As the 2023 general elections draw nearer, it is unsurprising to see social media flooded with all kinds of misinformation and disinformation geared towards propagating personal or group interests.
Recently, videos, pictures and social media posts, some of which are fake while others are unconfirmed, have taken over different social media platforms.
Daily Trust observes that the trend now has taken a new dimension as political actors, while leveraging technology, create parody accounts of politicians and prominent leaders, especially on Twitter, to propagate their agenda and influence the voting pattern of the electorate.
What is misinformation, disinformation?
In the simplest term, misinformation is false information that is spread, regardless of whether there is an intent to mislead people. Misinformation sometimes can also be categorised as false information spread in ignorance because the spreader of such information is not aware that it is fake or inaccurate.
Disinformation, on the other hand, is mostly false or incorrect information (either, written, recorded, or visual) that is packaged deliberately to deceive people.
The fundamental difference between misinformation and disinformation is that disinformation is the fact, while the other is a deliberate attempt to mislead and deceive people, and usually spread in ignorance.
However, both misinformation and disinformation have the tendency to cause panic and influence people’s perceptions wrongly.
Parody accounts: The new trend
There is now a new social media trend where parody (fake) accounts are opened in the names of political bigwigs or other prominent Nigerians with the aim of deceiving people.
Daily Trust observes that the trend is most common on Twitter.
For instance, in the last one month, two parody accounts have been opened in the names of a prominent Yoruba leader, Pa Ayo Adebanjo, and the vice presidential candidate of Labour Party (LP), Dr. Yusuf Datti Ahmed.
A visit to the Twitter parody account of the 94-year-old elder statesman, @PaAdebanjo, showed that the account was opened in March 2021 with 8,843 followers (as of the time of this report).
Information on the account reads: “Elder Statesman, a Patriot, Nationalist and Afenifere Leader. The official Twitter handle of the Yoruba leader. (Parody)”
Further checks showed that on that same account, a tweet was made on July 13, 2022 suggesting that the said Pa Adebanjo had endorsed the LP presidential candidate, Mr. Peter Obi, over the All Progressives Congress’ presidential candidate, Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu.
The tweet reads: “I will rather support Obi than to support Bola, I have lost my confidence in him, and because we have overtime clamour(sic) for equity, fairness and justice, I think it is the time for the south east to rule, Peter Obi has my support”
However, Afenifere, in a statement signed by its National Publicity Secretary, Comrade Jare Ajayi, said the Twitter account, which some electronic and online media quoted from, that Chief Adebanjo said he is supporting Peter Obi instead of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, is not from him.
The statement said the Twitter account did not belong to any of its leaders, least of all, Pa Adebanjo.
“It is hereby being clearly stated that Chief Adebanjo has no social media account of any sort, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook etc. Whenever he has anything to say to the public, he does so directly by addressing the press, through an interview or a press statement.
“He also addresses the public through the secretary general or the national publicity secretary of Afenifere,” Mr Ajayi added.
The same scenario is currently playing out with Dr Datti as a parody account was created recently in his name.
Checks by Daily Trust showed that the parody account @DatiSen was opened in July 2022 with 19 followers as at the time of this report.
Daily Trust also reports that in a swift reaction, the LP vice presidential candidate has disowned the fake social media account.
Speaking at a press conference in Abuja on Monday, he said the fake handles opened on several social media platforms were spreading information purportedly from him, adding that he had lodged complaints with the relevant authorities.
He said: “Impostors had right from the inception of the various social media platforms opened accounts in my name without my knowledge or approval. I wrote several complaints accordingly, which were never attended to satisfactorily.
“Complaints about the fake accounts have been duly lodged and registered with the relevant host platforms, while I wait and continue to suffer the consequences of mischievous and evil postings done by others falsely in my name,” he said.
In the same vein, barely 48 hours after the closure of the continuous voter registration, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has disowned a website that claims that the federal government has approved “individual voter card registration” to “avoid crowd at the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) centres.”
INEC said the website is not linked to it, adding that the portal is “spurious and from a dubious source.”
Okoye added that only INEC is constitutionally mandated to conduct registration of qualified persons to vote in the country.
“The attention of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has been drawn to an online site urging Nigerians to enroll for ‘voter card (PVC)’ registration, claiming that the federal government has approved individual voter card (PVC) registration online to avoid unnecessary crowd in the ‘NIMC’ centres,” the statement reads.
“The commission states unequivocally that the site is not linked to the commission and the link/portal is spurious and from a dubious source.
“The Independent National Electoral Commission is the only body constitutionally and legally mandated to conduct the registration of persons qualified to vote in any election in Nigeria and to update and revise the register when the need arises.”
Training, capacity building needed to tackle misinformation – Expert
The head of the Fact Check hub at the International Center for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), Opeyemi Kehinde, said, “It is important for newsrooms to promote the capacity of journalists to fact check misinformation.
“Today in Nigeria, very few newsrooms do fact check. As the 2023 general elections approach, there is need for more training of journalists,” he said
This Explainer is produced in partnership with the Centre for Democracy and Development.