Niger's Fake News Ecosystem: An Overview

Niger’s first private media entities emerged in the 1990s following the fall of the single party and military era. However, the birth of private media did not lead to a free and independent media. A bipolar media system quickly took shape, with public media tending to support the ruling party and private media siding with the opposition. This bipolarism continues today and Nigeriens’ trust in a particular media correlates strongly with their relation to their political allegiance, Radio is the most listened to, and is perceived to be, the most reliable source of information. Low literacy rates and the fact that most Nigeriens live in rural areas with no access to electricity can partially explain this. But with growing internet access via mobile phone connection, more and more Nigeriens are becoming social media users. Facebook and WhatsApp which allow users to record, share, and receive audio and video messages have become popular even amongst people who cannot write and read in French, the official language. While these social media platforms facilitate instantaneous communication and sharing of information, they have also become the privileged terrain for the dissemination of fake news. Such fake news is not just confined to the online realm but spreads through pre-existing word of mouth networks. Marketplaces, family gatherings, and les grins, which are popular youth hangout spots, are places where gossips and fake news circulate with the potential of reaching far more people who may not have access to social media. There is also a ludic aspect to fake news as some people may share sensational false information just entertain their acquaintances. Key enablers of fake news include anonymous cyber activists and politicians themselves. Prominent and recent falsehoods in circulation centre around themes of the health of the leaders, the relationship between the former and current president, Covid-19, and the French role in fighting against violent extremism. The state response to the spread of fake news has been to develop strong legislation – the cybercrime law was dubbed “digital authoritarianism” by critics - and to jail journalists. Fact-checking is still in its infancy and predominantly is run by non-governmental organisations. Building on the need to ensure that responses to fake news do so without infringing on individuals’ rights to freedom of expression this report outlines some areas where more can be done to improve the quality of content circulating in Niger’s information eco-system

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