2023 election: How false attributions on social media contribute to misinformation


As part of their strategy to undermine Nigeria’s 2023 general elections, fake news merchants are now attributing unfounded statements to public figures to dissuade the Nigerian electorate, findings by The FactCheckHub have revealed.

As the elections approach, The FactCheckHub observed an increase in fabricated statements attributed to key public and influential figures in Nigeria. This has the tendency of distorting voters’ perspectives and ability to make informed decisions at the polls.

For instance, Nigerian music artiste, Charles Chukwuemeka Oputa, popularly called Charly Boy, tweeted a quote falsely attributed to the former Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, saying tribalism is the problem of Nigeria.

The quote read:

“In 2019, Yorubas wanted President Buhari to resign and handover power to Vice President Osibanjo due to his health.In 2023, the same Yorubas are supporting Bola Tinubu whose health is worse than President Buhari’s health. 2023 general election has shown that North is not the problem of Nigeria but tribalism.”

When The FactCheckHub examined the claim, findings show that the quote was fabricated and didn’t emanate from Sanusi.

Screenshot of Charly Boy’s tweeted false attribution.

The FactCheckHub had earlier debunked a quote attributed to Sanusi, where he was purportedly analyzing the uniqueness of at least three presidential candidates contesting Nigeria’s 2023 election.

Sanusi is not the only one that suffers from the menace of identity theft in the hands of fake news merchants. Several false claims have also been attributed to the Nigerian Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, in the past  despite the fact that he has always reiterated that he does not use social media, but expresses his views on national issues through the print media.

READ : How Charly Boy spreads disinformation to promote Peter Obi’s candidacy

In 2021, a quote was falsely attributed to Soyinka where he purportedly said he would involve himself in politics and campaign for Bola Tinubu, the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the February 25, 2023 election.

The viral statement, which was also found to be false, read:

“I have never involve myself in politics or campaign for any politician, but in 2023 I will involve in politics and campaign for longtime friend in 1993 Nadeco struggle. Nobel Laurel Professor oluwole soyinka.”

Recently, in his article titled “From Pope Benedict XVI to Jacinda Ardern: The Challenge of Poor Health versus National Leadership”  published on Thisday newspaper on January 22, 2023, a reputable Nigerian professor, Bola Akinterinwa, fell for this misleading attribution and mistakenly quoted a fake statement attributed to Soyinka where purportedly said Northerners would continue to rule Nigeria. The claim was later debunked by the Nobel Laureate, in a rebuttal.


The trend of fake endorsements

With the 2023 general election few weeks away, The FactCheckHub has also observed an increase in false endorsements attributed to key public figures in the society.

In August 2022, a viral post falsely claimed that  Soyinka endorsed Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, the presidential candidate of the New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP) for the Nigerian presidency.

Just recently, a false claim that the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar III (CFR) endorsed the presidential bid of the Labour Party’s candidate, Peter Obi also went viral online.

The false quote read:

“The problem of the North is from the north, not Peter Obi or an Igbo man, it will be worst and more deadly for the North if Tinubu wins, if they tell you an Igbo man is the problem of Nigeria, tell them Igbo man never rule Nigeria before and north is world poverty capital.”

Meanwhile, in a disclaimer by Bashir Adefaka, an aide to Sultan, he clarified that Sultan did not endorse Obi’s presidential bid.

In the same vein, a claim that Kanu Nwankwo, a former captain of the country’s national football team, Super Eagles, endorsed Tinubu also went viral online. Few days after the claim went viral, Kanu made a video on 27 January 2023 to debunk it.

In the video, Kanu says: “I am not a politician, I am a footballer” and asks people “spreading fake news” in his name to stop. He said he has not told anybody who to vote for in the election.”

A viral post also claimed that a former Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff and elder statesman, Theophilus Danjuma, endorsed Peter Obi.

Similarly, on October 26, 2022, the Atiku Presidential Campaign Organisation released a statement claiming that the influential London-based Economist magazine endorse the candidacy of Atiku Abubakar. The claim was also found to be false.

READ ALSO : Charly Boy shares fake chart about Nigeria’s 2023 presidential election result

How does false attributions work?

Cambridge Dictionary defines misattribution as the act of wrongly saying or thinking that someone or something has a particular quality or feature as a result of someone or something else.

In other words, giving the wrong person credit for doing something.

The best way to identify a false attribution is to question the source. Most false attributions don’t contain the source of information. Putting it in a context, a credible news should be able to answer the 5Ws (where, when, who, why and what) and 1H(how) questions. An attribution that doesn’t carry such information demands a sober scrutiny.

For instance, none of the social media users who posted the false attributions above disclosed their source(s) publicly and neither the information could be seen on any credible media platform.

As Nigerians go to their various polling units on February 25, 2023 to choose the nation’s next president, experts have posited that rising misinformation has the potential to undermine the election.

Lanre Olagunju, the fact-check editor at TheCable noted that there would be an increase in fake attributions as election approaches.

He stressed the need to understand the styles and medium in which the public figures disseminate information and air their views on topical issues.

“One thing that would help to clarify on such is to understand the styles. For instance, you would know how Wole Soyinka talks. I don’t even think he has a social media account in the first place. Obasanjo has no social media handle. Ibrahim Babangida is not on social media. So, when you begin to see quotes attributed to them online, you need to ask when did these people talked. What’s their style? ” he said.

Olagunju said purveyors of misinformation would be leveraging the credibility and wide influence of public figures to misinform people, especially in an election season.

On his part, Oluwatobi Odeyinka, a fact-checker with Ripples Nigeria explained that false attributions is a deliberate and well coordinated attempt by fake news merchants to tarnish the image of certain presidential candidates, or to sell certain candidates.

“As a fact-checker, the basic rule is to go back to the primary source of the public figure that the claim is attributed to, and check if the person made the claim; the context and things like that.

“Fact-checkers should be careful and look out for falsely attributed claims,” he added.

He urged the citizens to read from credible sources often to avoid falling victim to misinformation online.

“They should look more to credible and reputable media for news, and less to social media. When they see any news item on social media, they should try to cross check with credible news media,” he said succinctly.

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Nurudeen Akewushola is a fact-checker with FactCheckHub. He has authored several fact checks which have contributed to the fight against information disorder. You can reach him via [email protected] and @NurudeenAkewus1 via Twitter.


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