The Federal Government yesterday launched National Campaign Against Fake News, advising Nigerians to be vigilant.
It said the essence of the campaign is to sensitise all Nigerians to the dangers posed by fake news to the peace and security, and indeed the corporate existence of Nigeria by the phenomenon.
But the Minister of Information and Culture, Alh. Lai Mohammed, said the campaign would not lead to press gag or media censorship.
He said the modality to be used for the campaign includes information dissemination tools, the traditional and social media, as well as the National Orientation Agency (NOA) to get the word out there about the dangers of fake news.
Mohammed, who unveiled the campaign at a press conference in Abuja, said the global epidemic of Fake News was already having far-reaching repercussions across the world.
He said: “There is an epidemic sweeping the world. If left unchecked, it could be worse than all the plagues that the world has recorded put together. It is a clear and present danger to global peace and security. It is a threat to democracy. It is the epidemic of Fake News. Mixed with hate speech, it is a disaster waiting to happen.
“For the media, the epidemic is even worse. This is because fake news, in most cases designed to misinform, undermines confidence in the media. And once the people lose confidence in the media, the
society is in trouble.
“Let’s be straight. Fakes News is not new. It is said to be as old as the printing press. What has made it an issue of concern is the means and speed at which it is now spread around the world, and that
means is the social media.
“Anyone with a phone and internet access can author and make fake news go viral in minutes. With the number of mobile phone users in the world expected to pass the 5 billion mark by 2019, you can see the kind of crisis we face.
Mohammed explained why the government decided to launch the campaign now in the country.
“ For those who may not know, we have been calling national attention to the issue of fake news, misinformation and hate speech since 2017.
“We even organized a special National Council on Information on the issue of fake news, misinformation and hate speech in Jos in July 2017. And at a conference for media handlers of state governors, in Abuja in 2017, we warned that fake news and misinformation could pose a threat to the 2019 general elections.
“Unfortunately, instead of abating, the fake news issue, which became a global phenomenon in the wake of the 2016 US election, has grown worse, hence our decision to launch this National Campaign Against Fake News.
“The essence of this campaign is to sensitize all Nigerians to the dangers posed to the peace and security, and indeed the corporate existence of Nigeria by the phenomenon, and the fact that each and every Nigerian has a role to play in curtailing the spread of fake news.
“The timing is also not unconnected to the role of fake news in aggravating the various crises in the country as well as the need to check this phenomenon ahead of the 2019 elections.
On the modality of the campaign, Mohammed said: “We will use all the information dissemination tools at our disposal, work with both the traditional and social media, as well as the National Orientation Agency (NOA) to get the word out there about the dangers that fake news poses to our peace and security, our democracy and our corporate existence.
“We are also appealing to the media to lead the campaign. They should remember what authors Bill Kovach and Tom Rosentiel said in their book – THE ELEMENTS OF JOURNALISM – that journalism’s first obligation is to the truth.
“At this juncture, let me thank the media organizations that are collaborating with us to sponsor this campaign. They are the NTA, FRCN, Vanguard, The Nation and Leadership. We have no doubt that the entire Nigerian media will join us in this campaign.”
He said Nigeria was not immune from fake news including those capable of aggravating farmers-herders clashes.
He cited a front-page publication last Thursday, by a national newspaper which claimed that a Court ordered the National Assembly to begin impeachment of President Muhammadu Buhari as fake news.
He said by the Certified True copy of the order, the Presiding Judge of the Federal High Court in Osogbo only ruled that “the applicants are hereby granted leave to issue and bring an Application for the order of Mandamus to compel 1st to 3rd Respondents to start impeachment proceedings against the 4th Respondent, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.’’ This was manipulated to read that the court has given the go-ahead for the National Assembly to commence impeachment proceedings against the President.” Fake News!
“In a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country like ours, fake news is a time bomb. And in recent weeks, many anarchists have been doing everything possible to detonate the bomb. But for the prudence and vigilance of Nigerians, they – the religious and ethnic bigots among us – would have set the nation on fire, especially over the farmers-herders clashes as well as communal clashes.
“Having come under fire for their role in spreading fake news, the big technology companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter have started to address the problem. Google is reported to have dedicated 300 million US dollars over the next three years towards efforts to fight the spread of false information.
“Facebook, according to Bloomberg, took down 583 million fake accounts in the first three months of 2018. And, according to Reuters, Twitter suspended over 70 million accounts in May and June this year alone, and the pace of suspension has continued. Apart from the techies, the European Commission, in January 2018, set up a high-level group of experts to advise on policy initiatives to counter fake news and disinformation spread online.
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