Disinformation in Brazil election: Lessons for Nigeria ahead of 2023 polls

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For fact-checkers across the world, election season comes with an enormous task, as it is often characterised by misinformation and disinformation. And the October 2022 second run-off election in Brazil isn’t an exemption.

Supporters of the major contenders in Brazil’s 2022 presidential election – incumbent far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, seeking another term in office, and his left-wing rival Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a former president – have polarised the South American country with misinformation and disinformation.

The country’s electoral umpire declared Lula da Silva winner of the keenly contested election, according to Time magazine.

According to DataReportal, there were 171.5 million social media users in Brazil in January 2022; that is equivalent to 79.9 per cent of its total population of 214.7 million as of January 2022. The report added a caveat: “it’s important to note that social media users may not represent unique individuals.”

READ: Dey Nigerian political figures fact-checked during off-cycle governorship elections in Imo, Kogi, Bayelsa

In essence, more than half of the country’s population likely made their voting decisions based on what they read, watch or listen to online.

A 2022 study by UK’s Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism and the University of Oxford found that more than 70 per cent of Brazilians think disinformation is a problem on Facebook, WhatsApp, Google and YouTube. TikTok also played a role in the increasing digital disinformation in Brazil’s election.

From claims about corruption, Covid-19, deforestation, guns, organised crimes, Satanism and Cannibalism etc, Brazilian fact-checkers at LupaAFP ChecamosAos FatosBoatos.orgComprovae-FarsasAgência Pública and Fato ou Fake, among others rose up to the task of sharing factual information and debunking fake news to reduce “the impact of lies in the election.”

As CNN reported, “Distrust has been exacerbated by a bitter campaign season, marked by intense misinformation campaigns and name-calling on both sides.”

“Authorities in Brazil have ramped up efforts to remove inaccurate information from social media websites, even setting up their own platform to debunk some of the accusations. But the effort sparked cries of censorship among supporters of Bolsonaro, who have faced more investigations of alleged misinformation dissemination than those backing Lula,” it added.

Like Brazil, President Muhammadu Buhari-led Nigerian government in October 2022 said misinformation aggravates insecurity and distrust between his government and the Nigerian populace.

Nigeria is witnessing floods of misinformation on its cyberspace, especially across social media platforms, where supporters of the leading presidential contenders are influencing online conversations and political campaigns ahead of the African nation’s 2023 general elections.

The top three presidential candidates in next year’s election in Nigeria are Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Peter Obi of the Labour Party.

Over the last few months, fact-checkers at The FactCheckHub, like their counterparts in Brazil, have debunked posts and videos spread on social media by purveyors of misinformation and disinformation, which oftentimes are partly supporters of the trio.

From an old video of Tinubu working out, to a video of Dino Melaye (Atiku’s spokesperson) ‘supporting’ Peter Obi and a popular Nigerian music artiste, Charly Boy, making false claim about October 1 rally held by Peter Obi’s supporters, Nigeria’s internet users population of 109.2 millions (as of January 2022) are battling with how to make informed decisions regarding who will represent them in the next democratic administration.

The presidential candidates are not left out in sharing misinformation among the populace. The FactCheckHub had earlier published analysis on false claims made by AtikuTinubu and how Obi repeatedly quoted wrong figures in public. Recently, one of the trio shared a misleading photo that went viral.

This prompted the formation of the Nigerian Fact-Checkers Coalition (NFC) which consists of three International Fact-Checking Network (IFCNsignatories, civil societies and newsrooms working together to curb the spread of misinformation and disinformation before and during the next Nigeria’s election.

The NFC members include the Africa Check; FactCheckHubDubawa; International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR); Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID); Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD); FactsMatterNG; The Cable; Daily Trust; Premium Times, Digital Africa Research Lab and The Insight.

Formed in June 2022, the coalition in August wrote an Open Letter to Nigerian politicians calling them to shun misinformation in their campaigns and public speeches.

Also, on September 6, 2022 the coalition hosted an election disinformation conference with the theme: Nigeria’s 2023 Election: Curbing Information Disorder where panelists tasked all political stakeholders, diplomatic communities and tech giants such as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc to help Nigeria in her fight against election misinformation and disinformation. Panelists at the event also raised concerns over state-sponsored misinformation in the country ahead of the polls, while tasking media organisations to fact-check their reports before disseminating to the public.

The coalition members, among others, are educating the Nigerian electorate and providing them with media literacy information, thus arming them with truth ahead of the elections.

Beyond these, The FactCheckHub also amplifies published fact-checks by producing snackable social videos in three major Nigerian languages – HausaIgbo and Yoruba – to educate our regional audience in their local languages.

This targets the rural audience who have little, semi-formal or non-formal education spread across the villages in the entire country and border communities of other neighbouring countries who speak similar languages, such as the Hausa-speaking Niger communities in northern Nigerian borders and Yoruba-speaking Cotonou (Côte d’Ivoire) communities in Western Nigeria etc.

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Unlike in Brazil where the nation’s Superior Electoral Court became the protagonist in the battle against election misinformation, Nigeria’s electoral umpire tasked media organisations to step up their fact-checking efforts to tackle misinformation head-on.

Though the Nigerian government has made several attempts to pass a bill regulating social media usage in the country, it has been met with stiff resistance from the civil society, media, and ordinary Nigerians.

Just as “Disinformation is obviously a major problem for Brazil’s democracy,” according to analysts, the Nigerian fact-checking community, including the media needs to synergise efforts in advancing media literacy to ensure transparency and fairness in the electoral process by providing the Nigerian electorate factual information at all times.

Similarly, they must ensure that they closely monitor the factual accuracy of what is said by all political candidates across the country without bias; be it in the form of radio and Television ads, debates, speeches, interviews or press releases published in newspapers or shared on social platforms.

They must also seek and secure the unwavering commitment of social media platforms to fighting fake news in Nigeria, beyond mere photo-ops and rhetoric.

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Opeyemi Kehinde is a Professional Fact-Checker, Multimedia Journalist, and Editor of the FactCheckHub.

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