have programs dedicated to fact-checking and do continuous proper banking and collaborate with fact-checking organizations and help to spread their effort to curb the menace of misinformation.” She stressed
Despite the challenges faced by radio stations, including funding and limited personnel, Sanni stressed that the employment of fact-checkers and the training of radio managers on the importance of fact-checking could aid the spread of accurate information.
She noted that collaborative meetings or workshops between radio managers and fact-checking platforms could also be held to agree on ways they can work together to amplify fact-checks and combat the spread of misinformation in Nigeria.
However, the broadcast journalist noted that radio stations are challenged with funding which may be a hindrance to incorporating fact-checks in their programs, saying radio stations are funded by advertising and if your program does not have a tendency to raise funds or attract advertisers, your programs director are less likely to be eager to put your programs on radio. So, you see them not seeing the bigger picture with fact-checking or not being ready or willing to incorporate fact-checking in their programs.”
She added that there is time response as a challenge, saying radio programs are usually bound by 30 minutes to the one-hour timeline and the highest you can have is 2 hours. And the time is not enough to do live fact-checking if need be.
“There is also the challenge of the agenda of the radio station. For instance, you want to do a fact-check but those managing the station do not understand its importance. So, you find it difficult to incorporate it.
“There is also a challenge of personnel, there are only very few stations with enough human resources that you need to set up a newsroom not to talk of incorporating act-check segments. Some radio stations have just one general reporter covering all beats and doing all reports.
“How can that kind of person begin to think of fact-checking or do you have a presenter anchoring four or five things at the same time engaging in fact-checking when you are the one to advertise your program to companies, to do your script, and many other things? So this doesn’t allow for proper program planning and also incorporating fact-checking into your programs or the content you are putting together.”
To combat the challenges of these radio stations and aid the spread of fact checks, Sanni said, “Checkers and stakeholders should begin training radio managers so that they can understand the importance of fact-checking in the media ecosystem and they should also set collaborative meetings or workshops like a round table between radio managers and fact hung platforms and a fact checker.
“Have them come together and agree on ways they can collaborate to amplify fact-checks, for radio stations to feel like a part of the process. They should also be trained on how they can raise alternative funding outside advertising on some of their programs. With this, they can raise funding without stress.”
Where it is Working
During the coverage of the 2023 governorship elections in Ogun state, an Ogun-based radio station, Splash FM tells listeners to call in to apprise the anchors of any information from across the polling units in the state that they are skeptical about.
A listener called to verify the claim of violence at a polling unit, and the anchor of the program at the time promptly reached out to the station’s observer at the said polling center. The observer debunked the claim immediately.
Pointing out radio stations that have incorporated fact-checking their programs, Zainab Sanninoted that Agidigbo Fm in Oyo state has a fact-checking segment in its Yoruba show broadcast every Sunday morning.
She said, “Michael Olatunbosun of Splash Fm who was a fellow of Dubawa has done fact-check programs for the station in Ibadan and there are also radio stations in Lagos like Nigeria Info.”
According to the report, a fact-checking program was introduced by a National radio station called 3FM in Ghana in 2020 before their presidential election. The program featured fact-checkers and has reportedly had a significant positive impact.
Caroline Anipah, who is a program officer at Dubawa Ghana, a fact-checking organization, stated that the amount of fact-checking done during the 2020 election cycle has exceeded previous national elections. Anipah explained that in 2016, the Media Foundation for West Africa collaborated with Joy FM to carry out some fact-checking, but this time around, entire shows were dedicated to fact-checking.
Some other radio stations that have incorporated fact-checking in their program include Faaji 106.9 FM with fact check program titled “Oyela”, Citi FM, and All India Radio with a special fact-check program named ‘Pratirodh’.
In conclusion, radio has the potential to combat the spread of misinformation and promote fact-checking in Nigeria. With over 200 radio stations across the country, radio is a popular and accessible source of information for many Nigerians, particularly those living in rural areas where internet access may be limited.
By incorporating fact-checking into their programs and partnering with fact-checking organizations, radio stations can amplify their efforts in curbing misinformation and promoting accurate information.
It is essential to train radio managers on the importance of fact-checking and employ fact-checkers to ensure the spread of accurate information. Through collaborative meetings or workshops, radio managers and fact-checking platforms can work.