FILE PHOTO: #EndSARS protesters

By Kayode Olaitan

Unarguably, fake news has resulted in stampeding the uninformed public to unpatriotic and destructive actions, especially as it happens in the protest against the alleged police brutality known as #EndSARS.

On Oct. 3, #EndSARS protest began with a viral message broadcast on social media.

The message suggested that men of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) gunned down a Nigerian youth, snatched his car and ran away with it.

The video spread on social media and the #ENDSARS started to gain prominence as more young people demanded an end to police brutality.

Dimensions to the report began to indicate that SARS officials stopped the young man, pushed him out of his vehicle, shot him and even went away with the vehicle.

With this, young Nigerians started recalling previous experiences and started the agitation on various social media platforms.

Before long, persistent posting of unverified information and fake news resulted in one of the largest youth organised protests in the history of Nigeria that has marked the country negatively.

Observers of the unfolding events from this posting note that it is unfortunate that most people rely more on social media to get information notwithstanding whether or not such information is accurate or fabricated, and in spite of individual’s level of education and exposure

In his view, Mr Bolaji Ayoade, a blogger notes that not all news on social media is accurate and objective.

He expressed concern about the ripple effects of the #EndSARS protest on the economy, security of lives and property, infrastructure and the nation’s image and democracy.

“There exists fake news everywhere, and the trouble is that the protest has been fuelled substantially by fake news believed by the public.

“Fake news or misinformation isn’t helping anybody. It is a deliberate evil engagement to cause mayhem: an unpatriotic attempt to cause deaths, undermine the government and deceive the public.

“Although the #EndSARS protest was planned to be peaceful, along the line, fake news came, feeding the public with false information about people’s perceived dispositions, especially prominent Nigerians.

“What happens next is a direct attack on such accused, their property and family. People and indeed, the public ought to know how not to engage in such protest,” he says.

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After a virtual meeting with Buhari, the former leaders of the country observed that the #EndSARS protest was hijacked and misdirected by various interest groups to change the purpose of peaceful protest.

To engage the youth, the leaders advised the government to create jobs and provide incentives for the public.

Concerned citizens, however, observe that in situations such as #EndSARS protest, fake news and misinformation play fundamental roles in giving unexpected dimensions to events.

Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed believes that disinformation and fake news are capable of destabilising the system, inciting people to violence and weakening the people’s confidence in their government.

With the presence of social media, especially the Facebook news feed and other online media, fake news prevalence has increased.

For instance, in one of the online news platforms, Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr Femi Adesina, recently had to deny a publication alleging that he prevented President Muhammadu Buhari from scrapping the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS).

Such a fake story was deliberately published or sent around to make people believe things or development that are not true, and in most cases, such news are on the negative side.

Concerned Nigerians observe further that fake news is dangerously taking new dimensions with the ease of falsifying online news content, presenting non-existent platforms, photoshopping images and imaginary video footages to achieve dubious aims of causing violence.

They note that the #EndSARS protest has had telling effects on the image of the country, the well-being of Nigerians, security, private and public property.

According to them, the protest has been hijacked and has become a threat to national unity.

Also, Mohammed explains that Nigeria is a country of ethnic and religious diversity that should be a source of strength, if the fault lines are not deliberately being exposed and exploited by those who are bent on setting the people against themselves, using their new-found tools of hate speech, disinformation and fake news.

“This dangerous trend is threatening the very foundation of our national unity.

“It is daily pushing the nation close to the precipice, perhaps more than at any other time since the end of the civil war.

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“What is the way out? We all must say NO to hate speech, either on our radio and television stations, newspapers, the social media, on our phones or in the public space.

“We must be resolute in tackling the cankerworm of hate speech, disinformation and fake news,” the minister warns.

He notes further that although the constitution allows freedom of speech and the present administration believes in it, freedom of speech must not be allowed to become freedom of irresponsibility.

Sharing similar sentiments with the minister, Alhaji Ayodele Jimoh, a critic of fake news, called for understanding among Nigerians of the ongoing #EndSARS protest.

He cautioned against violence among the youth, noting that such act would drag the national development.

He also cited the Rwandan genocide that had a great setback for Rwanda nationals just because of hate speech and fake news.

According to him, Nigerians ought to know that when a demonstration is seen to compromise the peace and integrity of the country, there are suspicious activities of unpatriotic elements promoted by disinformation to destabilise the country.

He said news could be verified by searching for the author, the primary source and the objectivity of the information.

“If the authors look suspicious, fact check the information and wait for some time to read same elsewhere before you share or comment.

“Avoid sharing unverified information, try to go beyond the headlines, ask yourself questions and consider the implications.

“By doing this, we can reduce the prevalence of fake news and prevent violence,” he said.

Further to this, Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed said in a forum that: “Information managers must embark on a relentless campaign against these evil tendencies at our various levels, whether federal or state.

“We must boycott any medium that engages in hate speech, incitement to violence, disinformation and fake news.

“The regulators must also be alive to their responsibilities by promptly sanctioning the purveyors of hate speech, disinformation and fake news”.

Sharing his experience, the minister said: “On Wednesday, April 26, 2017, after the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, I briefed State House Correspondents on what transpired at the meeting.

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“I said, among others, that President Muhammadu Buhari did not preside over the day’s meeting because he decided to work from home that day.

“In reporting my briefing, one of the correspondents quoted me as saying the president would work from home henceforth, rather than on that day only.

“The reporting generated a lot of uproars until I issued a rebuttal. This is a clear case of disinformation – which is defined as false information deliberately spread to deceive the people”.

In view of this, Gov. Babajide Sanwo-Olu said that fake news, which had spread across social media, further caused chaos in the state.

He said several state and private-owned facilities were set on fire across Lagos state on Oct. 10, following the Lekki shooting.

“Many police stations were also burnt by hoodlums and several attacks recorded in different parts of the state causing the death of many.

“Lagos will be stronger. We will rebuild bridges and we will deliver on the good work we started on ending police brutality and providing justice.

“We are working to stabilise things across the state as we look to rebuild. The state team is working with the hospitals and emergency services to verify the details of everyone involved in incidents across the state.

“I understand that tempers are high but we are beginning to get a clearer picture of the things that led us to this point.

“I want to ask us to be circumspect to avoid further losses and triggering other sentiments. Do not encourage thugs through parody and inciteful words.

“We want to find justice and provide compensation for victims to the best of our abilities.

The governor called for calm across the state just as other leaders in the affected states across the country have taken proactive measures to guarantee peace.

NAN