People’s Check, a student-run fact-checking organisation which aims to reduce information disorder and fake news in Nigeria was founded by Quadri Sultan, a 300-level Mass Communication student at the Lagos State University, Ojo. In this interview, Sultan shares the aspiration of the organisation amid the challenges facing fact-checking in Nigeria. Excerpts;
A lot of those who are yet to come to terms with what People’s Check,
People’s Check is an independent fact-checking and verification organisation run by a group of Nigerian students. We are probably the first student-run fact-checking initiative in Africa and maybe in the world. We strive to contribute greatly to the reduction and possibly the eradication of information and disinformation in Nigeria. We work to correct any form of information disorder which emanates from the government, groups, and individuals. We also engage in media literacy to ensure that the public knows how to spot fake news on their own and extract only correct information. We target people who don’t understand the concept of fake news and the harm it causes. We are particular about people that are not too educated and exposed to understand that some set of people discreetly and sometimes openly churn out fake news.
People’s Check is a non-profit organisation that serves as a platform for all aspiring fact-checkers who need a platform to affect the positive change they envision. We are a platform that gives Nigerians an avenue to verify the information they find in the media and published by the government.
We recently got awarded with Meedan and Check Global COVID-19 Micro-grant for emerging economies worth $2000. Our work was recognised and we were selected from a pool of over 100 applicants around the world. We have more than 15 Nigerian students that contributing immensely to this organisation.
So far, we have published 24 fact-checks and reached about 10,000 people. We follow a strict and open policy that aims to hold members of the public, media, and the government accountable to the information they spread.
Through what prism does People’s Check view disinformation and fake news?
Information disorder in Nigeria is a product of the country’s many inadequacies, I must confess. Fake news stem from the lack of trust the people have in the government, before you know it several conspiracy theories would have been engraved in their minds. A lot of Nigerians still believe coronavirus is only a ploy by the government to siphon public funds. It is in this fear, uncertainty, and panic, some members of the public share voice notes or messages that constitute misinformation.
This, to most people, is a noble cause of saving their fellow Nigerians whom they feel cannot be left at the mercy of a supposed mischievous government. This also affects the spread of fake news, Nigerians will remember reports of government ineptitudes and maladministration and they tend to believe absolute strangers than their government. A lot of Nigerian bloggers understand this fact, so they come up with any content, not minding if it is entirely fabricated to trigger the emotions of Nigerians. These bloggers draw traffic to their websites with hate speech and Disinformation.
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How does People’s Check source for claims to be checked?
We rely on the people to forward information they find suspicious to us through our official social media accounts or our researchers. Our researchers also do a good job by curating these claims on Facebook and WhatsApp. We also make use of Twitter Trends to monitor the flow of information on twitter. Before we accept a claim, we ascertain the extent of its reach to avoid amplifying the suspicious claim.
How would you rate the fight against misinformation, malinformation and fake news?
It is an amazing experience, especially with my colleagues, we have been able to publish some very helpful fact-checks. One is a hoax about goats eating 50 billion. While it seemed harmless, we noticed that the sites where it was published have more than 40,000 views combined, this caused a spike in the number of searches for it. Luckily, our fact-checks made it to the first page of Google’s search results and we were able to reach over 5000 people.
Last week, we phoned the office of the General Overseer of Redeemed Church of God over a claim. Within an hour, a public disclaimer was made on the church’s official social media accounts and the fake news was dispelled. These are the impact we make that keeps us going. While building credibility is not be easy, we are striving to earn it.
Have fact-checkers been doing well enough in Nigeria?
Fact-checkers are doing well in the fight against misinformation and disinformation in Nigeria but it seems we have not able to keep up with the amount of fake news in our cyberspace. A look at some Facebook pages, you will see tons of false information. I believe fact-checking should not be a luxury, but a necessity. Fact-checkers have to speed up their fact-checking process without sacrificing accuracy so that they can nip fake news in the bud.
What are the impediments to a successful fact-checking sojourn in Nigeria?
The lack of trust in the government facilitates the spread of fake news. It also allows debunked fake news to be reconstructed with another context and people will believe it. Another challenge is the persistent publication of disinformation by bloggers. The reach of the fact-check is also a challenge, maybe not only in Nigeria, but the reach of fact-checks are also minute when compared to the reach garnered by the fake news.
What then is the way forward?
I believe fact-checking platforms should increase the number of fact checks they publish, this is not to amplify these claims but to nip them in the bud. The era of waiting until a claim takes root in people’s minds before it is worked on should stop. Fact-checking platforms should be able to build a particular kind of credibility that will allow the people to take their word for it and turn to them if they find any information suspicious.
Fact-checking platforms should devise a method to ensure the spread of its fact-checks. In fact, most Nigerians, especially the uneducated ones do not understand the meaning or essence of fact-checking. A mass awareness campaign to ensure Nigerians consult them before believing anything should be initiated. Social media platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook, and recently Twitter have been impressive in this fight against fake news. More partnership with them as regards Nigeria will be very helpful.
How do you see People’s Check in the future?
We are aiming to become a full-fledge fact-checking organisation and grow to become a member of the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN). We intend to become an authority in fact-checking in Africa and the world. We intend to train more Nigerian students on the art of fact-checking and develop into a large community of fact-checkers. These fact-checkers will go on to dominate the fact-checking world.