Reading President Buhari’s Easter message reminded one of how FAKE NEWS killed him. And the question: how did they explain that he is alive to send a “resurrection” Easter message.
During his medical vacation in the UK, news of the death of President Muhammadu Buhari came in through various platforms with stubborn persistence. Like a room with a leaking roof during a rainstorm, the floor was always wet no matter how fast the water was scooped out.
There were stories like: “Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has died in a London Hospital where he was receiving medical care, the Nigerian Mission in UK has confirmed. According to the information released by Nigerian Embassy, Buhari left the West African country for a vacation in the U.K in order to undergo medical checks.”
And: “There are strong indications that Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari is dead, according to Metro.co.uk Buhari died in London Hospital where he was receiving medical care, the Nigerian Mission in UK has said.”
As flawed as the reports were, and despite evidence tracing them to Arizona in the US, they kept on winning more believers. The Whatsapp reports which came with pictures were more frightening.
On a daily basis, I had people sending multiple reports to me for confirmation because of my closeness to some people in the Presidential Villa. I kept on faulting the reports and telling people to ignore them. But there was a day my faith was truly shaken by some very suggestive pictures. After a long, careful examination, I waved them off as fake.
Asiwaju Bola Tinubu
Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, the revered political strategist is not a flippant person. When his visit to President Buhari was greeted with doubts in some quarters, he wondered: “How can anybody in his or her right senses be saying there was no such visit? It’s simply crazy! I can’t just get it.”
It is true. Not many people understand what is going on in the murky world of fake news. Fake news is defined exhaustively by Wikipedia as “a type of hoax or deliberate spread of false information, be it via the traditional print or broadcasting news media or via Internet-based social media. To qualify as fake news, a story has to be written and published with the intent to mislead in order to gain financially or politically. As such, intentionally misleading and deceptive fake news is different from obviously satirical or parody articles or papers.”
Well, on March 9, President Buhari returned to Nigeria alive, but there was no apology from anybody for the false reports. Fake News editors and sponsors are described as people, who like prostitutes, have no sense of shame.
Rather than apologise, they resorted to another game – playing Vice President Osinbajo against his boss in the David and Saul scenario. They proclaimed from rooftops that Nigeria under Osinbajo was better off.
But then again, President Buhari’s maturity was deployed. Commending the efforts of Osinbajo, he said, “Youth and intellect is squarely behind him… Age and purely military experience is behind me.”
Last Saturday when President Buhari’s Easter message was published, Fake News practitioners should have been reminded of a debt they owe the President. It would be blasphemous to say during Easter that the President resurrected after they “killed him” in UK, but may be they could do with a story like “How President Buhari was raised from the dead,” or “The man we couldn’t kill.”
Of course, that will never come. President Buhari is not only the victim of fake news, described as a global scourge which has alarmed even the founder of the World Wide Web, WWW, Tim Berners-Lee. He has expressed concern over challenges faced by the web, including fake news.
Countries like France, Germany, Finland, Myanmar and South Africa have complained about fake news. Facebook was a major culprit when in the United States, Donald Trump became a major beneficiary of fake news during the 2016 elections (to the disadvantage of Hillary Clinton). But he is now complaining about fake news. Trust him for his excesses; he calls CNN fake news and media organizations that do not share his views are fake.
Troubling as the problem of the fake news scourge is, there is no easy and clear solution. So long as people can easily get websites to publish news to make money or attack others or both, so strong will the scourge be. That does not condemn all online newspapers. There are some great ones; some very professional ones I visit to confirm breaking news. If they haven’t reported a story that breaks during the day, they have not gone to sleep. They are checking.
Fake news is business
Laurie Penny an author and contributing editor to the New Statesman notes: “Even those of us who create and consume news can forget that fake news is a commodity – a commodity with a business model behind it, subsidised by advertising. Fake news generates clicks because people click on things that they want to believe. Clicks lead to ad revenue.”
In Nigeria, some online publications, mostly the faceless ones, go out to blackmail or get paid by sponsors of stories meant to destroy others.
Why people like fake news
Like in the example of prostitution, the consumer is a major cause of the proliferation. There is a growing appetite for fake news for the following reasons.
Gullibility: Many poorly educated people take what they read in newspapers and online media as gospel truth they are proud to spread. Studies show that online news readers don’t seem to really care about the importance of journalistic sourcing – what people in the academia call “professional gate-keeping.” This attitude, together with the difficulty of discerning online news sources, is at the root of why so many believe fake news.
Loss of humanity: Fake news thrives because in a world that is increasingly losing its humanity, people want false news about others to be true. In the case of President Buhari, there were of course some people who lost out in many ways with his emergence as President, and people who wish to be saved from the ant-corruption war.
Implicit Bias: Psychologists explain that there is the tendency for humans to group people into categories. We are inclined to trust people we consider members of our own group more than those of a different group. The word implicit indicates that it is a bias that influences us without our knowing it.
Confirmation Bias: Experts describe confirmation bias as our tendency to seek out information that confirms what we already think or want to be true; and actually turn a blind eye to facts that contradict our beliefs.
Lack of critical thinking: Forbes’ contributor Jordan Shapiro suggests that the real problem is not falsehoods or inaccuracies, but rather that everything about the popular landscape of digital media currently encourages us to see the world the way we want it to be. But many people lack the right education for critical thinking.
•Sources: Information Literacy, New York Magazine