As we continue to mitigate the spread of disinformation and misinformation in West Africa through a robust fact-checking exercise, the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) in the past week took a big step to engage the media practitioners as fact-checkers in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.
To curtail the rising tide of false information, hate speeches that were characterising political campaigns in Burkina Faso, CDD trained journalists, bloggers and other media practitioners on spotting fake news, measures to take in countering disinformation, and the dissemination of countered false claims.
Interestingly, at the training, participants resolved to use social media to effectively fact-check and counter false narratives used to misinform the populace.
While receiving their certificates, the participants further resolved to use social media for social good and behavioural change among various target groups, including youths who are easily swayed by some of these narratives.
Throughout the training and the election process, the team monitored electoral information in the media and social networks and identified over 200 websites and social media accounts used by influencers and political actors and their supporters for the election. Also, about 30 local radio and television stations were identified.
Following the training, the CDD launched its Analysis Centre at the Splendid Hotel in Ouaga, Burkina Faso on Friday, November 20, 2020, in partnership with CODEL.
At the Centre, the CDD released a statement on the presidential election process in Burkina Faso. The Centre observed that there where are fears of the widespread inability of accessing polling stations due to the presence of extremist groups that have disrupted voter registration in many parts of the country.
Internet penetration in the country remains low, however, it remains an extensive source of misinformation and disinformation. As the globe continues to battle a global pandemic, online sources have been awash with information either proffering cures, both in French and in local languages.
The CDD also developed a strategy allowing the Centre to adequately observe the information ecosystem and assess both the levels of disinformation, but also the effect.
The methodology adopted, based on our continued work in the field of countering fake news and disinformation will make it possible to actively monitor sources of information on online platforms that are false, correcting those false narratives and shortcomings throughout the voting.
The Centre during this period discovered that much of disinformation was being shared in regards to the election process.
For instance, while the election was still going on, there were claims that a candidate, Zephirin Diabre, declared that the Minister of Defence had proceeded to suppress citizens from exercising their civic rights in Oudalan.
According to the claim, the minister was able to suppress the voters because the opposition had a strong influence in the area.
However, after investigations by the fact-checkers, and a follow-up by CODEL observers on the ground, it was discovered that the Minister of Defence did not embark on such a decision.
Other fact-checks produced by the CDD this week include:
A WhatsApp message shared widely in groups and on Facebook was spotted on November 13, 2020, claimed that the Federal High Court in Abuja had disqualified Seriake Dickson, from contesting the Bayelsa West Senatorial District election over certificate forgery.
Seriake Dickson is the immediate past Governor of Bayelsa state and candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) in the forthcoming bye-election.
Our fact-check revealed that the former governor of Bayelsa State is still in the race for Bayelsa West Senatorial District seat.
Dickson was not disqualified for forgery as claimed by the widely shared WhatsApp message.
On Saturday, November 14, 2020, The Nation Newspaper reported that an Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) in Edo State, Agabi Godiri, had died from bullet injury sustained while he engaged in a shootout with cultists in the state.
The report published on The Nation said the ACP, who is in charge of the Area Command in the state capital died on Friday, November 13, 2020, at the University of Benin Teaching Hospital (UBTH).
According to the report, the death of the ACP was confirmed in confidence on Saturday evening by a senior police officer of Edo command via a telephone conversation.
Checks by the Centre revealed that the claim that ACP Godiri died after sustaining bullet injury from a gun battle with cultists in Beinin City is false.
More importantly, it is noteworthy to state that internet scams have continued to take the centre stage of the ecosystem.
On WhatsApp, people unknowingly distributed these claims by online fraudsters to the friends and associates for them to apply. These claim in form of broadcast/ messages claim to have means of increasing wealth of those who make payments after filling forms made available – usually through links.
The Centre’s analysis also shows that the online fraudsters have continued to modify these messages to fit into the needs of most unemployed youths for fall prey to their gimmicks.
Some of the online scams usually shared by fraudsters and countered by CDD include:
CDD urges citizens particularly media organizations to fact check reports, from multiple sources, before breaking the news to the public.