As political parties are gearing to commence full campaign activities, the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) has cautioned political parties about the extent of what fake news and disinformation can cause during this period.
The Director of CDD, Idayat Hassan, in a statement, said fake news and disinformation has the potential to further fragment the country and skew the electoral outcome.
The CDD boss who raised fears that the current nature of campaigns by political parties and candidates in the country was a cause for serious concern, added that the period had been dominated by a proliferation of electoral disinformation, misinformation and the weaponisation of fake news.
She noted that the organisation observed that the trend posses biggest threat to the 2023 poll, a development that could play a part in affecting the legitimacy of the elections and the leaders who emerge from the process.
Noting the common forms of disinformation in elections, she mentioned dissemination of false information to discredit political opponents or to influence voters and the voting process, the falsification and/or manipulation of contents, polling data, delegitimisation of electoral institutions, including the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the Nigeria Police and other state agencies.
She said, “While campaigns are at an early stage, frontline pro-democracy think tank, CDD joins other stakeholders in calling for issues-based discussions during this campaign period.”
According to her, debates that prioritise religious and ethnic division only serve to distract citizens from making informed decisions while voting, especially since these issues do not discriminate along religious or ethnic lines.
Hassan maintained that the spread and impact of disinformation is a global concern and a threat to the sustainability of democracy globally.
She remarked that, with an estimated 95 million registered voters deciding 1,491 election contests, including a term-limited president, it is important for governance issues affecting citizens to be at the forefront of the political debate.
CDD however appealed to political parties, candidates and their supporters to focus on the issues affecting the country’s governance and development, which include challenges in the security and economic sectors, and its result impact in other areas of governance, such as education, health, power and agriculture among others.
In line with some of the findings outlined in the CDD’s recent report titled ‘Nigeria’s presidential polls: A SWOT analysis’, Hassan mentioned several key areas that could make or mar the conduct of the elections, part of which fake news and disinformation and political violence were highlighted.
She therefore charged political actors to desist from promoting political violence which is inimical to Nigeria’s development, and that politicians must consider Nigeria first, far and above their personal aspirations.
“In recent years, CDD has increasingly raised concerns on the potentially disruptive influence of disinformation on elections,” she said
She however expressed optimism that the participation of all 18 registered political parties in the signing of the National Peace Accord shows a commitment by politicians to commit to addressing this issue.
“It is why we believe it is important the Nigeria Peace Committee and, INEC, should institute a fact check hub to monitor the peddling of fake news by political parties, its candidates, and supporters before, during and after the general elections and sanction defaulters of the Peace Accord appropriately.”
“ We urge all voters, social media, citizens, journalists, and mainstream media executives to always fact check information before sharing. We all share responsibility of curbing fake news, to ensure that we can all reap the dividends of our continued democracy, ”she said.
Meanwhile, the Department of State Services (DSS) has said the spread of fake news and hate speeches on social media poses the biggest threat to the 2023 general elections.
The agency, therefore, warned against misinformation and unguarded statements that could derail efforts to deepen Nigeria’s democracy.
The state service noted that as elections are approaching and political programmes have started, the media and every stakeholders must ensure that the game is played according to rules.
The agency said Nigerians must avoid any act that promotes hate and disintegration and say no to separatist movement, terrorism, fake news, hate speech, religious bigotry and any act that tends to divide us as a nation.
“Social media and fake news are biggest threat to human existence not only to elections. Fake news is major cause of violence in our society now. As journalists, you should always fact check information before publishing,” the agency said.
This article was originally published on Naija News