On Saturday, February 23, 2019, the Nigerian Presidential and National Assembly elections held across Nigeria. Votes were cast, civic duties were fulfilled, people walked during a curfew, business thrived in VGC, Tiwa Savage slayed voting, stupidity led to the loss of lives, and fake news filled our stomachs with the lies of a mess.
It was a true election day; the fires of news turned to ash in the face of consumption. We lived it again, as some bemoaned the ‘good man’ that erstwhile Nigerian President, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan was – whatever that means. To all these happenings, there was a constant, aided by the infinity of internet and electricity – if your EDC decided to not be Baba Sala.
Social media – especially Twitter – and to a lesser extent, Facebook served you the cuisine of news like a romantic partner; in the comfort of your bed and sometimes made you the judge of distilling authe news from the very fake news circulating the cyberspace.
While social media aided the circulation of news, one sometimes had to intellectually distill truth from bad. It was so bad that authentic news was passed off by yours truly because they seemed too authoritative in thick of sensitivity.
Social media, as the platform of election day-news, could not be trusted because propaganda constantly cohabits with truth online, thus mans had to stay en guarde. It was hard, it was tough – a spectator also had to assume the role of a judge and distillery to not become a propaganda machine by himself.
Heavy hitters like Google and Facebook, which play a key role in promoting news to the larger public continue to play that key role in shelving fake news, it has gotten increasingly high as modes of verification are harder than believing Jussie Smollett.
The bias of political affiliations took on a showcase as spectators looked on, while being unable to tell fact from lies. While a simple charge to ‘do better’ would be the go-to-guy in these situations, it is a cliche we have employed many-a-time only to see even men in high places become propaganda machines for cheap politicking.
It is a good watch for the average Nigerian in-the-know; for him to shake his head at the aggressive onslaught of politically inclined individuals to sway voters by hook or by crook. But for the average Nigerian without the ability to tell the difference, he feeds his gang at the newspaper stand a wad of lies he copped of social media.
This continues to harm truth in our country; the definition of truth continues to be warped, catering to the bias of spectators who take and believe their version of truth, sometimes at the expense of actual truth. The resulting harm this does is that people defend lies even with more lies.
The risk is not borne by the informed Nigerians, but by the millions of uninformed Nigerians. They then argue the actual truth when it comes along. In moments like this, one envies the Chinese principle that controls what circulates on the internet and even in media. Things like this are either too reduced a reality to happen or simply extinct as a matter of practice.
What we currently experience in Nigeria is a product of expression of Fundamental Rights - we can never call that a luxury, but what happens when we continue to abuse our freedom at the expense of what a nation deems overwhelming truth for our selfish ends? The power of collective responsibility guaranteed by the Constitution continually gets abused.
Do we not deserve these rights?
We actually deserve our rights. In fact, Fundamental Human Rights should simply be granted - it’s not a conversation of deserving or not deserving it. The right to express freely is God-given and natural.
All things are definitely prone to abuse, but when these rights are being abused for cheap lies and questionable ends, we have to draw a line.
Should the internet then be limited?
A while back, there were rumours that the freedom of Nigerians to express was going to be somehow limited by the government of the day and we rightly kicked up a fuss. After all, we do not live in communism.
With the way we’re going, one fears that we might soon exhaust our bandwidth of freedom of expression, but to every concept comes a disadvantage and this; what we currently witness with fake news on the internet is the downside of freedom of electronic expression.
While this downside is quite unsavoury, we must live with it and sleep with it. A limitation on our rights to express will be a problem long term as a people. What we must do now is again listen to the cliche - let us all be responsible with what we express as 'fact' on social media.
But that, my folks, is a long shot. The re are no guarantees that this charge will work.