Influence Of Fake News On National Security

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Influence Of Fake News On National Security


Abstract


This study was carried out on the influence of fake news on national security. The study focused on the farmers/herders conflicts in Benue State, Northcentral Nigeria. A qualitative research was conducted with five interviews and 100 questionnaires administered to gather the primary data. This was augmented with secondary data from relevant literatures and research works. Key findings from this study indicated that politics, ethnicity and religious biases were usually responsible for fake news in Nigeria. Also, the study revealed that many respondents do understand the dangers associated with not verifying social media stories. In terms of its effects on conflicts in Nigeria, they identified its potential to cause war, trigger conflicts, create chaos, incite communal clashes, and incite reprisal attacks among other things. The study equally established the impact of fake news on farmers/herders conflicts in Benue State. To this end, it was revealed that social media channeled fake news indeed aggravated the farmers/herders conflict in recent times. Fake news circulated on social media helped to incite baseless attacks and reprisals by the belligerents in Benue State. This is simply because most news gotten from social media on the conflicts are rarely verified. The study therefore recommended that, the Federal Government of Nigeria engages social media companies, and other stakeholders to check circulation of fake news. The National Assembly should institute policies to guide the use of social media while the Federal Ministry of Justice enacts a law to prosecute fake news. The National Orientation Agency should sensitize the public on their civic duties in curbing the spread of fake news. Lastly, the academia should research further into the subject.


Chapter One


Introduction

1.1 Background to the Study

This study examines the influence of fake news on national security, channeled through social media on conflicts in Benue State, Northcentral Nigeria. Information is power and to this end, it has been described in many quarters as a double-edged sword. Information can either build or destroy, depending on the content and intent of the information. Society thrives on information and history has shown that information plays a vital role in the perception and behaviours of individuals or societies. What then is information?

Information has been defined by various scholars based on the context in which information is being considered. For the purpose of this study however, the definition by Koren (2014) will suffice, namely:

Information is data presented in readily comprehensible form to which meaning has been attributed within the context of its use. In a more dynamic sense, the message conveyed by the use of a medium of communication or expression.

Information is disseminated with the aid of media or channels such as word of mouth, television, radio, newspaper, magazine, books, journals and most recently, the internet. The internet, (also known as the World Wide Web) and information disseminated on the internet are done with the aid of online-based and social media.

For this study, social media is (are) the focus. Social media refers to “those digital media that are interactive, incorporate two-way communication and involve some form of computing” (Logan, 2016). The satisfaction of accessing information faster, cheaper and regularly through social media platforms, has made it arguably, the most patronised information channel in contemporary times. Some popular social media platforms used all over the world include Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, WeChat, WhatsApp, LinkedIn, Instagram and many more. These applications are currently playing a major role in making the world virtually borderless and helping the human race become increasingly interconnected.

The internet is undoubtedly an innovation that has made life a lot easier for human beings. It has made it possible to communicate, do business and build relationships around the world in real time and at negligible costs. Describing the internet as a revolution, (Comer DE, 2019, p. 5) said “without the internet, you would feel cut off from the easy, instantaneous access to information that we take for granted.” He added that “if we imagine life without the internet, we can see that internet services have become deeply embedded in our daily lives and that instantaneous access to information has changed just about everything.” Notwithstanding the positive attributes of the internet however, it has also become a weapon of misinformation and fake news. Debatably, “for every challenge facing a nation, there exists scores of websites pretending to be something they are not” (Stanford History Education Group, 2016, p.4).

Based on the foregoing, one can deduce that the internet through social media platforms, plays a big role in the way people access information and the types of information they are exposed to in contemporary times. Social media has in recent times, aggravated the ‘fake news’ phenomena. The first time the term fake news was introduced to mainstream media was during the 2016 United States of America (USA) presidential elections. The Ethical Journalism Network (EJN) describes fake news as “information deliberately fabricated and published with the intention to deceive and mislead others into believing falsehood or doubtful messages” (EJN, 2017). Describing its enormity, (Ogbette A.S., et al., 2019, p 96) said “fake news is a global issue right now; there is an ongoing discussion about fake news and its impact on global affairs.”

Allegations abound about Russia planting fake news on the internet to influence the outcome of the US elections. Similarly, there was the ‘Pizzagate’ scandal against Hillary Clinton and her then campaign manager, John Podesta who was accused of leading a paedophilia ring in Washington DC. The story was however debunked by The New York Times and the Washington Post (Adeleke, 2016). Ever since, the spread of fake news has become a phenomenon on the internet. According to Ogbette, et al., (2019, p 96), the phenomenal spread of fake news is “caused by the very nature of the internet which allows it to stay continually connected and the way speed is preferred to accuracy. He added that “internet content providers and distributors are in Zero-sum, winner-takes-all battle for attention and advertising revenue, they will therefore, go above and beyond to boost traffic.” According to Vasu, et al (2018, p. 16), people who are more exposed to politically motivated fake news than hard news, are more likely to believe the fake news as the reality. This is especially so because of easy access to the internet and non-existence of regulations which have provided a viable tool for criminals, fraudsters, terrorists and fake news merchants to peddle their wares undetected.

In Nigeria, the internet continues to feed the monster of fake news which has in turn, fuelled conflicts in various parts of the country. The incessant farmers/herders conflicts escalated in states like Plateau and Benue in Northcentral Nigeria with increased access to social media. In the particular case of Benue State, Abughdyer (2016) stated that between 2010 and 2014, 664.4 hectares representing 56.4% of farmland were destroyed in Agatu, Guma and Logo Local Government Areas (LGA). In 2018, the situation in Benue became quite precarious and almost resulted into a religious conflict. In their assessment, Ibrahim & Adamu (2016) and Pate & Idris
(2017) determined that these conflicts “are facilitated by the revolution in Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) that have democratised and simplified access and dissemination of information across space and time” (Ibrahim & Adamu, 2016; Pate & Idris, 2017). Presently, Benue state faces devastating human security challenges as a result of the conflicts. In an article published on its website on 16 October 2019, Medecins San Frontieres (MSF) said “the exact number of displaced people across Benue State and the wider region is unknown.” The international humanitarian organisation further said that “many are surviving thanks only to the host communities, who share their houses, food and other resources. In exchange, the displaced people often work with and for them” (MSF, 2019).

On 13 November 2018, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) published an investigative report on how fake news circulated on Facebook has been fuelling the farmers/herders violent clashes in Plateau State, Nigeria. The BBC report referred to some images on social media falsely attributed to the violence in Plateau State which resulted in reprisal killings. According to Adekunle (2018) the gory pictures trending on social media which were falsely attributed to inter-communal violence are exacerbating already high tensions in the country (Adekunle, 2018).

The BBC report cited other examples of fake news like the “gruesome image of a woman face down in a pool of blood with a gaping shoulder wound purported to be from recent attacks which retweeted hundreds of times on Twitter. The picture turned out to have first appeared online in 2011 in a story about domestic violence in Nigeria. Similarly, an image showing about six persons killed in the attacks on closer inspection, revealed that the picture did not originate in Nigeria. It was actually the scene of a 2015 traffic accident in the Dominican Republic” (BBC, 2018). Another case highlighted by the BBC was when “major Nigerian news outlets ran a story claiming that Danladi Ciroma, a leader of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association (MACBAN), said the attacks in Plateau were revenge for the loss of 300 cows. MrCiroma was reported to have said that since these cows were not found, noone should expect peace in the areas. His comments drew widespread anger and swift condemnation, he has however denied ever making the statement” (BBC, 2018). These forgoing are but a few fake news stories outlined by the BBC which inflamed tensions in Nigeria.

The situation in Plateau state is similar to what is obtainable in Benue State, Nigeria.

At the peak of the farmers/herders conflicts in Agatu, Guma, Gwer West, Makurdi, Kwande, Katsina-ala and Logo LGAs of Benue State, social media was awash with stories of carnage perpetrated by the herders on innocent farming communities. This situation went out of proportion and took dangerous political and religious dimensions particularly from 2013 to 2017. The table below shows statistics of attacks by Fulani herders on farming communities in Benue State from 2013 to 2017. In a research carried out on the effect of farmers and herders crisis in Benue state on food security, it was averred that despite huge resources budgeted for internal security by the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN), “it appears that the farmers and herders crises in Benue State is intractable…”(Okoli, F.C. and Addo, H.A., 2018). The seeming intractability of these crises could be attributed to the spread of fake news on social media which practically gave the crises a religious connotation rather than a conflict caused by climate change and scarce resources.


1.2 Statement of the Research Problem

Misinformation, otherwise (now popularly referred to as) “fake news” has become a ready tool for the spread of hate speech, thus deepening ethnic and religious differences in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country like Nigeria. Although there have been studies carried out on the effect of fake news on the Nigerian political landscape, the effect on national security has not been given required attention. It is therefore imperative to carry out a study on the ways to manage fake news peddled on social media as it relates to conflicts in Nigeria. If not adequately dealt with, the menace of fake news is capable of aggravating the rising insecurity in different parts of Nigeria.

In view of the afore-stated, it is pertinent to note that failure to stem the tide of fake news in Nigeria may potentially create many more conflicts around the country. It is against this backdrop that this study aims to understand how fake news is perceived in Nigeria and why some citizens are so easily influenced by it to the extent of taking up arms against each other. At the end of this study, it is hoped that implementable recommendations will be proffered to serve as a basis for further studies into curbing the menace of fake news in Nigeria.


1.3 Research Questions

  1. What factors do motivate fake news in Nigeria?
  2. How has fake news channeled through social media affected conflicts in Nigeria?
  3. How specifically, has fake news impacted farmers/herders conflict in Benue State?

1.4 Study Objectives

1.4.1 Purpose

The purpose of this study is to understand the Influence of Fake News on National Security and Benue State in particular, with a view to making implementable recommendations.

1.4.2 Objectives

This study seeks to:

  1. Identify and analyse factors that lead people to spread fake news in Nigeria.
  2. Examine the effects of fake news propagated via social media on conflicts in Nigeria.
  3. Assess the impact of fake news on the farmers/herders conflicts in Benue State.

1.5 Significance of the Study

Generally, this study attempts to fill some lacuna in conflict studies as they relate to the farmers-herders crisis in Nigeria. Many conflict studies have examined causes of conflict, not much has focused on the dimension of conflict caused by land hunger and struggle for this essential but scare resource (land), from two perspectives- Nigeria and the endless struggle for land between herders, who are the aliens and the farmers, owners of the land. There have been numerous news reports and analyses, but few scholarly researches and even at that, from other perspectives. This study therefore represents an attempt to fill that gap. In addition to the above, the findings should be useful in terms of policy interest, academic significance and personal benefits of the researcher.

1.5.1 Policy Interest

This study is aimed at stirring discussions on the need for major policy reviews in the Nigerian media landscape. The finding will be germane to efforts at curbing the negative impact of fake news on National security and hopefully aid in suggesting possible short-term and long term solutions to the menace. The Federal Ministry of Information and Culture (FMIC) in particular, could utilise suggestions in this study as a guide to formulate national action policies on fake news in Nigeria. Similarly, this study will help the ministry develop strategies for social media regulation without infringing on the fundamental rights to free speech of citizens.

1.5.2 Academic Significance

This study will also be of particular significance to the academia in Nigeria. Findings will serve as a basis for research into the role of fake news in shaping conflicts in the country. Due to the enormity of trauma caused by violent killings in the country, it behoves on scholars to carryout researches that would help the Government understand the nature conflicts in relation to fake news and mitigate the underlying issues. In essence, this study will serve as a source of data with which further studies could be carried out to discover ways of countering the menace of fake news and its attendant effects on conflicts in Nigeria.

1.5.3 Personal Benefits

Lastly, this study will serve as veritable building block for the researcher in the areas of security, conflict resolution and media which are of interest to the researcher. Consequently, this study will serve as a stepping stone into further research on the social media phenomena and its influence on conflicts in Nigeria and Africa. In view of this, the study will help the researcher determine non-kinetic ways to mitigate the incessant violent clashes that have plagued Nigeria in recent times with a view to recommending ways to prevent further baseless crises.


1.6 Scope (Delimitation)

The recurring cases of violent conflicts in several parts of Nigeria have necessitated a study into one of the major drivers of the conflict, fake news. The increasing subscription to social media has made information more easily accessible to Nigerians hence increasing the propensity for fake news channeled through social media. This study thus focuses on understanding the effects of fake news spread via social media on conflicts within Nigeria.

The study will however be limited to the farmers/herders conflicts within Benue State, Northcentral Nigeria. Although the conflicts between farmers and herders in Benue State began tentatively around 1995, this study will cover conflicts that occurred between 2015 and 2019. The level of social media presence of Nigerians will be examined in relation to the most preferred social media platforms for news on the farmers/herders conflicts in Benue State. The study will aim to understand the influence of these social media on the users in terms of their reliance on the platforms for news, their reactions to such news and the spread of fake news.

In order to gather relevant data for this study, interviews will be conducted and questionnaires distributed to a population of at least 100 respondents. It will be distributed such that each of the major groups in the conflict; Benue State indigenes will have 20 respondents each while the 60 others will be distributed amongst people directly or indirectly affected by the conflict, military personnel, media experts, opinion leaders and ordinary citizens from different professional backgrounds. The sex of respondents does not matter as the conflicts affect all sexes. Respondents will be literate adults who are able to answer the questions rationally. Access to herders would be impossible since they are nomadic, are largely illiterate and are sometimes foreigners. However, efforts would be made to ensure that some respondents and interviewees are drawn from the Fulani ethnic group in Nigeria who are known to dominate the cattle herding business in the country.


1.7 Organisation of the Study

This study consists of five chapters which will cover the relationship between fake news on social media and conflicts in Nigeria with particular emphasis on farmers/herders conflicts. The following is an overview of the content of each chapter:

Chapter One:

This chapter gives the background to the study. It traces the growth and relevance of the internet and social media. Its positive and negative effects on human lives and activities will also be considered. The chapter also traces the evolution of fake news and how the phenomenon has taken centre stage in shaping conflicts in Nigeria. The chapter establishes the research problem, its significance and scope amongst other things.

Chapter Two:

Chapter two is the literature review as well as conceptual and theoretical frameworks. It contains relevant academic writings that will aid understanding of the topic. It also validates the need for the study as it considers previous studies done in relation to the objective of this study.

Chapter Three:

This chapter is a breakdown of the methodology with which the study was carried out. It explains the research design, population, methods of data collection as well as data analysis that will determine the outcome of the study.

Chapter Four:

This chapter gives details of the study findings. It explains the result of data collected and analysed and in what way it addresses the thrust of the study which is to understand the effects of fake news perpetrated through social media on ongoing farmers/herders conflicts in Benue state.

Chapter Five:

Chapter five contains the conclusions arrived at after the study as well as recommendations for future studies and national policies.


Chapter Five


Conclusion and Recommendations

5.1 Introduction

This chapter concludes the study, by outlining a summary of findings and confirmations or otherwise of the research findings. Suggestions are made to guide further research into social media and its attendant effects on societies. Recommendations are also proffered for the benefit of policy makers in Nigeria, further academic researches in related fields of study and for the researcher’s personal academic interests.


5.2 Summary of Key Findings

This study established the existence of an influential relationship between social media channeled fake news and farmers/herders conflicts in Benue State, Nigeria. It especially validates the agenda setting and the hypodermic needle theories which were used to guide the study. Findings from the survey carried out showed that many respondents rely excessively on the social media for information about conflicts. In the case of the farmers/herders conflicts in Benue state, the study population attested to the fact that fake news plays a significant role in aggravating tensions.

The key findings of this study therefore, include the following:

  1. A large number of the sample population have at least one social media account. The highest proportion is those who have both Facebook and WhatsApp accounts. Also, they are very active on these platforms and many rely heavily on social media for news about the farmers/herders conflicts.
  2. The ongoing farmers/herders conflict in Benue State is known by many which qualifies it as one of national concern. Thus, the conflict attracts considerable media attention. This makes the conflict a very fertile soil for fake news as it has the potential of driving a lot of traffic on the internet.
  3. Many respondents actually understand the dangers associated with not verifying social media stories. They identified the potential of fake news to cause war, trigger conflicts, cause damages and killings, blow the situations out of proportion, create chaos; incite communal clashes and other social menace, cause reprisal attacks etc.
  4. A large proportion of the sample population believe news gotten from social media before validating them. However, many do not admit that they have participated in spreading fake news.
  5. Many do believe that indeed fake news aggravated the violent conflicts between farmers and herders in Benue State. However, not everyone blamed social media and as such they did not think social media should be regulated in Nigeria. Rather, they believe that social media companies and the Government should take responsibility for fake news on social media.
  6. Politics, ethnicity and religious bias were identified as responsible for most of the farmers/herders related fake news on social media.

In view of the above stated key findings, the study shed light on the crux of the matter which is to ascertain the effect of fake news channeled through social media on the farmers/herders conflicts in Benue State Nigeria. It was generally accepted that fake news needs to be curtailed in Nigeria as it could result in larger conflicts or war. However, it was observed that most people do not want the responsibility of stopping fake news to be for the social media users. Rather, majority pushed the blame to the Government which is quite illogical based on the finding that many do not want the Government to regulate social media.


5.3 Conclusions

Based on the key findings, the research conclusions are that:

  1. Social media is a popular source of news on the farmers/herders conflict however, Benue State residents rarely verify the news gotten from social media.
  2. Fake news channeled through social media has negatively imparted on the conflicts thus creating a vicious cycle of attacks and reprisal attacks.
  3. Benue state indigenes and residents understand the dangerous effects of fake news on the conflict but are not willing to take responsibility for checking its spread.
  4. Politics, ethnicity and religion are major motivating factors for the fake news channeled via social media in Benue State, Nigeria.
  5. There is need for a national policy and sensitization against social mediachanneled fake news in Nigeria.

5.4 Conclusions in Relation to Theoretical Frameworks

The power of media in setting agenda for its audiences could be seen in the way people perceived the conflicts after being exposed to fake news on social media. In some cases, it was observed that respondents did not verify stories about the conflict but went ahead to spread the story thus igniting reprisal attacks. This works well with propaganda and deliberate attempts at misinformation for the purpose of achieving particular ends. This study revealed that social media-channeled fake news is often used by politicians and sometimes religious bodies to set agenda. This was particularly evident in the way the resource-based farmers/herders conflicts in Benue State were manipulated by both politicians and religious leaders to set agenda that suited their personal gains. Thus, they influenced perceptions and behaviours of the already sentimental Benue State indigenes.

In terms of the hypodermic needle or magic bullet theory, the findings from this research revealed that media does not hit everyone like a magic bullet because not all audiences are passive. As a matter of fact, the passivity of people depends largely on the context or literacy levels of them target audience. In most cases, media audiences are active and are deliberate about how they react to information directed at them. Personal choices and biases often reflect in what actions people decide to take upon receiving information as could be seen in the findings. Respondents were aware of the possibility of some news being fake but went ahead to share such information. That did not indicate passivity as the hypodermic needle theory postulates. Rather it indicates that people are active about what choices they make for reasons best known to them.


5.5 Recommendations

It has been established that unbridled misinformation in the form of fake news on social media have greatly endangered Nigeria’s national security in relation to farmers/herders conflicts. Based on this premise therefore, the following recommendations are made:

  1. The Federal Government of Nigeria should collaborate with social media companies, internet providers, to monitor and filter fake news on social media before they are disseminated to the public.
  2. The National Assembly should formulate a policy to guide the use of social media in Nigeria which will not impede on the fundamental human rights of the citizens.
  3. The Federal Ministry of Justice should enact a law that would prosecute fake news peddling and distribution via all available media channels in Nigeria.
  4. The National Orientation Agency should develop a campaign to sensitize the public on their roles and civic duties in curbing the spread of fake news on social media.
  5. The academia should carry out further research into possible solutions to the fake news menace in Nigeria.

5.6 Areas for Further Research

The conduct of this study was constrained in various ways which the researcher believes may have had some effects on the outcome of the study. The challenges include limited time to conduct the research; inadequate funding to employ more research assistants; and most importantly, the inability of the researcher to access some government departments, farmers and herdersorganisations in the course of the study. Accordingly, the researcher would recommend that further research on this study area considers the following:

  1. Measures carried out by the FMIC and the NOA to curtail social mediachanneled fake news in Nigeria.
  2. Most recent statistics on farmers/herders conflicts in Benue State based on records from the local Benue farmers and herders under the auspices of MACBAN.
  3. How fake news has impacted on the lives of herders in Benue State especially in terms of stigmatisation.
  4. Negative effects of social media addiction on patriotism in Nigeria.

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