By Laide Akinboade
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, has described fake news as a global epidemic that could be
worse than all the plagues that the world has recorded put together, a clear and present danger to global peace and security, and a threat to democracy.
He said that the fake news phenomenon is capable of undermining confidence in the media, and ”Once the people lose confidence in the media, the media and the society are in trouble.”
The minister stated this at the launch a National Campaign Against Fake News, held in Abuja, where he declared the phenomenon a time bomb that can detonate with deadly consequences if left unchecked.
Addressing a world press conference in Abuja, Mohammed said the essence of the campaign is to ”sensitise all Nigerians to the dangers posed to the peace and security, and indeed the corporate existence of Nigeria by the phenomenon, and the fact
that each and every Nigerian has a role to play in curtailing the spread of fake news.”
According to him, though the federal government has been calling national attention to the issue of fake news and hate speech since 2017, ”the timing of the launch is also not unconnected to the
role of fake news in aggravating the various crises in the country as well as the need to check this phenomenon ahead of the 2019 elections.”
The Minister said the government will use all the information dissemination tools at its disposal, work with both the traditional and social media, as well as the National Orientation Agency (NOA) to sensitise Nigerians.
He said the campaign will, however, not involve the use of coercion and censorship, but appealed to the media to lead the campaign, and to Nigerians not to share any news or message unless they can vouch for its source and authenticity
Citing instances from around the world to illustrate the dangers posed by fake news, Mohammed said a recent study by researchers at the Ohio State University in the US concluded that Russian interference and the fake news it promoted probably played a significant role in depressing Hilary Clinton’s support on election day during the 2016 presidential elections in the US.
He also said that in India, about a dozen people have been killed in the past six weeks just because of fake news or hoax messages.
”The victims were lynched after they were falsely accused of child abduction based on fake messages circulated via the social media platform, WhatsApp,” he said, adding that In Nigeria, only last week, a national newspaper reported on its front page that a court had ordered the National Assembly to begin impeachment of Buhari, which was not the case.
”The problem with that news item is that it is fake news,” he emphasised.