In the leadup to Nigeria’s 2023 presidential election in February, award-winning journalist Hannah Ajakaiye led efforts to fight the vast amounts of electoral mis- and disinformation circulating online.
Ajakaiye, who is an ICFJ Knight Fellow and the head of FactsMatterNG, an initiative promoting media literacy and information integrity in Nigeria, fact-checked falsely attributed quotes and debunked inaccurate claims, for instance, about campaign crowd sizes.
"Drawing sizable crowds is a symbol of authority for some of the politicians in Nigeria,” said Ajakaiye. "As a result, some political actors shared photos [taken] at large religious gatherings for example, and passed them off as their own gatherings in order to boost their crowds."
Ajakaiye shared insights about her fact-checking experience during the elections in a recent ICFJ Global Crisis Reporting Forum session.
During their fact-checking efforts, one trend Ajakaiye and her team discovered was how candidates sought to misrepresent their records.
“Politicians tried to burnish their credentials,” said Ajakaiye. “We had some politicians claiming to have bagged Ph.D.s, or some claiming they had built masterpieces or revamped the economic situation of the country in their previous positions.”
Twitter bots and trolls, as well as paid social media influencers, pushed false narratives about political candidates, explained Ajakaiye. “People manipulated Twitter algorithms to tarnish images of other political opponents, including some vocal women in politics, to discourage them from participating in elections,” she said.
Ajakaije analyzed metadata to debunk misleading multimedia posted online about candidates. In one case, she was able to fact-check manufactured audio supposedly showing presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar attempting to rig the election.
Ajakaiye also used digital tools such as Google Reverse Image Search, to verify and check if multimedia posted online was doctored or not. “These tools will tell you the date of the image so you can compare, sometimes there are cases of misleading contexts. There is [also] Tin Eye, which can be used to verify videos,” she said.
Fact-checking organizations worked together during the run-up to the elections to verify claims and amplify their findings. They formed the Nigerian Fact-Checkers’ Coalition to carry out their collaborative efforts.
“The coalition also conducted live monitoring of all political town halls and presidential debates,” said Ajakaiye. “We had a number of media and civic organizations organizing debates, and Nigerian Fact-Checkers [Coalition] handled the fact-checking.”
The Coalition also set up a situation room on election day to debunk false news. “This was supplemented further by an AI technology presented by Full Fact with the cooperation of Google News Initiative, which assisted the live fact-checking effort,” explained Ajakaiye. “Fact-checkers were able to transcribe the speeches and obtain more information in real time.”
Reaching the public with fact-checks in a timely manner is a major challenge, said Ajakaiye, as the work often takes significant time to carry out: “Fact-checking is a process. You have to adhere to transparency procedures, and your arguments must be accurate. This process requires a lot of time and resources.”
Fortunately, however, new technologies are improving this. “Fact-checking work can now be completed more quickly, thanks to artificial intelligence, and you could even be able to get live transcriptions from AI,” she said.
Ajakaiye also conducted media literacy workshops before the general elections to inform people about electoral disinformation, and alert them to how long it can take for claims to be fact-checked.
"I advised people to wait until the official results were revealed. I also advised people not to believe what they read on social media; instead, they should wait until they receive information from official sources, and if it doesn't come from those sources, they shouldn't believe it,” she explained.
Ajakaiye further stressed that fact-checking doesn’t stop when the polls open; it continues through the vote counting process. “I was fact-checking even during the elections. Now with the presidential election results being challenged at the courts, I never stopped monitoring the election process,” she said.