‘Jubrin Replaces Buhari, Atiku is Gay’ were FAKE NEWS—The Economist
The Economist Magazine, a leading world news magazine has reported that it is obvious that some of the news that rented Nigeria’s media space, especially on the social-media during Nigeria’s electioneering period were fake.
The publication specifically noted that the news that President Muhammadu Buhari had died and has been replaced by a Jubrin from Sudan and that the opposition leader, Atiku Abubakar was the choice of gay people for president were also false.
In a report titled: What’s up with WhatsApp? How WhatsApp is used and misused in Africa
The continent’s most popular messaging platform and published on the July 20-26th 2019 edition, The Economist said those messages were manufactured by opposition political blocks to malign each other.
“The aim is for a meme to go viral. That way an ally of a political boss will notice and perhaps slip the creator a bonus, a job or a contract. Popular fake stories include one in which Mr Abubakar had been “endorsed” by the Association of Nigerian Gay Men, a fictional entity. Some of the most popular play on existing beliefs. The hilarious idea that Mr Buhari had died and been replaced by a Sudanese man named Jubril seemed credible for many reasons. The president is old and sickly, and one of his predecessors died in office”, said the report.
The Economist noted that most Africans use of WhatsApp reflects its political culture as well.
“Nigerian elections may not be clean, but they are competitive, points out Matthew Page of Chatham House, a think-tank. “Big man” politicians try to win through patronage rather than policy. Both of the two main presidential candidates, Mr Buhari, the eventual victor, and Atiku Abubakar, had large social-media teams. They had dedicated WhatsApp groups for supporters in every one of Nigeria’s 36 states and 774 municipalities”.
The report: “WHEN I OPEN my phone, I am swamped by news,” says Matthew Stanley, a driver in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital. He scrolls through WhatsApp, a messaging service, bringing up a slick video forwarded into his church group. In a tone befitting a trailer for a horror film, the narrator falsely claims that Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s Muslim president, is plotting to kill Christians. Mr Stanley squints at the tiny screen. “I think it’s fake news,” he says. “I need to check the source.”
If only everyone were so sceptical. WhatsApp, which has 1.5bn users globally, is especially influential in Africa. It is the most popular social platform in countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and South Africa. In the West it is common for people to use multiple platforms such as Facebook and Twitter (see Graphic detail) but in African countries, where money is tighter and internet connections patchy, WhatsApp is an efficient one-stop-shop. The ability to leave audio notes makes it popular among illiterate people. But WhatsApp’s ubiquity also makes it a political tool.
That much is clear from Nigerian presidential and state elections in February and March. As recent research by Nic Cheeseman, Jamie Hitchen, Jonathan Fisher and Idayat Hassan indicates, Nigerians’ use of WhatsApp both reflects and exploits the country’s social structures.
For example, Nigerians belong to much larger WhatsApp groups than Westerners do. A survey by Mr Hitchen and Ms Hassan in Kano, a northern city, found that locals are typically in groups ofat least 50 people. These may be made up of school acquaintances, work colleagues or fellow worshippers. The larger the group, the more quickly information can spread. And since these groups often comprise friends and community leaders, recipients are inclined to trust what they read.
Nigeria’s use of WhatsApp reflects its political culture as well. Nigerian elections may not be clean, but they are competitive, points out Matthew Page of Chatham House, a think-tank. “Big man” politicians try to win through patronage rather than policy. Both of the two main presidential candidates, Mr Buhari, the eventual victor, and Atiku Abubakar, had large social-media teams. They had dedicated WhatsApp groups for supporters in every one of Nigeria’s 36 states and 774 municipalities.
The parties deny that they spread lies. But they need not do so themselves. Being close to a politician is often the surest way to a steady income in Nigeria. That has led to a cottage industry of social-media entrepreneurs seeking to please. These “propaganda secretaries”, as they are known, produce videos, tendentiously caption photographs and disseminate memes for ad hoc payments of up to $84 per month.
The aim is for a meme to go viral. That way an ally of a political boss will notice and perhaps slip the creator a bonus, a job or a contract. Popular fake stories include one in which Mr Abubakar had been “endorsed” by the Association of Nigerian Gay Men, a fictional entity. Some of the most popular play on existing beliefs. The hilarious idea that Mr Buhari had died and been replaced by a Sudanese man named Jubril seemed credible for many reasons. The president is old and sickly, and one of his predecessors died in office.
Do the fibs get through? Researchers find it hard enough to know how many people see fake news, let alone how many believe it. What is certain, though, is that the truth takes longer to get its boots on. During the elections the Centre for Democracy and Development, a think-tank run by Ms Hassan, employed five fact-checkers who tried to refute dodgy stories. But they were soon overwhelmed by the volume of misinformation. “I don’t think fact-checking makes any difference,” she sighs.
Nigeria is not the only place where WhatsApp is influencing political culture. Mr Hitchen notes that during elections in Sierra Leone in 2018, stories spread by an urban minority on WhatsApp would find their way onto popular radio talk shows. In Kenyan elections in 2017 “keyboard warriors” used the platform to collect the phone numbers of group members and allegedly sell them to political parties.
Such chicanery has been found elsewhere in the world. In Brazil supporters of Jair Bolsonaro used WhatsApp to deliver “an onslaught of daily misinformation”, says Luca Belli, a law professor at Fundação Getulio Vargas, a university in Rio de Janeiro. Partly in response WhatsApp, which was bought by Facebook in 2014, limited to five the number of times a user could forward a message. Previous concerns over its misuse in India prompted WhatsApp to label messages as having been forwarded.
These changes will only have limited effect. “You can make it harder to share misinformation,” says Mr Cheeseman. “But that just means that it takes longer to share—it doesn’t make it impossible.” As long as WhatsApp allows the sharing of information in groups, it will be used to share lies as well as truths. The only resilient defence is savvier, more sceptical users.
There are some efforts to use WhatsApp to encourage those. Several were set up ahead of the elections in South Africa on May 8th. One was “What’s Crap on WhatsApp”, an initiative by Africa Check, an NGO with offices in four African countries. It invited South Africans to forward them potential cases of misinformation, which it tried to debunk through one of its WhatsApp channels.
Another is the creation of Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh, a 30-year-old activist and writer. Eager to produce a political show for young people, he first considered YouTube and radio, but instead launched one via WhatsApp. Mr Mpofu-Walsh uses WhatsApp for Business, the platform’s commercial arm, which makes it possible to broadcast to more than the 256-person limit in an ordinary group. It is a format that has proved successful in China (via an app called WeChat) but is rare in Africa (or anywhere, really). He produces five shows every week. They have about 10,000 viewers, not far off what a cable news show gets in South Africa. “There is an intimacy to WhatsApp that makes people ready to listen to a message,” says Mr Mpofu-Walsh. That is why the platform is popular. But it is also what can make it dangerous.