Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, on Wednesday revealed how fake news almost ruined his personal reputation.
His revelation came as Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, warned that a Nigerian may cause World War III through fake news if the menace is not quickly nipped in the bud.
The duo spoke at a conference organised by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Africa on fake news, at Tarnscorp Hotels, Abuja.
The one-day conference, which marked the beginning of ‘BBC’s 50-day election conference plan,’ was tagged “Beyond Fake News.”
The discourse, moderated by Publisher, Today’s Magazine, Adesuwa Oyenekwe, had Nobel Laureate Soyinka, President, Nigerian Guild of Editors, Mrs. Funke Egbemode; Founder of Bella Naija, Uche Pedro; Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, represented by the National Commissioner in charge of Information, Mr. Festus Okoye, and Director, BBC World Service Group, Mr. Jamie Angus, all as panellists.
Speaking at the conference, Osinbajo, who gave the keynote address on the effect of misinformation, provided some insights into how fake news could rubbish one’s hard earned reputation and integrity.
Recalling how he was once reported to have posed with strippers in some pictures, the vice president said: “I took a picture with two perfectly clothed ladies, but underneath the (published) story, the ‘ladies’ were not wearing much,” he said.
“I had in fact taken pictures with these two ladies at an entertainment event when they were ‘perfectly clothed.’ But by the time the story was put out (published), it was as if I had taken photos with them when they were not clothed (near nude).
“The story turned out with a caption as if I took photos with them without much clothes,” he recalled.
He charged all stakeholders to tackle the rising trend of fake news, stressing that there should be a way to hold the media accountable and make peddlers of fake news face its consequences without infringing on the freedom of press.
While underscoring the threat posed by the menace, the vice president charged the media to be more investigative and interrogative before disseminating any information, to avoid unnecessarily heating up the polity.
“It is unfortunate that, as the saying goes, lies get halfway around the world before the truth. If nothing is done, time is coming when nothing will be believed.
“The media should be a bit more interrogative and investigative on issues if the menace of fake news must be curbed,” he said.
Also taking his turn, Professor Soyinka called for concerted efforts to stop the trend, warning that a Nigerian purveyor of fake news may ultimately be the cause of the World War III.
He described the agents of fake news as those “sick in the head”, “cowards” and “lack conviction”.
The literary icon said: “I made a statement before that if we are not careful, World War III will be started by fake news and that fake news will be probably generated by a Nigerian.”
Soyinka, who said he had severally being victim of fake news, recalled how several false statements were wrongly attributed to him.
“You may find a statement that was attributed to you in a kind of language which you will never use. For example, during the last Presidency, statement was attributed to me that I said it serves President Jonathan right for marrying an illiterate woman.
“I never made any comment whatsoever about that lady, and suddenly, here it is staring me in the face,” Soyinka recalled with regret.
The renowned social critic further recalled: “There are other times, a card had been created and that card comes out on the internet and it said Professor Wole Soyinka says anybody who votes for this person, one, must be stupid, two, must be mentally retarded, three, his mother must be a goat, four, his father must be a gorilla. This comes out all the times.”
Also speaking, Professor Yakubu noted that fake news is deliberately disseminated to cause harm, urging all not to pay attention to such because it has no basis other than to achieve negative purposes.
Yakubu, who spoke a National Commissioner, Mr. Festus Okoye, noted that fake news is common during election period, stressing that Nigerians must pay closer attention because people mix both facts and fiction to generate reaction just to win.
Expressing similar view, a former Nigeria Broadcasting Cooperation boss, Malam Danladi Bako, stressed the need for media literacy at all levels to enable citizens differentiate between fake and real news.
He also advocated for laws to punish fake news peddlers to serve as deterrent to others.