I wish to begin by expressing my deep gratitude to the conveners of this workshop, Avant-Garde Interbiz Projects, for a timely engagement such as this one. I am honoured by the invitation, and I appreciate the role organizations such as yours play in the relationship between the Government and the Citizenry.
As you might be aware, I am a journalist, and it is a part of me that I remain immensely proud of.
However, in my current position as the Commissioner for Internal Security and Home Affairs, I experience firsthand the challenge and the toll of insecurity, and more importantly the direct role that the spread of misinformation can play in escalating violence and destruction.
As we normally say, information is power. The engine of a democratic society is a factually informed public. On the other side of it, false or misleading information is hugely detrimental.
From the angle of security, we are feeling more and more the intersection of unrestrained media and violent conflict. From January 1st to December 31st 2021, 1,192 people were killed as a result of banditry, communal clashes, violent attacks and reprisals. A significant percentage of these deaths are attributable to the spread of inaccurate or distorted perspectives in the media.
It is therefore vitally pertinent that we thoroughly examine strategies towards safeguarding the sanity of the media space.
THE EVOLUTION OF THE NEWS
Journalism as we know it, is in a state of rapid evolution. With so many digital platforms, we now have a wave of innovative journalistic practices and new forms of communication, with the greatest global reach in history.
This evolution has brought several advantages, but it has also enabled the rise of hoaxes, mischievous publications, and disinformation, popularly generalized as “fake news”. The rise of these factors has greatly impacted the way the society interprets daily events.
As a result, most of our information systems are becoming more and more polarized and contentious. The media space is now more than ever, a hotly contested arena, and there has been an alarming decline in public trust towards traditional journalism.
Digital tools can normally be used to inform people productively and elevate civic discussions. However, some individuals have seized social and digital platforms, and used them to to mislead, deceive and cause harm to others by disseminating disinformation.
Some outlets masquerade as media sites but exist purely to generate reports to deceive the public. These outlets engage in organized and systematic disinformation campaigns which have the capability to disrupt governance in entire countries.
Disinformation can twist election campaigns, affect public perceptions, or shape human emotions. False news stories are a problem all over the world. This is particularly so in a diverse society like Nigeria, and especially Kaduna State. When fake news or disinformation is mixed with religion or ethnicity, the combination can be explosive and lead to instant, far-reaching violence. People have been killed, and lives have been torn apart because of false stories spread through digital media.
CLASSES OF FALSE INFORMATION
Many authoritative resources have now become polluted by online platforms deliberately created propagate low-quality, false information. To briefly create a brief distinction, I will run through the main types, believing that more light will be shed during the various presentations.
Fake News comprises lies or fabricated information which cannot be verified by sources, facts or quotes. These include hoaxes, conspiracy theories, fake websites, clickbait pages posing as legitimate websites.
Fake news now also includes the dangerous phenomenon that is termed deep fake material (photos or videos which have been doctored or edited to look real that keep popping up all over social media). It is crucial to watch out for more and more deep fake material as the political season gains momentum, because it is commonly used for political denigration.
Misinformation takes the form of false or mistaken information, which was not necessarily created to cause harm. By sharing and spreading information that is incorrect you make it more credible. This happens most commonly on our whatsapp groups.
Disinformation is information that was intentionally created to deceive, or to support a certain agenda. It is unmistakably biased information or propaganda, and it is created with the intent to harm.
Disinformation is intentionally shared, with the full knowledge that it is false, while misinformation may be shared with all sincerity of purpose, in the belief that it is true.
The wilful spread of wrong information becomes easier when it triggers strong feelings. Most people who circulate wrong information believe they are doing something which is perfectly alright.
Moreso, people are more susceptible to misinformation which aligns with their existing views. Therefore, misinformation and disinformation are usually designed to generate emotional reactions, most times based on identity markers like religion and ethnicity. With this dangerous tool, issues which should be handled with objectivity are totally obscured by sentiment, creating devastating results.
KEY OBSERVATIONS IN THE KADUNA STATE SITUATION
Critical assessments of the security situation in Kaduna State over the last two years revealed some notable observations, with respect to violent crime and conflict:
• Ethnic and religious narratives continue to be built around banditry and terrorism.
• There exists selective condemnation of attacks by certain individuals and political actors. This appears to be a deliberate attempt to ignore the suffering of some groups while highlighting that of others. This has proven to be a serious drawback to effective conflict resolution.
• There have been calls by certain individuals and groups for citizens to arm themselves, in a dangerous diatribe of self-defence.
• Politicization of insecurity remains widespread.
These factors are all driven on the wheels of misinformation, skewed narratives and fake news. The Kaduna State Government has had to grapple decisively with this phenomenon and has attempted to curb it by issuing regular and periodic security reports to the public.
As the authoritative source of accurate security information, the Government can ensure that it owns the narrative by promoting factual, transparent and sincere security reporting.
STOPPING THE SPREAD: FACT-CHECKING AS A DUTY
The responsibility for fact-checking has obviously transcended the domain of professional journalism. Every citizen, as a potential custodian and conduit of information, now has a duty to fact-check.To start with, we must approach items we view with critical evaluation. Every piece of information was created with a goal in mind. Evaluating information entails doing a backward walk to the intent behind a post.
Every citizen can engage in fact-checking on their level. We may start this by carrying out a deeper web search for accuracy of information. Fact checking means we should actively investigate certain things:
• Authority –
We need to know who created the item, what institution they represent, where their biases are, and if their credentials make them experts on the topic. This is particularly pertinent in matters of security where many commentators pose as security experts and release dangerous opinions on sensitive matters.
• Accuracy –
In many cases, articles or items of disinformation are sloppily and unprofessionally presented. Reliable information is usually painstakingly curated. We should be sure to verify sources of statistics, in order to differentiate opinions from facts.
• Objectivity –
We must be alert to the presence of personal bias or prejudice in reports. We should always ask ourselves if the originator of information is trying to sell something.
• Timeliness –
Sometimes, content which is structurally and factually correct is shared when it is no longer relevant. A practical case is sharing a government statement declaring a curfew, several months after it was originally released. Something old can sometimes be made to look like recent, relevant information.
We should also endeavour to be more familiar with useful online fact checking tools for detection of deep fakes, which I’m sure some of our speakers will examine in greater detail.
Generally, we should always be careful to check that the author of any content that we view, is reliable, unbiased, evidence-based and authoritative.
We must note that reputable institutions dedicate tremendous effort and resources to research, investigation and validation of facts to ensure that information being published is true and legitimate.
Obviously, fake news, disinformation and misinformation have become very problematic variables in democratic systems. The debate now hinges on the balancing act of addressing these issues, without undermining the basic freedoms associated with digital media.
Government, the media, tech companies and consumers alike, must cooperate towards solving the problem. Government on its part should promote news literacy and uphold standards of professionalism for journalists in their societies. Media practitioners should provide first-rate journalism to correct disinformation and narrow the trust deficit.
Tech companies who now control the biggest platforms for the spread of information, should invest in tools that identify deep fakes. Internet platforms like Facebook and Twitter have taken some steps towards curbing the spread of fake news, and they are working on doing more. The financial motivation for disinformation must also be reduced, and online accountability must be upheld.
Educational institutions also have a crucial role to play, by prioritizing news literacy. Ultimately, the consumers should constantly be alert, and ensure that they draw from a diversity of sources. Also, what they read, and watch must be approached with an investigative mindset.
Government counts on citizens to be watchful for malicious misinformation, fake news and inflammatory reports deliberately designed to politicize issues of security.
When we realize that what we share could mean the difference between calm and crisis, peace and pandemonium, life and death, then the point of such painstaking checks is well worth it.
At this critical stage of our national development, the media and indeed all responsible citizens must unite our people with a shared hope and a shared vision. We must minimize bickering and bitterness and seek to build a thriving community, celebrating our diversity as the most compelling reason to come together.
This can be actively achieved by awakening our collective consciousness to the importance of fact-checking and curbing the spread of false information.
Thank you all for listening.
* BEING TEXT OF THE KEYNOTE ADDRESS BY SAMUEL ARUWAN, COMMISSIONER, MINISTRY OF INTERNAL SECURITY AND HOME AFFAIRS, KADUNA STATE, AT THE THREE-DAY WORKSHOP ON MANAGING MISINFORMATION, DISINFORMATION AND DEEP-FAKES THROUGH FACT-CHECKING AND STRATEGIC COMMUNICATION, CONVENED BY AVANT-GARDE INTERBIZ PROJECTS, 27TH APRIL 2022
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