Ugo Aliogo writes on the outcome of a research findings on hate speech and fake news
Among other contestations, the twin concepts of fake news and hate speech rank high owing to the enablement provided by the internet. Firstly, the speed with which the internet enables the media to manufacture, process and disseminate information in the digital age has become dizzying.
Secondly, the easy access it has given to hitherto unrecognized participants in information production and dissemination has broken boundaries of professional and ethical gates leading to a flurry of unprocessed information flow.
Confronted by the consequences of the situation, society has also responded through studies by scholars and voices of concerned citizens to the emerging realities. It is within the need for continuous critical assessment of the situation and finding lasting solutions that this study is situated.
With the rise of right wing extremism worldwide and the somewhat disruptive and vituperative discourse that attended the 2016 US elections that produced Donald Trump as president, interest has heightened on the use of fake news and hate speeches as instruments of political contestations.
In Nigeria, the 2015 and 2019 general elections have also witnessed the upsurge in the use of fake news and hate speeches. A clear understanding of the pattern of use and implications and counter measures has become even more imperative. Therefore, in line with efforts to understand focuses on the 2019 elections in Nigeria by apprehending fake news and hate speeches in the run up to, during and after the election with a view to providing a road map for countering the malodorous effects on the polity.
The above views were excerpts from a research report conducted by MAIN on hate speech and fake news.
Speaking at the workshop, the Lead Researcher, and Chairman of Media Awareness and Information for All Network (MAIN), Prof. Lai Osho, said the focus of the research was aimed at examining the contents of some social media platforms in terms of the hate speech contained during the presidential elections.
He explained that the research has been able to provide an understanding on the meaning of hate speech and fake news, the issues it addresses in terms of ethnicity, religion and politics, and the generators of the hate speech.
According to him, “The main goal here is that we are trying to understand these narratives and the possible consequences it has on the polity, and intergroup relationship in the country.
“We are not primarily focusing on hate speech and fake news especially now that the elections are over; we just used the elections as a peg. If you still look at the issue of hate speech and fake news are still recurrent narratives in our society, and it is a global problem. Hate speech and fake news have consequences for inter-group relationship.
“The narratives have consequences for the democratic process. The media is supposed to inform people about the society, so that they can make choices. But when spring of knowledge is polluted by dangerous speeches, between one group and another, then the society might be in danger. So, it’s not limited to elections only.
“It goes beyond election. This is we think journalists both traditional and online need to understand the possible consequences for the polity whether during the election or off election season. We need to know that the adverse effect these narratives have on the society.
“The main impact of hate speech is colouring the perfection of people, and what they know about each other. Once you poison the relationship of one group against another anything can happen. This is we are saying that we need to have on our consciousness the possible consequences for intergroup relationship. Nigeria is a very complex society with a lot complex divisions along the lines of religion, and ethnicity.
“We arrived a basic understanding of what can and cannot go. The next level we want to go to is to provide a reporters’ guide to reporting fake news and hate speech and this workshop has presented such a guide which we will put flesh to for the print and broadcast media. We will then train them on using the guide book. Therefore, we are going to work on hate speeches and train reporters.”
In her remarks, the Head of Department, Mass Communication Department, University of Lagos, Prof. Abigail Ogwezzy, commended the report, adding that after the elections, there should be a deliberate attempt to study elections, and factors that influenced election.
“At the point where we have had social media influence, we can say that it may not really have an influence on voting behaviour. But we cannot dismiss the fact that it has no influence at all,” she noted.
She also hinted that there are other factors that influence voting behaviours such as political parties, ideology, ethnicity, voters’ apathy, religion and others, and there is a deliberate attempt to inform and misinform people.
Ogwezzy, further explained that fake news is a form of misinformation and disinformation.
The University Don remarked that fake news lacks truth, stating that it is aimed at disparaging an individual and reduce such individual in the eyes of the public, “it is aimed at portraying an individual in a negative light. While fake news is misleading and disinformation. It is putting the wrong information without truth.”
According to her, “Fake news and hate speech has affected media narratives and the type of stories we get to read about people and to counter that it requires multiple sources of information, fact checking, ethnic journalism and social responsibility. “From the audience, there must be media literacy to know the right platforms to access information and read stories and also the right sources to verify information. There are some many factors that fuel fake news and hate speech such as lack of professionalism because the blogosphere is so democratised and unregulated.
“For I don’t think it is so much of regulation, rather government should look at carrying out forensic registration that would include collection of people’s finger prints when they are registering for WhatsApp, email account and other social platforms, so that such people begin to spread fake news or hate speech, they can be blocked. There should be a technology that should flag something as fake when it appears online.
“Government should begin to think of enacting soft laws that will hold individuals responsible; it is not to criminalise the use of a particular social media platform. Media literacy will also help to stem the tide of fake news and hate speech, but I will not advocate for the closure of the blogosphere.”