With Nigeria’s election campaigns in full swing ahead of February’s vote, fact-checkers in the country say they are working together to counter cases of disinformation.
For journalist Opeyemi Kehinde, the first task each day is searching the internet, television programs and social media for any information that may need a second look. If he spots anything dubious, Kehinde posts it to the messaging platform Slack, so that he and other fact-checkers can verify the information.
Kehinde heads FactCheckHub, an Abuja-based organization that is one of eight members of a wider fact-checking initiative known as the Nigerian Fact Checkers Coalition.
Together, they combine resources and expertise to help tackle misinformation ahead of Nigeria’s general election.
The Nigerian Fact Checkers Coalition started four months ago.
“Since the advent of various social media platforms and internet access, a lot of people have access to much more information than a decade or two ago,” Kehinde said. “We felt as this election is coming up soon, there’s need for more advocacy, media literacy, fact-checking of information released by politicians, stakeholders in the elections, as well as the Nigerian populace.”
The Nigerian Fact Checkers Coalition holds weekly meetings and publishes its findings through the members’ respective newsrooms.
In August, the coalition published an open letter urging politicians not to use misinformation and falsehoods, and to ensure that information disseminated during campaigns is accurate and fair.
Last month, the group hosted politicians, security agents, independent electoral bodies and civil society groups at a conference to discuss the impact of falsehoods.
Kehinde said the group is seeing some successes, but is experiencing pushback, too.
“We have some politicians who are now setting up media teams to attack fact-checks that are published by members of the coalition, to provide alternative facts to some of our evidence-based reports, based on their misleading claims,” he said.
Public opinion in the country is often shaped by ethnic and religious backgrounds, especially during elections. And with a population of over 200 million, the ratio of fact-checkers to citizens in Nigeria is very low.
Abuja-based communications expert Pamela Braide said spreading falsehoods can have serious implications.
“Communications and politics go hand in hand, misinformation is part of it. What it does is it increases people’s mistrust, it [damages] relationships of the people, communities, and it often leads to violence before it is verified,” Braide said.
But by combining their efforts, members of the fact-checking coalition can quickly counter false information.
Kemi Busari, coalition member and editor at verification website Dubawa, explained how the coalition sprang into action when it spotted a viral video about a politician.
The fact-checkers found the video had been manipulated in an attempt to mislead voters into thinking the politician supported a member of the opposition party.
“We did the fact-check and we realized that some guys just decided to extract some part of it,” Busari said. “The video was shared in the group and we did the fact-check and all of us published it, and that increased the scale or audience of the fact-check. It’s best we come together. We can co-publish our fact-checks; we can co-author fact-checks.”
Busari said the coalition is just getting started.
“We’re also looking at several partnerships with embassies, Google, and some other organizations. Particularly we’re seeking partnership with organizations who could help with live fact-checking. We want to be engaged in live fact-checking of every [one] of these conversations,” he said.
As election campaigns and rallies gather pace across Nigeria, the fact-check coalition may have a large task ahead.