More Fake News Here.

By Bunmi Makinwa

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Can one avoid fake news? It is highly unlikely.

Anyone who uses social media, also called social networking services, will receive fake news. The more frequently one uses social media, the more fake news one receives. The challenge is to identify and ultimately avoid spreading fake news as the personal and social impact can be damaging. In fact, it may also have legal implications.

The growth of technology, media technology in particular, in combination with the ease of creating one’s information through cheap mobile telephony, has democratised “news” both for good and bad uses.

An active user of social media receives information many times each day from friends, families, casual acquaintances, and unknown people. It has become easier than ever to generate and spread information. It can be about anything. In several formats, including text, video, photo and voice, anyone can use just a smart telephone to express views, ideas, wishes and news that can reach numerous people across the world in rapid time.

Such shared information may be fake news which contains misinformation and inaccuracies. The information may be designed purposefully to deceive or mislead the receiver. Or it may be used to inform, or promote a viewpoint, sale, generate interest in an issue, or perhaps to entertain. Most people re-post information quickly and hardly spend time to verify its authenticity.

Fake news varies in appearances and implications. As Nigeria’s 2019 elections for president, governors and other offices draw nearer, fake news will increase in frequency and sophistication.

The relevance of newspapers, radio and television notwithstanding, social network services are very effective means of communication. Their impact on political discourse and communication is significant in Nigeria.

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(image via pulse.ng)

According to available statistics, Nigeria’s active users of social media increased from only 52 million in 2013 to about 90 million users in 2017. With a huge population of young people, the country will most likely surpass its hitherto growth rate of about three percent for active users. Especially if the costs of mobile telephony decreases and the economy picks up in the near future, more young people will use the Internet with social media as primary means of communication. The mobile telephony subscription in the country rose from 1.6 million in 2002, to 87.4 million in 2010, and it is now at about 154 million.

Some fake news can be sighted from a mile off. Especially by astute communication and media professionals. A casual observation will show if the name of the purported media organization is wrongly portrayed, or if there are wrong spellings, unusual language or style of presentation. In some cases the hyperlink used as source of the news or information does not exist. Or the statements made are simply doubtful.

Yet, fake news can be cleverly done. It is possible to use modern innovations to modify photos, voices, images and scenes, and combine them to look credible. In such cases, it is difficult to spot the manipulations. More advanced analysis or technology is required.

Recently, Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka spoke of a fake website that had his identity all over it. He succeeded to trace the originator but the person has not taken the website down.

Many wealthy people, celebrities, well-known persons, leading brands and organisations have fake information about them and attributed to them on the social media. Facebook, Twitters, websites and blogs, WhatsApp and Instagram are popular in Nigeria, and they contain a lot of fake news despite deliberate efforts by the platforms to identify and eliminate fake news and their creators.

Whilst there is general agreement that fake news should be discouraged and stopped, there is little common position on how it can be done. Current libel laws may be already adequate. Others ask for special policies and laws to counter fake news, whilst some countries place special taxes on use of social media. There have been several instances where national authorities closed down access to the Internet.

Just as one does in daily lives, one must apply common sense to determine what is fair, right or wrong. There are no better ways than to question claims and appearances.

For ease of doing things, you may want to consider the following ten points for social media messaging (text, voice, video, cartoon, photo and other materials). I call them my intuitive 10 laws of social media scams. They are particularly relevant in Nigeria as the political space heats up with ongoing campaigns.

  1. All freebies on social media are scam. If the freebies are actually free, everyone and too many people have already taken whatever was available before I get to know.
  2. If it sounds like fantastic news, a truly phenomenal happening, I hesitate. If it sounds untrue, it most probably is untrue.
  3. Who said it? The same liar. He/she lied about things in the past. Forget it.
  4. Oh, this story is credited to a well-known person, a public figure etc. If it is really true then I should find it on websites of the relevant major media, including newspapers, radio and TV. Is it there?
  5. This does not sound like the same person I knew as a public figure. He or she would never do it, or say such a thing.
  6. Does this quoted person have the qualification or experience to speak with authority on the issue? Can I find his background information or depth of knowledge through a regular Internet search?
  7. Alright, this item quotes a reputable major news organization. Let us check it on the website or in the information area of the news media.
  8. The fact that it is written does not make it true. Anybody can write anything about anybody at any place at any time for any reasons. Where else can I check the truth of it? Who should know?
  9. Allegations of corruption and abuse of office stated about every top politician is likely to be true. But proof is hard to come by. Choose which ones to accept and act upon. Avoid the ones that may lead to a libel case.
  10. Buhari does not hate Atiku. And Atiku does not hate Buhari. They are friends, and will remain friends after the elections. Please, do not send me these hate stories.

Bunmi Makinwa is the Chief Executive Officer of AUNIQUEI Communication for Leadership.

An Exchange with Honourable Gbajabiamila

By Bunmi Makinwa

Introduction: For those who may have missed the story. Pictures and videos of Honourable Olufemi Gbajabiamila, Majority Leader of the House of Representativesand his wife, have been circulating frequently in the social media for days. He wore a fancy suit, allegedly of Gucci brand, worth 1.2 million Naira ($3,300). His wife whose 50th birthday was being celebrated, wore an equally very fancy dress. The wife received her husband’s gift of a brand new Mercedes Benz G–Wagon jeep, allegedly bought for 75 million Naira ($208,333).

The pictures and videos have drawn a lot of attention, mostly negative. Mr. Gbajabiamila felt that it was unfair criticism. Reportedly, he wrote on the WhatsApp platform of his “class of 84” and listed from 1 to 15 items of his side of the issues. Below is a verbatim (unedited) text of his explanation, along with my response to each of them as a possible exchange between himself and this writer.

 

Femi Gbajabiamila and his wife Yemisi dressed in Gucci

The Exchange

Gbajabiamila: My dear “friends” I thank you for all your comments. I ordinarily was going to keep a dignified silence on this whole sordid matter and indeed I have. This is the first comment I am making in all of this. I honestly thought this was a platform of classmates and of lawyers. I thought the legal training was that there were 2 sides to every story and maybe sometimes even a 3rd. Many have said you’re only saying the truth but I don’t know how one gets to the truth by hearing only one side and not giving the benefit of doubt but passing a hurried judgment. I would have expected those who seek the truth to reach out even if privately like Frank did. 3 of our classmates were at this very small private gathering of family and friends namely Candido Johnson Mike Igbokwe and Folabi Martins. Now What are the issues?

Myself: Dear Hon. Gbajabiamila. I am an outsider, neither in your class of ’84 on which platform it was said that you had posted your message. Nor of the House of Representatives of which you are a Majority Leader. We are linked because I am a Nigerian who resides in Lagos, where your primary constituency is located. I had huge admiration for your party (APC). Now only a little hope is left. Above all, I am concerned that you are a political leader, my leader. I cannot keep quiet. Your classmates are Nigerians and you occupy a public position. They also could not keep quiet about your actions.

1. My wife of 26 years who I love to death turned 50 and I decided to do something special for her. Her 50th did not happen unexpectedly. I knew a couple of years God sparing her life she would turn 50 and I prepared for it. This is a woman who has been with me through thick and thin and stood as a pillar of support and who at one time was the breadwinner. Hell I may even have saved up for it or sold an old car to make up the numbers you guys do not know. I believe the cost of a vehicle pales into insignificance when you consider the sacrifices our wives make on the daily.

Myself: Your total, deep, absolute love for your wife is great. She deserves you, and to be loved by you. Everything that you do for her is unquestionable. When you bring your expressions of love and especially its materialistic interpretations to the public domain, then all comments, reactions and inferences are fair.

2. We are all educated and can look up the cost of the car. Not even half of the 100m in social media.

Myself:  The cost of a new Mercedes Benz G-Wagon ranges from 50 million Naira to 100 million Naira for special models, and gold-plated ones. Yours may be closer to the high-end ones because you wanted to show wealth and opulence. The high-end car and those highly expensive dresses exhibited by yourself and your wife were public confirmation that that you have a lot of money. It is the nature of many corrupt politicians and public officials to demonstrate ill-gotten wealth and lavish spending in Nigeria.

The G-Wagon Gbajabiamila bought for his wife



3. What I wear is non of y’alls business as I’m sure there will be people who’s attire or jewelry or shoes on this platform I may not like but will not deride them for it. 

Myself: What you wear and indeed what you do not wear is our business. Just like what you say, where you go, who you go with. You are elected by us and you are there to serve us. We know that you do not care about our expectations and we do not matter as long as your godfather(s) are satisfied. But do you have to throw it in our faces?

4. I had a tear to plan for this and I did.

Myself: You and your colleagues in the House of Representatives have had more years to plan to make the country better but look at where we are. The scandals and misdeeds of the House where you are Majority Leader are too many to be repeated. They are too well known in the public sphere.

5. We had a family gathering and few friends of about 30 in all in my house for thanks giving and prayers. It was a breakfast get together. My wife’s pastor prayed Gave a sermon, praise n worship and guests had breakfast. The whole affair was meant to

have ended by 6. Unfortunately some people came after work as it was a weekday.


Myself
: A private affair by someone of your status should be done as if the walls have ears, eyes and mouths. I repeat, you are a public personae. Everyone watches your every move. Do you get it?


6. I purchased my wife’s car from the US and unfortunately the car was delayed at the ports for 4 days. She was meant to get her gift at midnight of her birthday in the privacy of our home. 

MyselfBy now you probably understand at least a little that every move you make is watched, seen and spoken about. A car for your wife is a good thing. Given the responsibility that the people have placed on you, do your show-off actions reflect how a true leader behaves? Yes, other “Honourable” Representatives and “Distinguished” Senators act often in this same manner and show excessive, extravagant lifestyles. The inept leaders make Nigeria a poor country despite abundance of resources. By African standards, the country lacks the most basic infrastructures, has the lowest social and economic indicators, and lowest quality of life for its citizens. Political leaders should be busy changing the situation and not engaging in”see-my-new-car” recklessness.

7.  I called Mr Folabi Martins the day before her birthday ( he happens to be the lawyer to Maersk the shipping co) and he made frantic efforts to call the md.

 

Myself: It shows that you could move mountains when it benefits you. Sadly, you do not change things for the improvement of your country and your peoples.

8. Man proposes Gid disposes and there was little I could do the car never came. 

MyselfI am shaking my head. The tendency to always blame God for abuses and misbehaviours is all too common.

9. It came as a surprise to me when the car was driven by the agents into my compound at 7.30 pm with a few guests and my family members still present. There was little I could do. 

Myself: I am shaking my head even more. It reminds me of the police. More efforts are made to serve VIPs and escort politicians than to protect lives and properties of Nigerians. Everything was done to get your car into your compound. How about making maximum efforts to ensure that your constituents have electricity, for example. How many mountains have you moved to reduce deaths on the roads and to canvass for employment for young people?

10. How the above facts can draw such vitriol from this platform shocks me to the marrow but then like they say it is what it is.

MyselfYou still do not get it. People are angry. They are mad at you, and all signs of wealth and waste of resources confirm all the negative impressions of Nigerians about you and the political class. All “big men” are seen as thieves. People will take whatever they can get from you but they will join hands with others to hound you.

Your classmates are mostly “big men” and they are afraid too. What ordinary people think of “big men” because of your type of flaunting wealth is very very scary.

11. My “brother” who commented above that I crave publicity or wanted this on social media I’m sorry we may be classmates but you do not know me.

Myself: Everyone knows you, Honourable Gbajabiamila. You have been in the House since 2003. You occupied various important posts and positions. How are you not part of the problems of Nigeria today? People observe your peers and their actions, both at the House and Senate, and they see you too. You as the Majority Leader have confirmed by your recent act that Nigerians are right in who they say that you are.

12. Guys I have paid my dues in this country. I did not gift a car to a girlfriend like many do. I gave it to my WIFE!!


Myself
Gentleman, the hundreds of thousands of pensioners who do not receive pensions at all or who get paid once in a long while have paid their dues. The hundreds of thousands of civil servants who get paid once in seven months, or who get half pay for a year have paid their dues. The multitude of young people who studied hard and finished well in their colleges and universities but have no jobs or get paid monthly wages that do not support them for even a week have paid their dues. The police, military and security officers who live in wretched barracks where toilets and shower rooms are so dirty you can smell them from 100 metres away; and whose salaries cannot pay for their children to attend any decent primary or secondary schools – they have paid their dues. Honourable Gbajabiamila, the language of this explanation is despicable, irresponsible and insensitive.

13. Now assuming this was a public display which it most certainly wasn’t does it warrant the things I am reading on this platform the extent of venom and crucifixtion from you guys ? Or is there something else here?

Myself: I refer to everything I have stated above.

14. I must say a big thank you to Frank and to Afolabi who has called me severally and stood in support. I also thank you Mike Igbokwe for the staunch support you put up on anothe platform of yours. 

Myself: Your friends were either being polite or they were fake, or they were loyal for whatever reasons.

15. I am surprised that no one here is discerning to see that this is a political hatchet job but I will continue to focus on my work. Enough said God bless our class of 84

MyselfIn other societies a person of your political status would listen, reflect and apologise profusely for the error of judgment. He would vow not to make such a grave error ever any more. He might even resign his position. But alas, Nigeria of such a time is hardly in the horizon yet. The rumour was that you were positioned to occupy a higher post when this eighth House started in 2016. But a sharper hatchet job by opponents cut you off. From what we have seen to date, we cannot celebrate their gain, nor can we regret your loss. God bless you.

 

Bunmi Makinwa is the CEO of AUNIQUEI Communication for Leadership. Formerly, he was Africa Regional Director of United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).