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By Ayorinde Oluokun/Abuja
The dangers of disinformation, misinformation, and hate speech to Nigeria’s electoral processes as well as the roles of the media, the government and other stakeholders in tackling it were in focus as the International Press Centre (IPC) unveiled its iVerify project and iVerify platform in Abuja last Wednesday. Supported by the UNDP and the Spanish Government, the iVerify initiative seeks to strengthen the fight against rising information disorder caused by the proliferation of disinformation, misinformation, and hate speech in the electoral and democratic processes. The essence was to provide a tool that will empower the media to disseminate fact-checked and factually accurate electoral information and information about the governance processes.
This was reiterated at the unveiling of the platform before a wide range of stakeholders, including editors, media managers, print/ broadcast/ online journalists, bloggers, media professional bodies, media regulatory bodies, civil society, government representatives, and international development agencies last Wednesday by the Executive Director of IPC, Lanre Arogundade.
The core objective is to establish a technology-driven platform, provide capacity building for journalists in fact-checking electoral information, promote media literacy, and engage in public enlightenment to combat information disorder.
Collaboration is key to advocating for a credible environment in information dissemination. He further explained that the iVerify project was implemented by the IPC with the support of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Government of Spain to strengthen the fight against rising disinformation, misinformation, misinformation and hate speech, especially in the electoral and democratic processes.
IPC, he further informed, had started off the capacity building aspect of the project with training for 80 journalists just before the November 11 Kogi, Bayelsa, and Imo States governorship elections. The other major components of the iVerify project – the iVerify technology driven fact checking platform is also already live with four fact-checkers engaged to Fact-Check information, he also revealed.
“The fact-checkers work under the supervision of senior journalists to ensure that ethical and professional standards are adhered to in the process of fact checking,” the IPC Executive Director said while soliciting more support from donors and development partners for sustenance and widening of the scope of the project. “The summary of the planned expansion are recruitment of more full time fact-checkers for the iVerify platform, engagements of journalists and media professionals as freelance fact-checkers for the iVerify platform. We are also planning on training 1000 journalists as detectives of disinformation and fact-checkers, particularly of electoral information in the 36 States and the FCT between now and 2027 general elections”, said the IPC Executive Director.
While speaking at the event, UNDP Resident Representative, Mr Lealem Dinku reiterated the importance of the iVerify project and the iVerify platform to efforts to promote information integrity around election, governance and democratic processes in Nigeria. Dinku was represented by Mr Matthew Alao, Team Lead, Governance, Peace and Security, UNDP said his organization decided to support the project to deepen democratic culture in Nigeria by combating information disorder.
“Information disorders must be checked. This is what the iVerify Nigeria project is set to achieve. We must all rally round it to ensure its success through moral, financial and technical support,” said Alao who also implored stakeholders to make use of the platform to fact-check any doubtful information especially on election, governance and democracy before disseminating or sharing. “Once fake news or any Information disorder is discovered, it is proper and fit to alert the platform for verification and appropriate response,” he said.
The necessity for the iVery project was further amplified in the speech delivered by the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Yakubu Mahmood at the event. Represented by the Mary Nkem, INEC’s Acting Director, Voter Education and Publicity, the INEC Chairman noted that unchecked hate speech in the electoral process can erode public trust in democratic institutions, including the electoral system, political leadership, and the media.
“When people are exposed to inflammatory and divisive rhetoric, they may become disillusioned with the fairness and integrity of the electoral process, leading to a decline in voter turnout and civic engagement”, he said.
Olusola Oludiran, the head of the fact-checkers at the back end of the iVerify platform explained how the platform was deployed for fact checking of some claims during the last off cycle governorship election. He added that members of the public can also use the iVerify platform to fact-check information.
There were also suggestions on how journalists can check fake news and hate news at a panel session held to round off the event.
The panellists insist that checking accuracy of information before disseminating it to the public is essentially the responsibility of journalists.
This, according to them, is because the ethics of journalism as a profession laid emphasis on accuracy.