2023 Polls: Check Facts To Counter Fake News – NITDA Boss

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R-L: The director-general, National Information Technology Development Agency, Mallam Kashifu Abdullahi presenting the NITDA Strategic Roadmap and Action Plan to the Meta WhatsApp director, public policy for Europe, Middle East and Africa, Helen Charles when she paid him a courtesy call in his office in Abuja.

The director-general of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Mallam Kashifu Abdullahi has called on the management of global tech giant Meta to involve more fact-checkers with good knowledge of Nigeria’s local languages. 

Abdullahi made the call when he received WhatsApp’s director of public policy for Europe, Middle East and Africa, Helen Charles alongside Meta’s head of public policy for Anglophone West Africa, Adaora Ikenze on behalf of the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Prof. Isa Pantami in his office in Abuja.

The DG noted that fact-checking could be an entirely new industry with lots of job opportunities.

“The fact-checking aspect of the Code of Practice is critical now because of the election. We need more fact-checkers and, also, beyond the election, we are looking at how we can expand it to become an Industry which can create jobs within the country.” 

While assuring Nigerians that government would not meddle in the activities of fact-checkers, as they will be given free hand to operate, he requested that content posted by citizens be thoroughly verified by fact-checkers to establish its genuineness or otherwise for appropriate action.

Abdullahi appealed for fact-checkers to be proficient in at least the three major languages in Nigeria for easy spotting of such harmful content, either written or translated into one of the languages. The DG NITDA emphasized the need for Meta’s support, especially in supporting the growth of the fact-checking industry.

“Technology is changing the way we live, work, our democracy and everything. Technology is just beyond business or other things. It also touches our lives and changes everything.

“Therefore, we need to work together and change everything, to improve accountability, increase competition, safeguard privacy, protect our democracy and transform governance in Nigeria. 

“Everyone agrees that we need regulation, but we don’t know the best regulation. The best way to go about it is to co-create that regulation in a similar way the Code of Practice was issued,” he added. 

The Code of Practice (COP) emphasised by Abdullahi came at the right time as the country heads for its general election. 

“So far, NITDA has done so much in terms of providing enabling environment for safe information technology usage in Nigeria while training a lot of young Nigerians in the adoption of technology and improved practices as Nigeria keeps expanding its digital literacy coverage in line with the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS) 2030 target of 95 per cent.” 

The DG noted that NITDA will intensify its effort to ensure internet usage safety devoid of harmful content that could jeopardise the peace and harmonious coexistence among Nigerians before, during and after the elections.

Earlier in her presentation, Ikenze noted that it was important for Nigerians to see accurate information on the services of Meta in Nigeria.

She said, henceforth, Meta will, through its fact-checking partners – FAP, Africa Check and Dubawa – remove “any sensitive, fake information” that could lead to imminent violence or physical harm amongst people living in the country.

Fact-checking, she explained, would review and rate potentially false content on all the platforms, label it and place it lower on the feeds so that few numbers of people could see it.

“Meta has since engaged fact-checkers in Nigeria and will continue to do so, especially with the Code of Practice in effect, which encourages platforms to engage the services of fact-checkers,” Ikenze said.

To further educate Nigerians on how to spot false news and the actions to take, Meta, she said, is partnering with local radio stations to create awareness against the creation and spread of false news through radio dramas in English and Pidgin

Ikenze also intimated to the nation’s IT regulator that Meta would also be executing a WhatsApp awareness campaign, #YouSaid in Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo and Pidgin to enlighten users on how to verify the information before sharing and running online adverts on the application. 

She explained that Meta’s approach has also been informed by conversations with human rights groups, NGOs, local civil society organisations, regional experts and local election authorities to help ensure the safety of people using Meta’s array of applications. 

Also, Ikenze assured that Meta is deeply concerned and remains committed to protecting the integrity of the Nigerian electoral process, as well as the entrenchment of a culture of zero tolerance for the proliferation of fake news.

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