By Rotimi Ijikanmi
The Nigerian Government Government has raised alarm over the use of what is called “deep” fake news to attack it and its officials.
Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, raised the alarm in an interview on Saturday, in Sal Island, Cape Verde.
The minister who was in Sal Island for the 64th Conference of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) – Conference for Africa and second edition of UNWTO Global Tourism Investment Forum spoke to News Agency of Nigeria, NAN.
Mohammed said fake news had worsened by becoming a weapon for naysayers to attack government and its officials.
“As a matter of fact, Nigerians should know that we have graduated from ordinary fake news to ”deep” fake news. The danger of deep fake news is that it is difficult to differentiate the fake news from real news.
“This is because purveyors of deep fake news would take a story, be it a video or a photograph and make it look real.
“They will take videos of what is happening in other lands, doctor them and freely circulate them as what is really happening in Nigeria. Ditto photographs.
“News stories are even worse, because they embellish such fake stories with quotes and videos and even quote government officials, as if they are real.
“This becomes more difficult for unsuspecting Nigerians to know the difference between the fake news and real information,” he said.
The minister noted that at the beginning, purveyors of deep fake news were largely unknown online publications, adding that it was, however, unfortunate that otherwise reputable publications and some mainstream media had joined the bandwagon.
Giving instances of deep fake news, the minister recalled the aftermath of the interview by Channels Television of Benue Governor, Samuel Ortom and a retired Navy Commodore, Kunle Olawunmi.
“After the interview, online and traditional newspapers were awash with stories that the station had been shut, while some said that the anchor people had been arrested.
Some even went to demonstrate the purported arrest of the anchor people, but till today, the station is still open.
“These people have no shame because they know from the beginning that they are telling deep fake news, they have no credibility and can destroy anybody at will with their weapon,” he said.
The minister also recalled his recent official trip to Washington to engage with think tanks and global media outfits, during which a particular online publication twisted the purpose of the trip, claiming that he went with his aide to beg Twitter and twitter shunned them.
The minister said the fake news was made deep by the online publication by quoting the airline they travelled on, their seat number and even video clips showing them in the aircraft.
“This is an example of deep fake news because any unsuspecting Nigerians will believe it is true. Of course, they knew they were telling lies because our itinerary and programmes in the US were not hidden, but reported daily by social media, radio, newspapers and television.
“Even that same online newspaper carried stories of our engagements, yet it kept saying we went to the US to beg Twitter and we were shunned,” he said.
Mohammed said the same online publication also went ahead to publish deep fake news about a US trip by the Chief of Staff to the President, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari.
He said with a deliberate intention to tarnish and destroy the government, the online publication claimed that Gambari and other officials were going to the US to infiltrate the ranks of agitators planning a protest against the President, who would be attending United Nations General Assembly.
“When the Statistician-General of the Federation, Dr Yemi Kale retired some weeks ago, there was a story credited to him that while in office, he was coerced by government to falsify figures about economic growth of Nigeria.
“Of course, Kale came out to refute the story, but the purveyors knew what they were doing.
“The deep fake news was fabricated just to take the shine away from the government’s success in not only retaining positive GDP growth, but surpassing all expectations crawling from 0.11 per cent two quarters ago to marginal .51 per cent in the last quarter and then 5.0 percent.
“Of course, they don’t wish the government and Nigeria well, but needed something to dampen the enthusiasm of government and make Nigerians sad,” he said.
The minister said they foresaw the danger of fake news since 2017, when the federal government launched a campaign against it.
He reiterated the resolve of the federal government to regulate the social media, which had become a major tool for propagating fake news.
“Anytime the fake news purveyors strike, they strengthen our resolve further to act on sanitising the social media. By their conduct, they are showing the world that we are ripe in our pursuit of sanitising the social media,” he said.