How information disorder heightens tension, confuses public during crisis

Share

MINUTES after Maryam Awwal heard a resounding explosion while seated at her residence located in Ikolaba Estate along New Bodija area in Ibadan, Oyo State on January 16, 2024, she decided to go through her social media accounts.

While going through her multiple social media apps, she discovered that she wasn’t the only one who had heard the explosion.

“I was going through X, and it was then I discovered that people and places had been affected by the explosion as I was indoors and people were seeking emergency medical help,” she said.

Awwal added that she didn’t know what had caused the explosion as there were different versions of what had happened that day online.

“Some people posted that it was a bomb blast and terrorists were about to attack Ibadan; others had claimed it was a rapture, and there was no clarity on what had happened, which made the situation worse,” Awwal added.

Aerial view of scene of the Ibadan explosion. PHOTO CREDITS: Channels TV.
Aerial view of scene of the Ibadan explosion. PHOTO CREDITS: Channels TV.

An explosion rocked Ibadan on Tuesday, January 16, 2024 at about 7:30 pm, which killed five persons, as many were injured and a lot of properties were damaged. The cause of the explosion had been sketchy that night, leaving people vulnerable to misinformation and disinformation.

An example was the affected locations of the incident as the explosion had happened at Dejo Oyelese Street in Bodija area and affected houses within its environs. But most X users had claimed that it affected two malls in the city, namely Ace mall and Ventura mall, which were already in ruins.

However, an X user @theayoadams had posted images of the malls in two different posts, claiming that one of the malls was not affected while the other had taken a little hit. Some users in the comments section had purported that the user was lying as he was circulating old pictures.

This prompted The FactCheckHub to do further checks on the viral claim that the malls posted by the user were affected.

When asked, Awwal confirmed what the X user (@theayoadams) had posted.

“Ventura is another 15/20 minute journey from Ace Mall or the affected area. So it was fine, Ace Mall took a little hit with the ceiling and roofs, but that was it. Nothing too major,” she stated.

Further findings by The FactCheckHub showed that Ventura Mall is located on Sango-Ojoo Road while Ace Mall is located at Awolowo Avenue, beside Bodija Estate.

BEFORE and AFTER aerial view of the area where the Ibadan explosion occurred. PHOTO CREDITS: The Cable newspaper.
BEFORE and AFTER aerial view of the area where the Ibadan explosion occurred. PHOTO CREDITS: The Cable newspaper.

According to Google Maps, the time distance between both locations is 5 minutes if you are commuting by car and 17 minutes if trekking.

In an article published in September 2022, Constella Intelligence cited confusion and divide in the time of crisis as one of the many dangers of misinformation and disinformation.

“Misinformation is another tool in this arsenal. The spread of misinformation can be used to sway public opinion, make a governing body appear incompetent, and divide citizens based on ideological lines,” part of the report read.

This instance is not only peculiar to war. Most times, misinformation can also confound the populace in a state of emergence, like we have seen recently in the Plateau attacks and the Maitama explosion.

“In the context of crises and disasters, false or misleading claims, malicious disinformation, rumours, or pranks may put individuals at increased risk and/or hamper the normal operation of emergency management institutions,” a study by Science Direct stated.

“Because of the rapidity of information flow on social media and the lack of possibilities to verify information in emergency situations, social media has become a perfect platform for false information,” the report added.

Dr. Gbemisola Animasawun. CREDITS: LinkedIn.com Profile.
Dr. Gbemisola Animasawun. CREDITS: LinkedIn.com Profile.

Speaking with The FactCheckHub, Gbemisola Animasawun, an associate Professor at the Center for Peace and Strategic Studies, University of Ilorin stated that due to the technological advancement, there is a consequential relationship between information disorder and public communication during emergencies citing Ebola, COVID-19 and the recent Nigerian elections.

He said: “A case in point was the infodemic that was rife during recent public health emergencies (Ebola and COVID-19). A similar pattern was also seen during the 2023 elections in Nigeria when all forms of information disorder were weaponized to demonize and mislead unsuspecting members of the public.

“Information disorder has also become a threat to global peace, public safety, and national security in conflict-affected and insurgency-affected communities as parties in conflict and outlaws have realized the potency of information disorder (fake-news, misinformation, and disinformation) as a weapon of conflict otherwise referred to as information warfare.

“So, in as much as wars and emergencies/chaotic situations call to question the capacity of the government to protect, outlaws and anti-social elements would always deploy information disorder.”

 

Is Nigeria prepared for information disorder in crisis time?

In order to curb this growing menace, the foremost rules of fact-checking, “Think before you share” and “Verify before you share” are essential. The importance cannot be overemphasized, especially in a situation of civil unrest, as it can escalate the situation and cause more panic amongst residents in that area.

Another thing that cannot be overemphasized is the role government plays in handling misinformation and disinformation during crisis situation or a state of emergency. Most times, the debunks and communication come in late or never.

In this report by The FactCheckHub, Fact-checkers noted that the budget allocated to combat information disorder in 2024 showed a lack of readiness by the Nigerian government to sanitize the information ecosystem.

“That figure sounds like a comic relief — a joke. It’s like going for a battle and when the people see the quality of the material you have as your arsenal, they can tell if you’re ready for the battle or not. If you are going for a battle and you’re coming with a catapult while your opposition are with something bigger, it’s clear that you’re there for a joke,” Lanre Olagunju, Fact-check Editor at TheCable stated.

The Nigerian government had earmarked a budget of N24.5 million to the ministry of Information and National Orientation to tackle fake news out of the  N27.5 trillion for the 2024 fiscal year.

“The implications are numerous. The implication can also tell purveyors that they now have a free day; so it can even encourage them which may undermine the efforts of fact-checkers,” he added further.

Similarly, Silas Jonathan, a fact-checker and researcher with Dubawa said the allocation is insufficient given the profound impacts of misinformation and disinformation in the country.

A survey done by Science Direct on the emergency management approaches to dealing with false information using eight countries in Europe showed that responding to misinformation is relatively loosely in six countries and strict in two countries.

Responding to information disorder during crisis or state of emergency is not just a Nigerian problem but a global problem.

 

Experts speak

Eze Emelogu, a research fellow at the Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (IPCR), Abuja said that communication is key for the government to effectively manage information coordination during crisis. He added that the media and government can mitigate tensions and likely confusions that occur during crisis situation, by becoming reliable and credible sources of factual information for the public.

“The intersection point between information disorder and crisis management is an accurate source of information. A central source of information that is trusted, that would take over the public narrative,” Emelogu stated.

He urged government or local communities involved at each crisis period to “release accurate information regularly,” while weighing it “against the sensitivity of the situation” at hand.

He said: “Also create a constant chain of communication. Make sure there is no break in communication because during crisis, there is a need for regular communication.”

On practices that can be imbibed both online and offline by the public to manage information consumption during crisis, Dr. Animasawun noted that there is need for fact-checking and verification to be  mainstreamed into all forms of emergency responses.

The importance of knowing how to interpret the media resides in an individual’s ability to educate themselves and decipher necessary actions to take. CREDITS: thefeather.com
The importance of knowing how to interpret the media resides in an individual’s ability to educate themselves and decipher necessary actions to take. CREDITS: thefeather.com

“This is best done by taking the inoculation approach, that is, training all desk-officers and all relevant officials in fact-checking and verification periodically so that they are well prepared to respond during emergencies. So that immediately emergencies occur, there would be an immediate setting up of fact-checking and verification desks to prevent all forms of information disorder.

“Also, Executives like Presidents, Governors and social media influencers should be periodically educated on the need for restraint and evidence during emergencies or crisis situations no matter the pressure. They should be made aware of the consequences of uninformed assertions during crisis not based on scientific investigations for public peace and security during emergencies,” Animasawun added.

He further stated that fact-checking platforms should collaborate with government’s Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), State Governments and social media influencers for regular training and capacity building in fact-checking and verification before, during and even after emergencies. He urged journalists to prioritize experts opinions for wider dissemination than mere speculations during crisis/emergency situations.

In conclusion, both government and the media including fact-checkers play significant roles in minimizing harms, dousing tension and ensuring that members of the public have access to factual information during crisis situation.

Fact-checker at The FactheckHub | [email protected] | + posts

Seasoned fact-checker and researcher Fatimah Quadri has written numerous fact-checks, explainers, and media literacy pieces for The FactCheckHub in an effort to combat information disorder. She can be reached at sunmibola_q on X or [email protected].

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here


Most Read

Recent Checks