Guinea Bissau's Fake News Ecosystem: An Overview

Misinformation involves the spread of falsehoods without a deliberate attempt to mislead whilst disinformation is manipulated narrative or facts— propaganda deliberately intended to mislead. Both occur in Guinea-Bissau, with the recent Covid-19 pandemic bringing significant attention to the use of social media platforms and messaging applications for that end. The tools provided from online spaces in Guinea-Bissau have allowed for the proliferation of false and fabricated news and made it easier for almost anyone with access to the internet to voice out their ideas and spread falsehoods, often with the aim of supporting or discrediting political figures. This study looks at the fake news ecosystem in Guinea-Bissau by conducting 10 interviews and conducting an analysis of social media platforms and blogs, to gain a better understanding of information flows in the country both online and offline. Results found that political party supporters and activists are some of the lead creators and spreaders of fake news. Guinea-Bissau’s fake news ecosystem is dominated by news about politics and the political and military elite mainly on blogs and social media platforms. Images shared on social media platforms have become a key element in the spread of false news during the different political crises in the country. Diaspora actors are also extending their offline influence into online spaces in ways that can also facilitate the spread of factually inaccurate information or rumours that have a particular political agenda. This is particularly problematic in Guinea-Bissau given the ongoing and cyclical political instability. For a country which has such a volatile and fragile political context, the production and circulation of unverified news, propaganda and information online poses risks to its very stability. Not only is fake news on Facebook becoming more common, but it is also accompanied by abusive and violent language that goes as far as incitement to violence on erroneous and defamatory grounds. With more and more users joining online platforms such as Facebook, and the important overlaps between online spaces and offline oral networks identified by this study, action is needed to tackle the threat posed by fake news. Specifically, efforts are needed to improve digital literacy among citizens and to embed the culture of fact-checking into media but also society at large. Social media has offered a means of communication and coordination amongst Bissau-Guineans, which for once has not noticeably discriminated across class, age or gender. Ensuring that these positive impacts are accentuated, whilst the negatives are reduced will be key.

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