False or manipulated news isn’t exactly attributed to modern journalism, as it dates back to the early 19th century. As a matter of fact, social media was never responsible for what has now become so prominent in media history.
According to the Center for Information and Technology System (CiTS), fake news has been around right from the inception of the printing press.
Throughout media history, misinformation was and is still being used as a formidable tool.
Often time, it has played a significant role in both classic and modern journalism.
The practice is unavoidably intrusive that it has set the tone for numerous revolutionary movements both positively and negatively.
Nigeria recently found herself in the eyes of the storm with the #EndSARS movement, a protest against police brutality.
However, the campaign was enveloped in a lot of misinformation war.
What is misinformation?
Misinformation, according to Wikipedia, contextually means the spread of false or inaccurate information.
It is also noted that communication can be made regardless of an intention to deceive.
For further clarification, misinformation could be in the form of a prank, false rumours, and unintended insult.
Over the years, misinformation has evolved, and there is what is known to be contemporary misinformation.
Media ethics such as news parody or satire can translate to misinformation if communicated as if it were true.
Unfortunately, the advent of social media has further promoted the antics and widespread misinformation.
Misinformation vs disinformation
Slightly different from misinformation, disinformation is a deliberate attempt to misinform the audience.
It is unlikely to be tagged misinformation, especially when it comes from a source with strong authority.
#EndSARS campaign activists say operatives in the State Security Service have launched a barrage of #disinformation, via anonymised channels, linking protestors to violent attacks and discrediting their claims of abuse by soldiers and police. #Nigeria https://t.co/IO1EB8iugD
— Africa Confidential (@Africa_Conf) November 8, 2020
Regardless, some facts are too legit to be covered up with false stories, and as such, can be spotted with the provision of more facts.
As in the case of the #EndSARS movement, the protesters were mostly responsible for misinformation.
The government, on the other hand, was occasionally responsible for disinformation.
A photo shared on Twitter showing a young man carrying what appears to be a woman covered with a blood-stained Nigerian flag is from a play not from #EndSARS protests.
Read more: https://t.co/369zeDhq2V#africacheck #misinformation #FactsMatter #FactChecker
— Africa Check Nigeria (@AfricaCheck_NG) November 2, 2020
#EndSARS protesters and organizers, online and off-, have used social media to counter misinformation and report what’s been missing from major news outlets, at home and abroad.https://t.co/xbLboWVm3z
— CJR (@CJR) November 3, 2020
A good example is when the Nigerian Army deliberately tagged true stories as fake; a deliberate attempt to discredit the claims of the peaceful protesters.
— Punch Newspapers (@MobilePunch) November 6, 2020
Social media impact on #EndSARS movements
The fight against police brutality has been in existence for at least half-a-decade.
However, the impact has rather been a subtle one with little or sometimes no regard from the Federal Government.
Interestingly, most of the outcry against police brutality takes place online, often on social media platforms.
Twitter, among several others, has played a very significant role in this affair as it leads the majority of the conversation.
Still in doubt? It will also interest you to know that the most recent reaction that led to the actual road protests started online.
Nigerian youths mobilised and hit the roads nationwide to make their grievances known, abandoning social media posts.
Again, this remains the biggest movement against unlawful policing in Nigeria’s history, and it’s thanks to social media.
Did the public agitate the #EndSARS movement for selfish reasons?
Often time, protests of any form are always based on a particular course. However, individuals’ intentions towards that course may vary.
A lot of contrary opinions have been raised during and after the #EndSARS protests.
Some of the prominent ones include the more central idea of reforming the Nigerian police system.
Some people believe that certain persons who indulge in illegal activities such as cybercrime have camouflaged their intentions by joining the protests.
While others believe that it was politically-influenced.
Regardless of whatever opinion, the fight against police brutality is by all means, legitimate and therefore, a just one especially under a democratic dispensation.
Did the Government weaponize fake news?
The fight against police brutality has identified a major loophole in the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.
The Buhari-led administration, after five years in office, has witnessed an increase in police brutality across the country.
Over this period, police brutality has been prominent amongst the dreaded and now-defunct unit of the Nigeria Police Force known – the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
However, before its final disbandment, the unit had been disbanded at least twice in the space of the last five years, only for its men to return with more venom.
#EndSARS protests took a wrong turn after the report of a possible massacre at the Lekki Toll Gate, Lagos State.
The location, one of the hearts of the protests, was attacked by men of the Nigerian Army.
Reports have it that the armed military men were responsible for the deaths and injury of some peaceful protesters at the Toll Gate.
The incident which took place on the night of Tuesday, October 20, led to a series of unsettling events across the nation.
Moreso, the fateful event left a dent in the integrity of the State and Federal government as they both initially attempted to deny the shooting.
While the battle to stay clean was at its peak, it wasn’t impossible that the government would try all means possible to discredit all forms of implicating claims.
Fake Soldier pic.twitter.com/XRk4XqnuBH
— Nigerian Army (@HQNigerianArmy) October 19, 2020
For instance, it took both the Lagos State Government and the Nigeria Army a series of back and forth to admit the presence of military officers at the Lekki protest ground.
Be Aware!!! pic.twitter.com/pby5mHqmX1
— Nigerian Army (@HQNigerianArmy) October 20, 2020
20 – 10 – 2020
Incase where the NIGERIA ARMY HQ denies this act……
We will NEVER forget
— ABLE OKOYE (@Ablesexy) October 21, 2020
Also, far from expectations, the Nigerian government’s response to the event was rather a prejudiced one as it carries no form of empathy for the peaceful protesters.
Ever since, it has been a struggle with the wind to discredit all forms of allegations against the government’s role in the shooting.
At the later end of the #EndSARS protest, a wave of photo-shopped shreds of evidence flooded social media platforms.
You collected money to call this a Photoshop, To say this is fake photos , or to say no one died? May God punish you and turn your life around just the way you did to those in this video . See blood , see pains 😭 1/2 #EndSARS #LekkiGenocide pic.twitter.com/TAOHqdwOcL
— Award Winning Wife (@bimbo_cash) October 22, 2020
— Ọláìtán (@Mayjorh) October 27, 2020
While the action from unknown sources was clearly a deliberate one, it was glaring as daylight that the intent was to mislead and gaslight.
Interestingly, the people involved in the #EndSARS protest managed to differentiate between the actual and the adulterated images.
Conspiracy theories around the #EndSARS movement
With so many activities happening simultaneously during the #EndSARS protest, a lot of rumours were spread like wildfire.
Some notable conspiracy theory that made several rounds online include the following;
- The protest attempted to kick out former Lagos State Governor and renowned politician, Ahmed Bola Tinubu, from holding the “godfatherism” title in the State.
- The #EndSARS movement was a deliberate attempt to weaken the chances of the current ruling party at the federal level against the upcoming presidential election.
- #EndSARS movement was a deliberate attempt to paralyze the country’s security and economic progression
- The protests were attempts to topple the administration of President Buhari.
What Techuncode thinks?
The protests have once again shown the importance of social media as a tool for disseminating information.
However, the chances of pushing out the wrong information are on the increase.
As far as the peaceful protest is concerned, the Nigerian youths, being the frontier in the #EndSARS movement, have spoken loud enough for everyone to hear.
It is of great interest to us that Nigerians now understand the power of unity and to a large extent, its untold potentials.
What the Nigerian government is yet to do is admit to an obvious fault in its security, and fully address the concerned areas with swift actions.
Unfortunately, the protests degenerated into violence across the country.
This has given the government the opportunity for a renewed call on social media regulation in the country as well as a likely but unconstitutional ban of protests.
Similarly, the government failed to bring to justice those that attacked peaceful protesters in Lagos and Abuja.
Leaving governments, both at the state and federal levels, to look the other way.
Instead, there has been an ongoing attack on people believed to have been the arrowheads of the protests.
Misinformation is not a new trend, and its negative effect on the #EndSARS movement cannot be overemphasised.
While it remains a trending debate in society, it may set a wrong tone for the actual change that Nigerians are clamouring for.