Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka and other panellists have unanimously agreed that fake news be criminalized as a way of curbing the menace.
The call was made in Abuja on Wednesday at a symposium on fake news organised by BBC News.
Soyinka said that fake news has the capacity to cause the Third World War, adding that it may come from Nigeria.
The Nobel laurel, therefore, asserted that fake news be treated as a crime.
Other panellists include Jamie Angus, Director, BBC World Service Group; Funke Egbemode, President, Nigeria Guild of Editors; Uchechukwu Pedro, Founder, Bella Naija.
According to Soyinka, “People do not understand what is like to have things attributed to you which you know nothing about. Apart from the fact that I have been killed on social media several times. These last years I had telephone calls asking me where are you and I said I am in a hall. And I said I know why you are calling because you thought I was dead. Imagine waking up one day and finding a statement attributed to you and in a kind of language which you never used. For example, during former President Good luck Jonathan, there were statements that I said why did Jonathan marry an illiterate woman. I never made comments like that whatsoever.
“And I made a statement that if people are not careful world war 3 may quickly be started by fake news and that fake news probably will be generated by a Nigerian. We have a system where fake news can multiply in a second. Many of the fake news carriers use it for Business. I have someone whom we have tracked down in Poland, using a fake Facebook page of my name and my picture. And I give him a deadline to pull down the page. He lives in the United States of America but lives in Poland. He is a member of an organization called some AIESEC which actually encourages young businessmen and women.
“The first thing is to accept the fact that fake news is real and people should stop rushing to the fake sites. Individuals who have no voice before have been empowered suddenly. Every individual is now a journalist, editor promoter and most of all a publisher. There is competition to be the first to comment. So the ‘419’ individuals sleep in cafes doing all sorts of things. Fake news should be treated as a crime. When you pin down one of such criminals it should be a case of INTERPOL because they move all over the place. They should be advertised as criminals and get the police to arrest them.
“I had complained about this to a former inspector general of police that this has to do with personal security, community security. I had expected him to reply but there was no response. Not even acknowledgement.
“This should be a collective responsibility. Above all, we should treat it like a crime”.
The representative of the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Festus Okoye, a National Commissioner, posited that fake news constitutes a danger to the forthcoming general elections.
Okoye who also pointed out that the country has an army of angry people with different agenda therefore urged the security operatives to be watchful so as to arrest any threat that may want to spring up.
The INEC commissioner also challenged Nigerians on the need to be able to draw the line on what they want to believe.
The commission, Okoye said will be undertaking regular briefing as the elections draw near as part of the measures to curb fake news.
Confessing that fake news is an issue ahead of the 2019 poll, Okoye said, “it is important that we should pay attention to fake news, it is an issue in the forthcoming 2019 general election.
“Fake news is misinformation, it has no basis in fact and no basis in reality. But it is generated for a particular purpose. The issues of fake news is of most important in an election period where the stakes are high and where the gladiators wants to win and some of them want to win by all means. So there are people who just sit down mix friction in other to generate a certain reaction. And when they generate such reaction you can never tell how it will go. In a country like Nigeria sometime people receive information saying forwarded as received without you looking at the dynamics of what they are forwarding. So for me if you forward as received that means you believe in what they are forwarding or you can attest to what you are forwarding. It is a very serious issue and we are also paying close attention to fake news.
“The truth of the matter is that during an election period people wants to guild there thoughts. As the chairman of the information on voter education committee of INEC, we have had to battle with a situation where it was reported that we have established polling unites in Chad, Niger and other neighboring countries for purposes of having the the Internally Displaced persons to vote.
“Nobody wanted to believe us when we said that there is nothing like that. One of the things that generate fake news is our inability to put out information in the public. When we put out information and you give it a different narrative then it is not our fault. I believe that if governments, agencies are proactive in putting out information on public space. In Nigeria you keep on hearing that there is no smoke without fire. That give people the opportunity to believe something even if they know that the chances of that news to be real in not possible. ”
Egbemode on her part warned INEC to be ready for fake news, saying politicians will do what they have to do.
He stressed that fake news is dangerous, posited that some people are paid to spread it.
She said: ” Fake news is sophisticated. And some people wants to use that to set the country on fire. They want to see the effect. They know that there are some people who believe in sensation and they just take a full advantage of that. In the newsroom, we also know that fake news infringes on professionalism, it compromises integrity. Names that is built, brand that is build over decades.
“So we make sure that as an editors we cross check. If you cannot prove it then it cannot even be called a news item. That is what we do and that is what we have been doing. This is the season for more fake news. It is because of the advent and strength of the social media that we are having fake news and there are a lot of people who are paid to spread fake news. These people who post or Carry fake news are not journalists. The fake news issue did not originate from the newsroom. We know what we will lose if we peddle the smallest news item that is fake. We will lose ground, credibility. INEC should be ready for more fake news as the election approaches. There is news and there is gossip. When you want what is real you know where to go to. And when you want gossip and sensationalism you know where to go. When you want to listen to a sermon you do not go to a bar.”
Another panelist, Uche noted that ” A lot of the fake news website mimic real news website, so they have they have similar template, it even contains lot of real information alongside the fake information. Fake news go viral than the real news. Many of these people that are posting fake news employs different methods by putting prominent figures to make it real. This is a political period we should be careful and vigilant. The traditional media is not creating fake news. Newspapers do not do that. The people who are posting fake news are not those who will benefit from it. When we have no official news people are going to take the unofficial one.”