Ghana's Fake News Ecosystem: An Overview

This report explores Ghana’s fake news ecosystem examining key actors in the online and offline space and the origins of their authority; key online information platforms and the interaction between offline media and non-media structures that shape information flows and gender dynamics. Ten interviews were undertaken to augment secondary data gathered from online and offline news publications, academic research reports, current affairs programmes on several media stations, and social media engagements. The key informants were purposively drawn from targeted institutions considering their role in the information ecosystem. Young people, mostly college and high-school educated, constitute a significant percentage of the 31 million Ghanaians, about half of whom have some level of access to the internet. This figure is growing rapidly. This younger demographic increasingly relies on Facebook, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Twitter to interact with each other and to mobilise around topics of shared interest. It is this same purpose that has attracted political activists, commentators and high ranking officials, who increasingly see the online realm as a place where they can seek to shape and control narratives. Whilst most Ghanaians still access news stories from radio and television, increasingly traditional media feeds on, and overlaps with, social media trends. The fact that a significant share of media operators have direct or indirect political affiliations, increases the risk of politicised narratives being spread online. But in a very competitive information space, bloggers, online news platforms and freelancers, whose business model is to cash in on traffic to their sites through click-baiting headlines and hot gossip, and who are less concerned about ensuring the accuracy of the information they post, are also shaping the information eco-system. Still, it is political actors and supporters of political parties that drive Ghana’s fake news ecosystem. Political parties use digital platforms to market party candidates, identify policy priorities and seek massive voter turnout in the party’s favour. Fake online accounts were also behind some of the misinformation and disinformation spread in the run-up to the 2020 general elections. Cloned, fake websites of popular and credible outlets emerged, aiming to appear legitimate but using the platform to spread disinformation online. This information can have real-world impacts in altering individuals’ perceptions about the outcome of election processes or on whether the Covid-19 vaccines are safe as is documented in this study. Tackling the problem requires a multifaceted approach. Beyond the proposed regulation of the social media space in Ghana, the production and communication of more accurate and credible information by the government and media stakeholders is critical in tackling the circulation of falsehoods in Ghana. For example, the communication strategy adopted in response to the Covid-19 pandemic is an example worth replicating in other spaces but must be underpinned by a wider commitment to ongoing efforts to enhance digital literacy among the population.

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