Can we save young Nigerians from misinformation on social media?

Dennis Da-ala Mirilla
Recently, audio app influencers are marching to the top of the influencer sphere, again. Just that now, the topics are different and closer home.

When young people talk about misinformation in Nigeria, the easiest target is usually parents. The claim is that they are the ones who fire WhatsApp broadcasts to their children and friends without verifying them, taking it in hook, line and sinker.

But if the Russia/Ukraine war currently ongoing has taught us anything, it’s that among young Nigerians lie the belly of the beast when it comes to serious misinformation, and obsession with conspiracy theories, the type that is hard to come back from.

As the Russian president Vladimir Putin laid siege and invaded Ukraine, a neighbouring independent country, social media was lit on fire with dialogues. In between the chaos in Nigerian cyberspace was a new debate.

The topic of a room on ClubHouse was “The Benefits of Russia invading Ukraine for Africa.” Young educated Nigerian men after men gave their takes arguing that Putin’s action was good for Africa because it will cripple something called “the American imperialism.”

Hours later, the benefits dawned on Nigerians. Nigerians in Ukraine have been left in limbo in the cold as they flee for safety in Poland. Nigerians were not allowed to cross the Polish borders from Ukraine because they hadn’t received documentation from the Nigerian embassy in Poland, and so suffered while Ukrainians, Americans, Indians and citizens of other countries crossed the border to safety.

The narrative among “the American imperialism” chatroom screaming set is that one must be careful of America because America and the UK and the West is out to get Nigerians. They want to make us poorer, and that they are in fact the real evil.

They said the Taliban is good, and Putin is good, and China is very good. But the western media is biased and has made them look bad, in service to America and Great Britain. But these same Nigerians I must add want to or have relocated to Canada or America or the UK or any other country in the West for greener pastures.

Not Afghanistan to wine and dine with the Taliban, or Russia to meet strong man Putin or communist China.

There is an almost hypnotising obsession among this set of Nigerians with tyrannical strong men who have ruled way more than they should. No wonder one bragged that “watching movies that have female protagonists [like How To Get Away with Murder] reduces testosterone in black men.” I too wish it was a joke. We should add that the man who said that used to hold a c-suite role in a Nigerian fintech company. One of the big ones.

On a WhatsApp group chat for masters’ students of a prestigious university, like many group chats all weekend, misinformation was spewed from YouTube American nationalist commentators to Fox News to anonymous audios recordings.

Screenshots from a fake Twitter account @CNNUKR, that posed as CNN in Ukraine and has been suspended, that said that a CNN journalist that had died in Afghanistan had just died in Ukraine, was lauded as emblematic of CNN as fake news.

The Taliban also didn’t kill the journalist. The image in circulation is of the YouTuber, Jordie Jordan.

They said the famous video of Putin walking isolated in St Petersburg was from this past Saturday. The video was from 2013. They said that Germany was in support of Putin’s actions. Germany has announced it would halt the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline certification that was completed last September and would transport gas from Russia to the European Union through Germany.

Russia and Ukraine had entered into a $7 billion deal in 2019 that will make Russia transit its gas to Europe through Ukraine.

It looked like this writer was bearing witness to some kind of 21st century iPhone 13-using Neanderthals, cavemen yet to discover fire. Like an anthropological study of a new species of humans that have lived only on an Island in the middle of Lagos that was somehow yet to be discovered.

The things that were said on that group chat were misinformation, propagated by conspiracy theorists.

Part of the appeal of these conspiracy theories is that it is what these young men hope will happen. But they are not true. What makes conspiracy theories addictive and appealing to their believers is that they have no clue that they are consuming conspiracy theories.

The big question then is, how do we know what is truth and what isn’t?

That the reason they don’t want to relocate to places like Russia and Afghanistan is that their subconscious is aware that those places are not safe for them.

Luckily for you and them, we fact-checked.

We took the weekend to do two things. One, create useful facts about the Russian/Ukraine war to help us start factual debates. Two, listed useful points to help us know if we are consuming conspiracy theories and how not to.

Useful tips to know if we are consuming conspiracy theory and how not to

  • If you can’t quote your source or receive anonymous audio from WhatsApp that you don’t know its origins or who is speaking, you have been spewing propaganda.
  • If you read an article about something someone has said, and what the person said is not in the article, you’re probably reading propaganda.
  • If you read an article containing a quote, and the article doesn’t give a complete picture of the quote but includes only a few lines, you probably are reading propaganda. You should copy and paste the quote in the article on Google and see if you can find the full quote. If you do, read the entire thing and come to your conclusion.
  • Try to read beyond the headline.
  • If you read a headline and its clickbait, that is, it says a different thing from the story, go to the comment section and write “Your headline is clickbait.”
  • If you are quick to pull out a YouTube video of someone you like, instead of a report to back your points in debates, you are consuming too many conspiracy theories you think are facts.
  • If you do not know the difference between an opinion commentator and a journalist, then you’re probably consuming too many conspiracy theories.
  • Suppose you don’t know the difference between an opinion piece, a guest essay, or an op-ed and a report or analysis of a report. In that case, you’re probably consuming too many conspiracy theories.
  • If you believe democracy is terrible but can’t offer a new system that works, you share conspiracy theories you think are facts.
  • Conspiracy theories are not facts. Hypotheses from the best scholars are not facts. Only facts are facts.

What is the difference between an opinion piece, a new analysis, a report and a column

Why don’t we just show you?

Opinion Peace/ Op-Ed/ Guest Essay: “A State of Emergency for Democracy” by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Dan Schwerin

News Analysis: Is bitcoin the solution to the Russian-Ukraine war?

News Reports: “Hundreds arrested as shocked Russians protest Ukraine attack” by  Dasha Litvinova

Column: “Putin’s war reminds us why liberal democracy is worth defending” by Fareed Zakaria

Useful facts about the Russia/Ukraine war to help you start factual debates

  • Vladimir Putin became president of Russia in 2012. He can still run for the Russian presidency for two more terms that will end in 2036 when he is  84 years old. He signed a law in April last year that altered the Russian constitution, giving him six years per term. He is currently in his fourth term, which will end in 2024.
  • Volodymyr Zelenskyy is a 44-year-old former actor who, in 2019, was elected to be Ukraine’s president after he won the presidential election.
  • Russia is the biggest country in the world by landmass.
  • Ukraine is the 46 largest country globally by landmass but the second largest in Europe.
  • Russia supplies 40 per cent of Europe’s gas. But under Vladimir Putin, the Russian economy is not even in the top 10 of the world’s largest.
  • The minimum wage in Russia is below 100 dollars a month. A staggering 90 dollars.
  • The average Russian earns 609.11 dollars per month.
  • A 2017 report said that Putin’s net worth was 200 billion dollars.
  • On April 1, 2014, NATO unanimously decided to suspend all practical co-operation with the Russian Federation in response to the Annexation of Crimea. Still, the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) was not suspended.
  • In February and March 2014, Russia invaded and subsequently annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine.
  • Nato is an alliance of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, also called the North Atlantic Alliance. It is an intergovernmental military alliance between 28 European countries and 2 North American countries. Established in the aftermath of World War II, the organisation implements the North Atlantic Treaty signed on April 4, 1949.
  • As an independent country, Ukraine has the right to join whatever intergovernmental body it desires, including the European Union and NATO.

Now, you probably will have no reason to not let the other person speak during conversations. As a bonus, listen to this debate about America’s history of invasion leading to the Russia/Ukraine war between Bret Stephens, a columnist at the New York Times and Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stones magazine.

If you don’t do it like this, it’s probably because what you’re saying is a conspiracy theory.

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