With People’s Check, University Student Fights Misinformation In Nigeria

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Sultan Quadri 

Lagos State University (LASU) undergraduate, Sultan Quadri, is up in battle against fake new with People’s Check. Currently, he is the President of Journalism Students’ Association (JSA) in LASU), the Editor of LASU Gong, a member of the editorial board, Association of Campus Journalists, LASU (ACJ-LASU).

Quadri is passionate about development journalism, eradicating corruption and helping others. He has worked with The GuardianCity Scope Africa magazine, The Nigerian News, Opera news, etc. He is a digital-savvy journalist who doubles as a digital strategist.

His work has been published on blankpaperz. He loves to explain things to the people especially if they need it to function effectively in society. He writes politics, sport, business and education

His anti-fake news crusade began with the COVID-19 pandemic. The novel virus initially seemed as remote as the distance between East Asian, China to Nigeria. But as soon as the country recorded i’s first case in late February 2020, a panic ensued.

It didn’t take long after the pandemic arrived in the country that misinformation around it skyrocketed. Hoaxes like that of a Nigerian taxi driver threatening to spread coronavirus across Nigeria and the belief in chloroquine as a cure for the virus. Early on, there was scepticism over the presence of the virus in the country altogether, as well as conspiracies claiming that 5G causes COVID-19 deaths and heat reduces the spread of the virus.

A few weeks into the pandemic, the LASU student decided to create a fact-checking organisation to fight against the growing misinfodemic in the country. ‘’As a 19-year-old journalism student, I envisioned an outlet driven by students. To get started, I informed campus journalists at the university and extended a call for applications to students at tertiary institutions’’, he says.

People’s Check formally began operations in mid-April, with over 15 fact-checkers across seven institutions. ‘’We set out to provide factual information on myths and rumors that are especially deadly during an unprecedented global health crisis. To do so, we had to gather digital and physical evidence from primary sources’’, he explains.

People’s Check is, however, the first independent fact-checking and verification organisation, initiated by Nigerian students to help verify sensitive and controversial information found online and to amplify the culture of truth in Nigeria.

Its operations are guided and centred on the values of verification, accountability, objectivity, transparency, credibility and accuracy in line with the best practices in fact-checking, recognized by the best non-partisan fact-checking organisations around the world.

Also, it adheres to the International Fact-Checking Network fundamental operating principles of commitment to impartiality, transparency, and accuracy.

FACT-CHECK PROCESS

Every report they produce is different, but to ensure they fact-check all fairly, the way the students approach it is the same.

Select the claim to check: ‘’First, our editors sift the suggestions sent in by readers and our claim researchers, according to criteria set out here, and raised by others in the team. We then assess the claim by asking some important questions like; Is the topic important? Is the claim framed as a statement of fact or opinion? Does the claim matter? Have we focused on this speaker before? We make sure to check all sides in any debate.

Establish exactly what was said: We establish exactly what was said. Claims that readers and our claim researchers send us to check can sometimes be vague. But to check a claim, we need the precise wording. What exactly did they say? Was it as reported? And what was the context in which it was said?

Ask for their evidence: Having established the claim, we try to contact the claimant to ask what evidence they have for their claim. We always seek evidence.

Check our archives, and other sources: Our next step is to check our archives for evidence that supports and evidence that contradicts the claim, casting our net as widely as possible, we try not to take chances.

Discuss the evidence with experts: Once we’ve secured the evidence and broader context, we discuss it with specialist experts, where necessary, to help understand the data. We only quote experts willing to go on the record, as we do not use anonymous sources.

Write up the report, setting out evidence step by step and providing links: We write up our report by first setting out the claim itself and the context in which it was delivered and reported in summary for the sake of readers who may want to take everything in at a glance. We then give our conclusion on the claim based on our verification using any of our ratings.

‘In the full-text part, we give additional background information on the claim and the context in which the claim was made.

We end with the verification which explains in details how we contacted our sources and what they said including other information and evidence to back up our conclusion. For all evidence we quote we provide a link or quote the source.

Have a colleague review the report and its findings: To ensure that the report is accurate, we then ask one of the researchers colleagues to review the report and independently assess the findings before it is finalised.

Publish, and monitor feedback: Finally, we publish the report and monitor feedback. If a reader identifies an error, we update the report openly.

 RATING SYSTEM

Over time, our fact checks are rated based on some of the tags below:

TRUE – A fact-check is adjudged to be true when all elements of such a claim relate to factual information. It is also used contextually and verifiable at the time of assertion.

FALSE – A fact-check is adjudged to be false when all elements of such a claim do not pertain to factual information at the time of assertion. In essence, imposter, manipulated and fabricated content will be considered false.

MOSTLY TRUE – A fact-check is adjudged to be mostly true when some elements of such a claim pertain to factual information; used contextually and verifiable at the time of assertion. Usually, this rating will be assigned to fact-checks with three or more claims.

MOSTLY FALSE – A fact-check is adjudged to be mostly false when some elements of such a claim do not pertain to factual information at the time of assertion, while an element may be true. Usually, this rating will be assigned to fact-checks with three or more claims.

MISLEADING – A fact-check is adjudged to be misleading when elements of a claim are too complex to be termed true or false. This could mean two things:

MORE CONTEXT NEEDED/ WRONG CONTEXT – when the claim(s) oversimplifies complex issues. On a surface level, these may seem correct but they are either used out-of-context or depict an unintended meaning

INSUFFICIENT EVIDENCE – when the claim(s) is unverifiable; usually pertaining to urban myths or unquantifiable data.

ANALYSIS – These refer to unrated claims that are vague or not well-defined. They are not ordinarily considered fact-checks but require in-depth discussion on the veracity of the claim.

According to Quadri, ‘’I am a self-taught fact-checker and took introductory fact-checking courses from First Draft and Poynter News University. Using these skills, I introduced fact-checking to my teammates, who subsequently took the same courses. The platform is modelled off established fact-checking platforms like Africa Check and Dubawa.

‘’Just a month after launch, we had already published over 20 fact-checks, and we were at the forefront of fighting COVID-19 misinformation in Nigeria.

‘’In June, we initiated Verify Nigeria, a project to verify viral health misinformation and disinformation in Nigeria in partnership with Meedan’s Check Global. Check Global is a Meedan project that improves digital literacy, community-building and political engagement skills for citizen journalists, activists, journalism students, civil society organizations and human rights defenders through training, programming and research.’’

Armed with different content formats like graphics, videos, podcasts and blog posts, we tackled misinformation with timely fact-checks and produced fact-sheets around vulnerable information gaps.

‘’We also created content aimed at facilitating media literacy to ensure that the public knows how to spot health misinformation on their own and knows how to find the correct information.’’

The platform began without a budget and the team worked as volunteers. But a month after its establishment, in May 2020, People’s Check was awarded Check Global’s COVID-19 micro-grant for media work in emerging economies, which was worth $2000. This has been our sole source of funding and has been used to develop and maintain our website, provide stipends for our volunteers and pay talent for producing different content formats.

Additional funding will be critical to reach a larger audience and intensify our operations while remaining undisputedly independent, and we are looking for funding from organizations and foundations that support independent media.

‘’As of today, we have published more than 70 fact-checks, and we have more than 40 young fact-checkers working with us remotely across 15 universities.  Fact-checkers have been trained by Africa Check’s Health Misinformation workshop, a free program on the dynamics of health misinformation, but we hope to continue to build on our fact-checking efforts through continued training’’, he says.

A student fact-checker at LASU, Ololade Olabiyi, who has been with the organisation since inception, says working with People’s Check has taught him how to detect fake news and debunk claims using different tools like Yandex and Tineye for reverse image search, inVID for video verification and Tweetdeck and Google Trends for social media monitoring.

‘’By continuing to train our team at People’s Check, we hope to promote a culture of fact-checking among the country’s youth, and to build a new generation of fact-checkers.

‘’We also hope to promote fact-checking and media literacy to a larger audience. People’s Check has organised three public events, which have attracted over 200 students, professional journalists and public citizens. We trained attendees on how to tackle the current misinfodemic’’, the founder says.

The organisation’s Growth Strategist, Nonso Ezebuiro, says ‘’as we continue to expand, we are looking for new ways to promote our work’’, noting that reaching unique audiences through targeted social media and web advertising is key, but that the organisation currently doesn’t have the funding for that.

People’s Check is a participant in the Data Literacy Programme organised by Code for Africa in partnership with the World Bank. This will form a foundation for our work on economics and statistical claims and using data to tackle mis/disinformation.

“We also firmly believe that our growth so far has been due to the high standards we have set for ourselves as a team”, said Nonso. “So we want to continue delivering high-quality work [and] finding the right talent to help move us further ahead.”

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