Olamond Naija Opinion: Facebook’s latest move against fake news in Nigeria’s election deserves some accolades

Facebook’s latest move to curb fake news in Nigeria’s election deserves some accolades.

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Just after the successful conclusion of the general elections on February 16 and March 2, 2019, Facebook’s plan to curb fake news in Africa’s most populous nation, is worthy of some commendation. It was duly recalled that the Facebook social media platform was used as one if the major tools to transmit propaganda and fake stories. I

When Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, appeared before US lawmakers in April of 2018, he was left on a hot seat to answer questions bordering on the role his company played in the U.S elections of 2016.

To put it plainly, Zuckerberg was peppered with questions from U.S congressmen for allowing Facebook to be used as avenue for fake news and propaganda by foreign firms intent on swinging national elections one way or the other.

In 2015 and 2016, a UK company called Cambridge Analytica interfered with elections held in Nigeria and the United States respectively, after it was allowed access to millions of Facebook user information and data.

With this trove of data, Cambridge Analytica, Russian hackers and other such hired companies with agenda to push, were able to design advertisements that targeted users in particular countries conducting elections at the time. 

Mark Zuckerberg is CEO off Facebook and he wants to combat fake news (AFP)

Mark Zuckerberg is CEO off Facebook and he wants to combat fake news (AFP)

By possessing user information and data, these foreign companies were able to funnel targeted ads to your feed. Democrat Hillary Clinton still believes that this is how and why she lost the 2016 presidential election to Donald Trump.

According to Reuters, in December of 2018, researchers working for a U.S. Senate committee, concluded that the Russian government’s Internet Research Agency used social media ads and regular posts on inauthentic accounts to promote then presidential candidate Donald Trump to millions of Americans. Russia of course denies the accusation.

In 2018, a whistle-blower, Christopher Wylie, who worked with Cambridge Analytica, confessed that the firm was hired by persons working for former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, to swing the 2015 election the incumbent’s way.

Cambridge Analytica reportedly deployed all kinds of fake, negative news and hate and propaganda messages to sway the 2015 presidential vote Jonathan’s way. Buhari was painted as Lucifer incarnate by Cambridge Analytica and negative ads demonizing him were pushed to Nigerians with social media accounts. Jonathan would go on to lose the election, however.

Christopher Wylie blew the whistle on Cambridge Analytica and its abuse of Facebook's data privacy provisions (AFP)

Christopher Wylie blew the whistle on Cambridge Analytica and its abuse of Facebook’s data privacy provisions (AFP)

Facebook doesn’t want its site to be used by foreign consultancy firms in Nigeria this way, so beginning today (Wednesday, January 16, 2019), “only advertisers located in Nigeria will be able to run electoral ads, mirroring a policy unveiled during an Irish referendum last May, Katie Harbath, Facebook’s director of global politics and outreach, said in an interview”, Reuters writes.

It’s a welcome development of course in this age of social media and in this age where Facebook is the biggest such social media player around.

“We’re learning from every country,” says Rob Leathern, a director of product management at Facebook. “We know we’re not going to be perfect, but our goal is continuing, ongoing improvement.”

Often criticized for its opacity, Facebook’s newfound transparency initiative has drawn it some applause from elected officials and campaign accountability groups around the world.

Facebook is the giant of social media with over a billion subscribers (Facebook)

Facebook is the giant of social media with over a billion subscribers (Facebook)

It goes without saying that fake news is a danger to Nigeria’s fledgling democracy and an avalanche of foreign interference in Nigeria’s elections at this time could leave the country’s nascent democracy on the brink.

As a journalist covering the 2019 elections for Olamond, the amount of fake news I have to deal with and sift through on my gadgets every other day, can be energy sapping and overwhelming. Most of these fake news arrive from Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and every other social media page you can think of; and is mined by political players who have no scruples burning down their own country just to further their dimwitted interests and agendas.

With over one billion users, Facebook is the Real Madrid of social media and it owes a responsibility to nation states and non-state actors to be above board. This move to limit targeted ads to only companies who operate within Nigeria for the duration of the 2019 elections, could go a long way and is no doubt a start. The rest of the media has got to follow Facebook’s example as we all strive to rid the world of the menace that is fake news.

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