By Isah Nasidi
A report has it that about three hundred and sixty-one million (361,000,000) videos were uploaded on YouTube in just 30 days, and about 19,200 articles have been published on Google Scholar in the year 2020. Similarly, around 550 million tweets, including terms like “coronavirus,” “COVID-19, or “pandemic”, were recorded in March 2020. These are just a few platforms where information is produced, distributed, and consumed. Imagine the gross total of all the information shared on the entire world of conventional media, new media, and media.
New information technologies fueled the overabundance of information known as the “infodemic,” which is now the new feature of the information flow. Due to technological affordances, a fair percentage of people have the technical know-how to produce authentic and unauthentic information and circulate it without any professional gatekeepers. This makes it difficult for people to differentiate between accurate and inaccurate information, which in the end may cause disinformophobia. However, it is not only about the accuracy but also the safety or health of the information.
For journalists, social media influencers, and the entire audience or users to produce, circulate and consume safe information and avoid information disorder syndrome, media literacy on the ecosystem of information disorder is a must.
Basically, fact-checking organisations use truth metres or scales to categorise information. Depending on the in-house style, information can be divided into four categories based on the dimension of true or false: purely true, largely/partly true, false, largely/partly false, unconfirmed.
True information is not always good. Information can be true yet harmful to society. Information that is true and harmful is labelled as “malinformation”. Such information can be hate-speech, leaks about personal privacy without any justification of public interest, stereotypes, prejudice, and embarrassment. For instance, it is a true representation of identity when you call a Hausa man Aboki or Malam, but the intent and the approach may be harmful.
The largely/partly true information is the most common strategy for information contamination and is very dangerous and challenging to deal with. Here, the root of the information is genuine but diluted with false information, misinterpreted or misrepresented. This is what I call diluted information (dil-information). The intent may be good or bad. For instance, the military has been accused of reducing the number of casualties from their side while increasing the number of casualties from the enemy side. Yes, the Nigerian Army indeed killed some scores of bandits, but the number is not correct.
The false information can be classified as “false,” “transformed false,” or “unknown false. False information happens when both the producer and the consumer know the false status of the information. The majority of the content shared for entertainment purposes is false, and it is treated as such. However, known false content may be shared with another community of consumers that do not know the origin of the information, thus considering it true, which is transformed into true. This is very common in this era of globalisation, where content can be shared easily across the globe.
The unknown false information can be from either the source or the consumer. For instance, a journalist may unknowingly receive false information and share it as true, or he may deliberately fabricate information and share it as true. The former is classified as misinformation while the latter is called disinformation. In both cases, the consumers of the information do not know the false status of the information.
We will continue.
Isah Nasidi is a media consultant and research fellow at PTCIJ.