According to Lawrence Overmire, “Misinformation destroys trust. When you destroy trust, you destroy the bonds that hold society together.”
A lot has happened in Nigerian and to Nigerians in the past two weeks. What started as a peaceful protest to end the unit of the Police Force, Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), has turned into serious unrest between different sections of Nigerians against each other on one side and the government on the other side.
It started with hired armed thugs disrupting a hitherto peaceful protest. The thugs came in trucks and sometimes in official government cars to protest grounds, they stab, wound and even kill some innocent protesters. This escalated into counter and counter attacks which culminated in the shooting of innocent Nigerians at Lekki tollgate in Lagos, Nigeria. Protesters in Lekki, Lagos held hands, raised the Nigerian flag and sang the National Anthem, and officers of the Armed Forces of Nigeria came and opened fire, killing many, injuring many, and traumatising every well-meaning Nigerian.
While all these are happening, there is a need to spread the fact that Information needs to get to the right people and it has to be accurate information. However, fake news has become rife in recent years and with the advent of a lot of technological tools used in manipulating news evidence. It is said that misinformation is as bad as disinformation.
At first, the Nigerian media were accused of not providing adequate coverage to the EndSars protest and then allegedly resorted to covering it inaccurately. For instance, a media house reported that “hoodlums hijack the EndSars protests”. Rather than clarifying that hoodlums were never part of the protests, but were hired to disrupt the protests, kill and destroy public properties.
Another aspect of the fake news circulating is the ones spread by people, either to garner public sympathy, twist a narrative or just for the public clout. Fake and parody accounts of well meaning Nigerians were created, and the new accounts were used to spread fake information, or unnecessarily ask “online protesters” to send their account details.
The leaders are also not left out. Gruesome live videos of the massacre at the Lekki Tollgate went viral on the evening of 20/10/2020, and the governor of Lagos state, Jide Sanwoolu released a statement saying there were fatalities. According to him, the army didn’t kill anyone, and that the one person who died was an “isolated case”. If there were no video evidence of the killing, the whole Lekki toll gate shooting will still remain a conundrum.
The Nigerian army had initially denied being present at the scene of the shooting at Lekki. Two days after the massacre, the Nigerian Defence Director of Information, Gen. John Eneche said that his analysts had done their job, and that it was clear that the videos of the murders and the deaths were ‘photoshopped’. This is no doubt a slap on the faces of the bereaved families of those who lost their loved ones, and to the fallen heroes who never deserved to die.
Adamu Garba, a public figure and a politician also released a video of himself, talking to his fellow Northerners and asking them to side with Buhari, because he’s their brother. In that video, he incited tribalism against other parts of Nigeria. Not everyone is smart enough to use their initiative to differentiate right and wrong, thus that video is enough to cause further violence and escalate the country’s unrest even more.
Furthermore, on October 14th, pictures from the protests in Enugu showed a girl who sat on the Eagle statue in Okpara Square, with the Nigerian flag in her hands, and tears streaming down her face. Theorists made up stories: SARS had killed her three brothers and dumped them in a well. On October 21st, the girl in the picture said it was all lies. Apparently, she was the victim of police brutality, and would soon share her story.
Some Nigerians probably mean well. They may be so upset with the leadership, that they want to exaggerate matters, or they may think that this is an opportunity for them to gain some relevance, regardless of the means. However, there is a need to filter what we share to the public due to its possible implication. The international public is watching, and posterity needs an accurate representation of what is going on now.
The people who are not on social media, and the elderly who may not be able to follow the trends, may have a hard time differentiating the truth and the lies. This is not the time to sell an individual or an agenda. Assume that you will be probed for everything you share online. Remember that people have died in this struggle, and people have lost their loved ones; let their sacrifice not be in vain.
Chinemerem Onuorah is a Communication Assistant at Yiaga Africa.
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