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Understanding, catching up with peddlers of Fake News

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By Bankole Shakirudeen Adeshina

Have you ever imagined how powerful the power of Fake News is? I mean the destructive tendency of misinformation and disinformation on our lives?
Yes, you probably may have, most likely, but certainly not on the scale it should be.
Now, imagine you waking up to a viral video or picture of your own wife/husband/kid/parent/guardian/loved ones on the social or on the traditional media, indulging in some scandalous activity that can greatly impair your or the person’s personal/family/religious/professional/academic reputation.
A near- example of this scenario is, for instance, the characterization of a traditionally honest, fair, decent and upright human being in a negative posture. Imagine a celebrity or innocent persons, who would ordinarily never consider such, being portrayed to be involved in some criminal, disgraceful and punishable activities.
It could be in form of your own heterosexually inclined wife/husband performing at a Live Strippers or Gay Club! Your lovely, decent, religious and highly reserved heartthrob. Just imagine!
But this is no more a fiction. It’s already happening.
Cloning of people’s images, to appear elsewhere, saying or doing things they would not ordinarily do; or recreating events that never happened or that happened elsewhere to situate in another location, is one of the burdens of the 21st century technological breakthroughs. And its believability rate is exponentially high.
That ingenuity is the work of #DeepFake, one of the technological components used to spread misinformation and disinformation, with the intent to achieve some ulterior motives.
To better understand the existential threat posed by Fake News, the motives of the peddlers and how to help the public recognize the truth amidst the sea of propaganda, misinformation and disinformation, Goethe Institute, hosted Nigerian journalists to an explosive one-day training in Lagos during the week.

The parley prompted a conversation on the need for journalists to continually be equipped with competitive knowledge and technical know-how to aide in the discharge of their professional duties.
Young, innovative and intellectually savvy media head-eggs held the audience, which included Researchers and Lawyers, spellbound as they helped them navigate the treacherous landscape of fake-news and how to sort out the truths from the lies.

Victor Mathias, a seasoned television broadcaster, expressed worry that with the rise of Artificial Intelligence and the activation of the 5G Network, Cybercrime and DeekFake activities may actually be the next weapons with mass destruction capabilities.
Understanding the concept properly, Mathias explained that “Deep Fake is technological software that superimposes faces, voices, and striking semblance of physical outlook of people, places and things in places or doing/saying things they, in reality, didn’t or would never do nor say. It involves the combination of deep leaning with some video manipulation.
“Unfortunately, the advent of Deep Fake has now eroded the credibility of the evidential statement that: ‘Seeing is believing.’ Seeing is no more believing, for events that are not real can be created and perfected to look as if they are real.
“But with deep knowledge of events around us and intellectual sensibility of people, these attempts can be thwarted,” he added.’
Mathias recalled the height of the 2019 Presidential Campaign in Nigeria, a scenario of a purported video of the President of the United States of America, Donald Trump, endorsing the candidature of the Peoples Democratic Party, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, saying such was a perfect example of the work of DeepFake, and the political tension that followed can best describe how much threat such can pose to the stability of a country.

Mayowa Tijani, Head, AFP FactCheck Desk, said the business of “spreading of Fake News transcends political gains. Its basically about power, as it is widely known that whoever controls the minds and perceptions of the public possesses the most potent power.”

David Ajikobi, Nigeria Editor of Fact-Check Africa, who taught the audience on how to use their smartphones to spot fake videos, photos and or news contents, was saddened that, “ before the truth would have completed lacing its shoes, the lies would have flew around the globe twice, misleading people to form decisions and perception on wrong information.
“This is the more reason why we intend to expand the number of Truth Ambassadors and Fact-Check Soldiers we have. And it would be nice to work with willing individuals at this training,” he explained.
Ajikobi , who stated that FactCheck Africa was founded on the need to bust the network of peddlers of lies and falsehood around the continent, said: “Misinformation is actually the spreading of falsehood, unknowingly; while Disinformation is the deliberate fabrication of falsehood and sharing of same with the intent to mislead the public.
“Fake News strive only on culture, social, religious and social beliefs and biases; and unfortunately, journalists are also susceptible to these factors.
“First step to address this is acknowledging one’s biases, though would not make it go away but would surely enhance transparency in handling the issue. This is important because misinformation and disinformation can cost us our lives, livelihood, peace and the whole essence of living,” he added.

Lolade Nwanze, Online Editor, Guardian Newspaper, said the Social Media has helped greatly in the misrepresentation of millions of untrained and keyboard-trigger-happy online warriors as journalists.
“Look, there is no two ways about it. There is nothing like Citizen Journalists. They are all simple quacks. If you want to be a journalist, go and study the course. Is it possible to have a Citizen Medical Doctor? Somebody who wants to help intervene in health emergency but not skilled.
“Will you take your own family to such a person to administer healthcare to you? You will never do that for the simple reason that the person is not trained! The same thing should be applied to Journalists too. This is a noble profession that is guided by code of conduct and ethics,” she stressed.
Nwanze, who related how uncompromising she is to the ethics of her job, said she always subjected her reporters to same professional oath.
According to her, “I tell my journalists, I would rather sacrifice FIRST for ACCURACY. I can’t be the first in spreading NONSENSE. I make sure that all the angles are explored and my stories are confirmed before publishing. That is the rule of the game.”
Speaking on Gatekeeping and Investigative Reporting in an era of Quickie Journalism, ‘Fisayo Soyombo, editor of Sahara Reporter and investigative journalist, said it was time to replicate the same stringent editorial measures existent in the traditional media in Online News Media structures.
He noted that amongst the hundreds of online news platforms that exists in the country today, only PremiumTimes and probably TheCable have the same scrutinizing process to subject reports to.
He says, “if you want to earn more respect and credibility of your readership, don’t give room for errors. And more importantly, provide for serious gatekeeping process through which reports are vetted.
“In the traditional media, a reporter’s copy is passed to the Sub-Desk, then to the Assistant Editor and then to the Editor. In this process, there is no way error or misinformation will escape the eagle eyes of the professionals and highly trained individuals in these channels. Therefore, the structure must be replicated in the serious minded online news platforms too.”

One of the participants, Bolaji Ogunbunmi, a lawyer, said the “intensive one-day training can pass for a Business Masterclass.
” For me, the takeaway is in the recognition of the threats posed by Deep Fake, especially to the credibility of pictorial and video proofs as evidences in the court of Law. Although the Nigerian Judiciary is well aware of this and has amended the existing legal framework to subject all sources of proves to the scrutiny. But we need to raise the awareness level among the lawyers also.”

Director of Goethe Institute, Friederike Moschel said the hosting of the one-day training for Nigerian Journalists was part of strategic relationship between the German Government and Nigeria.
It is also part of the Institution’s contribution to global efforts to combat the spread of fake news and its attendant threat to peace and stability.