In today’s media landscape, news and the flow of information is faster, and more accessible, than ever before.
Which means less opportunities to investigate, or fact-check, various stories and statements for accuracy before they’re presented by the media, and shared by consumers.
‘Fake News’ is now part of today’s perpetual media information cycle, with authorities and governments trying to keep up, or attempting to challenge the presented stories.
Journalists and news networks are also fighting a disinformation ‘war’ on multiple fronts. In the race to stay relevant, they’re often unknowingly complicit in the spread of disinformation.
To counter the spread, governments and NGOs have pushed back by establishing fact checking authorities, and investing in training media outlets on how to spot suspicious stories.
Some regimes are also implementing stricter measures, such as blocking communication tools or adopting digital codes to restrict the spread of mis and dis information.
Lack of awareness, the desire to publish news reactively, and the globalisation of mass media means that it's now even more important for Africa’s journalists to have access to the tools and techniques they need to verify the facts.
‘Fake News’ is more complex than whether a story or statement is simply true or false.
There are different forms that the spread of fake news can take; some news is dangerous but with no malicious intent, whereas other news is deliberately planted.
The three most common forms of false information are: misinformation (false information, spread without intent to harm), disinformation (false information, knowingly spread to cause harm), and malinformation (when genuine information is shared to cause harm - for example a politician’s private life during an election).
Another reason why fake news persists and continually evolves, can be attributed to various social media and advertising corporations who are invested in over-hyping disinformation as an existential crisis because it’s good for business and because it’s a way of avoiding or denying the real roots of problems.
As the disruptive influence of fake news leaves its fingerprints on global politics, African NGOs have established themselves as fact-checking arbiters; keen to keep politicians in check, while training local media on what to look out for.
Organisations like Verifox Africa, set up to combat the spread of fake news in Benin, Burkina Faso and Côte d'Ivoire, are seen as especially vital in the run up to elections. Inspired by Verifox, Desinfox Africa is supporting media outlets in six French speaking nations to improve fact-checking and editorial discipline.
Libya’s fractious, fragmented recent history has included internet censorship and the persecution of journalists. Libyan news monitoring platform Falso sets out to highlight media injustice, alongside surfacing suspicious news stories and hate speech.
Myths about the spread of Covid-19 and fears around vaccination have led the World Health Organisation (WHO) to set up the Africa Infodemic Response Alliance.
‘We identify misinformation with our social media listening tools, and track it as it spreads rapidly,’ Sergio Cecchini WHO infodemic manager.
Working with 20 different partners across the continent, the Alliance debunks false stories, and counters with specific, accurate information. The network has produced more than 250 videos so far, reaching about 170 million Africans.
Enabling and empowering audiences not to take news on face value, while building in checking the back story for current affairs is one way to help combat disinformation.
From recent events in Ukraine, to dubious government claims in elections closer to home, today’s young social media users are becoming used to seeing fact-checking reports in their feeds, including Africa Check and NewsVerifierAfrica.
Factually correct news and information lets people make more informed choices in a democratic society and on other public interest issues.
Which means pursuing and presenting agnostic, verified information should encourage good governance and accountability.
Despite the damaging consequences of fake news there are more fact-checking resources available than ever before. Global and local fact checking news outlets, including the BBC and France24 and are helping to normalise a more inquisitive, truth orientated landscape.
Find out how young Ghanaians are using social media to challenge disinformation, express themselves and continue to push for the change they want to see in society, in Africa Verified’s latest Beyond The Headlines film.