Guess which politician said the following quote: “Fake news continues to be a major creeping challenge into mainstream media”?
I bet if you are in the United States, you probably said Donald Trump. If you live in the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte. If you were born in Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro.
But this quote actually comes from the western African country of Ghana. It was said a few months ago by Information Minister Kojo Oppong Nkrumah, proving that misinformation has become a striking issue and that politicians all over the world are questioning the press by using that expression fact-checkers don’t appreciate: “fake news.”
In 2020, Ghana will elect a president and the candidates are already campaigning. So it is time to openly discuss clear ways to fight false news there, too.
Rabiu Alhassan is the founder and managing editor of GhanaFact, the recently launched and only full-time fact-checking organization in his country. In an email sent to the IFCN, Alhassan emphasized twice that “Ghana is not an exception to the production and spread of fake news” and was clear about his goals.
“GhanaFact comes to perform the crucial role of halting the eroding of trust in the media and the weakening of Ghana’s democracy through the verification of news and the countering of fake news,” he said.
Ghana has more than 24 million people. It is the world’s second-largest cocoa producer, Africa’s number two gold producer and it began pumping oil off its coast in 2010. Alhassan’s team is made up of only seven people, all based in Accra. The challenges ahead could be substantial.
Add to that scenario the fact that Ghana isn’t the safest place on Earth for a journalist — and obviously not for fact-checkers, either.
In the last two and a half years, there have been at least 42 confirmed cases of assaults on journalists and in January — only a few months after producing a documentary about Ghanaian soccer corruption — Ahmed Suale, an undercover investigative journalist with Tiger Eye PI, was killed in Ghana.
Alhassan said numbers prove that Ghanaians are really looking forward to having a fact-checking platform they can count on.
According to a survey run by GhanaFact sampling 400 citizens, 90% of them thought a fact-checker would be at least useful for the country, 69% indicated that they had encountered false news in the last year, and 42% said elections and election-related matters are most likely to be the target of fake news.
“This has informed GhanaFact’s decision to fact-check and verify information related to the upcoming election and ensure that Ghanaians are not unduly influenced to vote based on misinformation,” said Alhassan.
Whatsapp is the leading messaging platform in the country, while Facebook leads as the most used social media platform. According to Alhassan, falsehoods come in all forms, including text and audio.
And the government — with its lack of legal framework to address misinformation. — isn’t helping, either.
One year ago, during Oppong Nkrumah’s parliamentary vetting , he suggested that Ghana passed laws to curtail the circulation of fake news on social media platforms.
“Sharing of fake news in cyberspace is part of the cybersecurity risks we must look at and contain,” he said.
Alhassan said he thought Nkrumah indicated he was open to exploring strategies to prevent the widespread challenge of fighting misinformation if he was confirmed.
“However, as it stands now, there are no known laws or policies to help curb disinformation in Ghana,” Alhassan complained.
“Any policy or law to be considered must be developed in consultation with players in the media space and civil society organization. Ghana must do well to only promote laws that would engender free speech.”
Wouldn’t this last quote apply to Americans, Brazilians and the Philippines, too? Wouldn’t they ask that of their governments and lawmakers, too?
Cristina Tardáguila is the associate director of the International Fact-Checking Network and the founder of Agência Lupa, in Brazil. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Correction: An earlier version of this article had a mistake. It informed about the lack of media literacy programs in Ghana instead of the lack of legal framework to deal with misinformation. We corrected the information and apologize for the error.