Lawyer and TV host, Ebuka Obi-Uchendu again had another reason to be proud to be Nigerian, as his wife’s single word “twitter”, which she posted on Instagram referring to where they met, was enough information for major media houses to serve millions of Nigerians as News. An event which again underscores the sad state of journalism in Nigeria.
Mrs. Cynthia Obi-Uchendu had asked her followers to ask her any question and get an honest answer. A folower of hers asked how she met her husband and she replied in one word “Twitter”. This single information was served to Nigerians by major media houses using different headlines and two or fewer paragraphs of emphasis.
Punch Newspaper struggled with its conscience as it copied from Pulse TV’s report, a day before, a section which oddly links the revelation to how Banky W “slide” into Adesuwa Etomi’s Direct Message on Twitter some years back. It hilariously added, “This social media treat thus seems to be a pattern emerging among Nigerian celebrities.”(sic)
Vanguard did not allow itself to be left out of this ‘breaking and massive News’ as it used its Allure platform to run the same story. This time the “News” had three sentences.
A Tweet, A News
It is common on Nigeria’s media space to see tens of news daily reporting a single tweet, Facebook or Instagram post.
From the reply a single player gave a fan on Twitter to what Davido’s girlfriend said to a heckler to common comments made on issues by even a scarcely known celebrity. All of these form separate news items, garnished with captivating and often misleading headlines.
Social Media being used as News authority is however not limited to harmless and personal issues.
In October, ETN24 revealed how Punch picked a story from a random person on Facebook. It used the story to claim that Fulani Herdsmen had killed 120 persons in Zamfara.
In March, TheCable used a tweet by journalist Ahmad Salkida as evidence that UNICEF and Red Cross had abandoned its local aid workers kidnapped in Rann. ETN24 also showed this to be inaccurate via a special report.
The same company used a series of tweet from a person no one knows and labeled him a witness in the Mariam Sanda case.
Media Houses are also known to quote, as the whole source of a story, the popular Twitter handle @APCNigeria which was later discovered to belong to an individual rather than the party.
With the coming of the Internet, News in Nigeria took a new turn. From weekly publications known with Tell, Newswatch and its likes and daily publications known with Guardian and the hardcopy Vanguard and Punch, everyday people began to tell News and tell it as fast as they could using social media, leading to an upsurge in fake News.
This is however not limited to Nigeria, as a Pew Research Center study in 2017 showed that 67% of American adults get their News from social media. Of this figure, 45% get News from Facebook. This statistics produces the question of what journalism will be left should media houses begin to base stories on social media posts.
The threat of Fake News is made worse by the constant struggle for traffic which means a media house may be forced to put out a lot of content, relevant or not. A Review by ETN24 shows that the average Nigerian blogger has somewhere between 100 to 150 posts with which social media fields are flooded. Many such links are about a cloth an actor is wearing or a controversial tweet or even a reply a celebrity gives to a simple person.
Mainstream media houses reacted to the drop in the reading of conventional Newspapers by creating News sites with social media handles and pages. Alexia Analytics puts Punch as the most read News site in Nigeria and this feat is achieved by torrents of unverified and poorly edited News posts and sometimes outrightly offensive and sexually suggestive content aimed at young people.
Once the website had a random Youtube video of a stunt and reported it as a News item. Interactions in Big Brother Nigeria tv show, the maiden Edition of which made Mr. Ebuka a celebrity, was also reported daily as News. Such “News” reports detailed who was falling in love with who and who had sex with who as well as who reveals his or her body part and are mostly sexualized narrations.
Social media timelines are also flooded by News media houses using the follow up reporting as excuse. The media house publishes a false story, attracts reactions, publishes the reactions, get’s corrected, publishes the correction, then publishes an apology in which it praises itself for the most part, but leaves all reports, including the fake story on its website, attracting more views.
Engulfing the Youths
Even in the face of rising unemployment rate among youths, Jumia Mobile Reports 2018 shows that mobile phone penetration in Nigeria swung up, as the number of subscribers grew astronomically in 2017 resulting in 84% penetration from 53% in 2016 for both features and smartphones mostly bought by young people engrossed in social media.
Over 80% of all Instagrammers who live in Nigeria are aged 18-44. Not much is said of the productivity of a Nation with youths increasingly “engaging” with all their time on social media and idolizing and tracking celebrities.
This statistics is dwarfed by Facebook usage where youths try to be celebrities themselves.
Research shows that the culture of getting News on social media and turning social media engagement into News will not get better as Nigeria get’s better generally. Another PEW study found that people in emerging and developing countries are just as likely to get their News from social media as those in more advanced countries.