This is not the news

Lekan Sote

NEWS is also an acronym for North, East, West and South, the four cardinal points that are crucial to cartographers, town planners, surveyors, ship captains, aircraft pilots, operators of airport control towers and minders of another acronym, Global Positioning System, a satellite-based radionavigation system.

What is common in these days of adversarial politics is that complete fake news is purveyed mostly by paid “communication mercenaries” who play mostly on the social media.

Many of the netizens (natives of social media), especially the influencers, push out outright lies, usually to ‘de-market’ an adversary. It looks as if lying is the raison d’être — or article of faith — of the social media and a purpose to spoil the reputation of others, usually for a fee.

And to wear the garb of authenticity and authority for their falsehoods, the anchors attribute their stories to credible sources. Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka is one of the victims of these purveyors of falsehoods.

They just attribute their lies to him, even as they write with inappropriate registers and poor logic that do not fit the competence and character of Prof Soyinka, who is probably at a loss on how to handle the rascals.

One thing he seems to have done, to have his peace, far from the madding crowd, is not be an active player on social media. He almost has a sing-song of telling whoever cares to listen that he is not active on social media.

Some other prominent Nigerians who have had, or routinely have, such falsehoods attributed to them are former President Olusegun Obasanjo, former Minister of External Affairs, Prof Bolaji Akinyemi, and Mohammed Sanusi II, former Sarkin Kano, who was also Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria.

The media office of Muhammad Sanusi II provided a rebuttal to an online article that more or less described Bola Tinubu, Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi, respective presidential candidates of All Progressives Congress, Peoples Democratic Party and Labour Party, as unfit to be Nigeria’s President.

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The rebuttal states, “Our attention has been drawn to an article circulating the social media space, analysing the motives of the three presidential candidates in the 2023 elections. We would like to emphatically state that this was not authored by His Highness, Khalifa Muhammad Sanusi II, as is being widely attributed.”

To further proof that the former Emir had nothing to do with the falsehood, the rebuttal pointed out that the use of the name, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, showed that the personage now known as Muhammad Sanusi II did not sign the article.

Sometimes, social media fake news stress the positive in an exaggerated manner. To sell Peter Obi, they went into an overdrive, claiming that $20 million Anambra State money invested in lager brewery, SABMiller, is now valued at a princely $100 million. The current Anambra State was compelled to declare this as overstated.

Presidential Candidate, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), was also overmarketed as saintly Mai Gaskiya, and born again democrat, who had the  capacity to overcome Nigeria’s insecurity problems. Alas, the President Buhari that emerged was an Olympian with clay feet!

A report indicates that there are thousands of social media sites that are dedicated to sensational news or plain lies to attract an audience. An axiom says bad news sell fast.

The worst is that credible blue chip companies that produce some of the world’s global brands of Fast Moving Consumer Goods find these sites suitable to advertise their products.

The operators of these social media sites that sell fake news attract and deliver audiences for the marketing communications of these companies; the same way conventional media do.

The Federal Government, led by Buhari, who promised to tamper with press freedom as military Head of State, and did, got exasperated and came up with a regulation against fake news.

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His antimedia tendencies were fuelled by the excesses of the social media. The Yoruba would say that the death of a husband provided perfect excuse for the widow who had always wanted to avoid taking her bath.

His Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Muhammed, who has his own credibility issue, lamented that “About 50 per cent of what we read in the social media is not true. But unfortunately, even when it is not credible, it goes viral and people believe the fake news.

“My greatest problem and worry is with the traditional media which are latching on to the same fake news and disinformation… Within 12 hours of (President Buhari) leaving the country (on a vacation in 2017), news that he had died went viral. Later, it changed to that he was critically ill.”

When fake news claimed that the President was replaced by a double, Jubril, from Sudan, the President cried out, “It’s (the) real me. I will soon celebrate my 76th birthday and I will still be strong.”

To curb the excesses of the social media on fake news, Mohammed said, “We need a social media policy in Nigeria and we need to empower the various ,agencies and we need technology to be able to regulate the social media.”

He got his wish. Between June 5, 2021 and January 13, 2022, the Federal Government banned Twitter microblogging site for deleting a tweet of President Buhari and suspending his official Twitter account.

Twitter took exception to the president’s allusion to the three-year Nigeria-Biafra civil war, when he was talking about the looming insurgency and violence in the South-East geopolitical zone.

The president had said, “Many of those misbehaving today are too young to be aware of the destruction and loss of lives that occurred during the Nigerian civil war. Those of us who went through the war will treat them in the language they understand.”

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Elon Musk, the world’s richest man and probably the next owner of Twitter, has assured patrons who may not like all the content they are exposed to on the site, that they can avoid such content outrightly.

His words, “If your preferences are to see or read anything, then you’ll get that. But if your preferences are… you prefer not to see… comments that you find offensive in one form or another, then you can have that as a setting and not see it.”

As if he was taking a cue from President Buhari and Minister Lai, Segun Odebunmi, Chairman of House of Representatives Committee on Information, National Orientation, Ethics and Values, sponsored two media Bills.

The first, the Broadcast Amendment Bill, which sought to compel social media platforms, like Twitter, to register with Nigeria Broadcast Commission, is not exactly a bad idea.

But the Bill to amend Nigeria Press Council Act recommended a jail term or N250,000 fine for a vendor, who sells a newspaper or magazine that was not registered with the Ministry of Information and Culture. Very absurd.

The antidote to fake news is to employ fact checks, which intentionally seek to verify the veracity of any information, before or after it is published in the public domain.

It’s another way of re-enacting journalism’s timeworn credo of scepticism and deliberately taking a critical second look, otherwise called due diligence, at your information.

Ahead of 2023 general elections Nigerian journalists and their mainstream and social media outlets must return to the old landmarks of the profession.

Twitter: @lekansote1

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