2019 ELECTIONS: Can the increasing spread of WhatsApp fake news influence the outcome of the elections? – Impact analysis of fake news and viral rumors

Fake news spread in Nigeria via WhatsApp
There has been an increase in the spread of Fake news via WhatsApp which could potentially influence the outcome of 2019 general elections

As we move closer and closer to the 2019 general elections, there have been reports that fake news and viral rumors are being spread on the social messaging app, WhatsApp. Let us not forget too quickly that fake news and viral rumors also had an influence in the eventual outcome of the 2016 United State’s general elections which saw billionaire businessman and real estate mogul, Donald Trump become the 45th president of the United States of America in January 2017.

A survey report by Nieman Journalism Lab further reveals that about 1 out of every 3 Nigerian have already shared stories or news that eventually turned out to be fake and untrue. Out of the tree African countries (Kenya, South Africa, and Nigeria) sampled in the Nieman Lab survey, the report found out that Nigerians have the lowest level of trust in the media. Fake news according to the Nieman Journalism Lab usually involves the use of extreme speech which is intended to incite violence, spread racial and ethnic discrimination hence racism, or to encourage the hatred of, contempt for, or prejudice against women or girls, and the dislike of or prejudice against people from other countries. Such fake news is usually best circulated on mobile platforms such as the Facebook-owned social messaging app, WhatsApp.

However, social messaging app WhatsApp has quickly come out in their defense and have stated that it will step up in its users’ education programs to educate users on how they can identify fake news, hoaxes, and rumors so as not to keep spreading such news or content. In a statement released by a WhatsApp spokesman, it stated:

“WhatsApp cares deeply about the safety of our users around the world. We’ve made a number of recent changes to WhatsApp to limit the spread of viral rumors – including placing a label on forwarded messages and limiting how they can be sent on WhatsApp. We recently helped bring “CrossCheck” onto WhatsApp to help fact check rumors in Nigeria and in the run-up to the election, we’ll be stepping up education on how users can spot hoaxes and rumors.”

It has been revealed in two recent reports that fake news and hoaxes are being spread via social messaging app WhatsApp and these reports have raised some concerns over the forthcoming Nigerian general elections in 2019. Photoshopped pictures of politicians and false accusations and fabrications have been circulating on the messaging app WhatsApp in Nigeria, according to a recent report by The Poynter Institute for Media Studies. The Poynter Institute further reveals that many of such false accusations are intended to create ethnic frictions and exploit such ethnic sentiments as these fake news are mostly spread in local languages.

One very popular example of such fake news and false accusation is the one that concerns Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the forthcoming 2019 general elections in Nigeria. The fake news claims that Atiku Abubakar cannot enter the United State because of some “corruption charges” leveled against him. Another of such fake news and hoaxes claims to focus on the ways and methods that politicians will use to address the niggling herdsmen and farmers crisis that is currently ravaging the middle belt areas.

 

 

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