Fact checking social media in Nigeria

Why watchdogs are wary of online misinformation in the run-up to 2019 elections.

You can’t always trust your source.

In a time where civic discourse is fuelled by political propaganda and selfish interests, verifying your data is just as important as finding it. If not more important.

In Nigeria, there’s already concern that “fake news” and online misinformation will be used as tools to sway the upcoming elections in 2019. By that time, it’s estimated that around half of the population will have access to the internet (one in ten already uses Facebook), and we’ve already seen false information go viral often enough to suspect that some of its source is deliberate.

To help journalists in the capital prepare and understand the implications of fake news, Hacks/Hackers Abuja (#HHABJ) organised a themed event to address the matter and explore ways to tackle the use of social media and online journalism to spread viral false information.

The keynote for the event was a very interactive talk by AfricaCheck’s Nigeria Editor, David Ajikobi, who talked participants through why facts matter. During the course of Ajikobi’s talk, attendees were guided through the importance of facts in their work and how to differentiate between fact and opinion; fabrication and reality; a hoax and an alternative fact.

David Ajikobi shares insights from AfricaCheck’s work in Nigeria.

Ajikobi shared a personal experience where he came face to face with the reality that we are all complicit in the distribution of “fake news” when his father sent an alarming photograph via WhatsApp titled “Trailer loads of ammunitions taken over by police force at Nnewi, Time to watch & pray”, followed by the picture below:

The image was shared during a period of unrest in the south-eastern states in early 2017. The message alleged that the cache depicted belonged to the Independent Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), a separatist movement of the Igbo community, and that they were taking up arms against the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Investigation revealed that the photograph not been taken in Nnewi, Anambra State where the stockpiling of ammunitions had been alleged: it had been taken on 15 July, 2008 in Rancho Cucamonga, California, when the police unloaded 12,153 illegal guns and other weapons confiscated from criminals which were scheduled to be melted into steel bars for construction.

From that one very real and relatable story, we came to understand how easy it was for one to spread misinformation, and how it could be used for political gain.

Ajikobi worked through AfricaCheck’s processes for Using Data like a Fact Checker.

  1. Verifying the source of the data by asking questions such as where the data or information come from;
  2. Method by which the data was gathered with; the date of the data in question and by asking how old data or information was; and
  3. Credibility — have those responsible for the data been transparent in their depiction of the data?

In addition to sharing the simple steps used to fact check a politician’s claim such as discerning whether the claim is fact or opinion and even going so far as to asking for evidence of the claim.

Tools for fact checking

The conversation was rounded up with Ajokobi detailing resources anyone, even the technologically challenged, could use to spot fake news and hoaxes. These resources included Google Reverse Image Search and Video Vault for picture and video verification, respectively. He also singled out the search engine Wolfram Alpha as an excellent resource for fact checking details in social media posts.

Next, Blaise Aboh — an Innovation fellow and the founding partner of Orodata Science Nigeria and StoryLab Academy Trainer for Code for Africa — took participants through a series of practical applications of data visualisation through infographics. Aboh highlighted practical examples of his work, as well the important resources needed to create infographics despite limited design or technical knowledge of the web.

The learning session was rounded up with feedback from participants using the #HHABJ Quadrant. Community members also had the opportunity to share details of their ongoing projects or future projects. The beauty of a community like #HHABJ is that it fosters collaboration where participants able to link up with resources within the community to support their various projects.

Eventually the group had a warm celebration of the launch and success of #HHABJ in 2017 thanks to the participants for all their work and contribution towards growing the community!

Obligatory #HHABJ selfie time.

About the Authors

Andie is a Mandela Washington Fellow passionate about development in her country Nigeria. She’s social! — you can connect with her on Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Udoka is a volunteer member and writer for the #HHABJ community. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.

The worlds of hackers and journalists are coming together, as reporting goes digital and Internet companies become media empires.

Journalists call themselves “hacks”, someone who can churn out words in any situation. Hackers use the digital equivalent of duct tape to whip out code.

Hacker-journalists try and bridge the two worlds. Hacks/Hackers Africa aims to bring all these people together — those who are working to help people make sense of our world. It’s for hackers exploring technologies to filter and visualize information, and for journalists who use technology to find and tell stories. In the age of information overload and collapse of traditional business models for legacy media, their work has become even more crucial.

Code for Africa, the continent’s largest #OpenData and civic technology initiative, recognizes this and is spearheading the establishment of a network of HacksHackers chapters across Africa to help bring together pioneers for collaborative projects and new ventures.

Follow Hacks/Hackers Africa on Twitter and Facebook and join the Hacks/Hackers community group today.