Nigeria Elections 2023 – the impact of social media influencers and fake news

I recently watched a couple of short news documentaries about the impact of social media in the forthcoming Nigerian Elections 2023. After viewing both films, I wondered whether social media has democratised political elections or whether fake news outweighs the discussions in the public sphere.

BBC Africa Article – The Nigerian influencers paid to manipulate your vote

The in-depth news bulletin from BBC Africa gives an insight into the use of social media influencers who are paid by political parties to share misinformation and disinformation. According to the BBC, influencers are targeted who have a strong voice, not particularly those involved in political discussions. It is technically not illegal to hire someone, but it is to share misinformation. These influencers are controlled by political strategists and paid up to $45,000 for posting propaganda.

Whereas, Lai Mohammed, the Minister of Information and Culture has supposedly taken several measures to stop fake news including meetings with Meta and Google to ask them to check their platforms for misuse. But do we believe that these meetings ever actually happened? UNDP has recently released iVerify which combines technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning with human supported fact checking to combat the spread of misinformation during elections. But will the Nigerian government ever let iVerify be implemented in their country? And, if so, who will the verifying “humans” be?

I asked three young Nigerians who all have experience in communications and media whether they thought social media had a big impact on the result of elections in Nigeria. I have anonymised their comments

“Indeed social media has been agog regarding the upcoming Nigerian elections. For many like me in the diaspora, social media has more than catered to our political sensibilities, it’s been crucial to the ‘performance’ of our civic responsibilities and patriotism, given we’re relatively disenfranchised. We, as Netizens have cast our votes. And if social media votes are anything to go by, then the electorate have declared their winner. Yet it remains to be seen, if those privileged to exist in both realms will translate the online campaigns/advocacy to electoral realities by going to the polls to cast the ‘physical vote.’ In the end, politics (in Nigeria, and elsewhere), is not always what it seems.”

Respondent 1

Another colleague commented:

“Yes, social media does impact elections in Nigeria at least since the 2015 elections when the previous administration was voted out as a result of a massive online and offline campaigns that started on Twitter and spread to other social media sites. Although I wouldn’t draw a direct line between social media and election outcomes in Nigeria, I would say that social media plays an early role in elite and youth mobilisation towards a political movement. 

Examples are the ENDSARS protests and the massive voter registrations (12 million new registrations) that occurred mostly due to campaigns and advocacy on social media. Both translated into real life in-person actions. 

However, sometimes when there is a divergence between what elite want and what youths want. So, the elites can mobilise resources against youth action both online and in grassroots communities where they’re influential. 

Essentially, social media has some impact on elections and people in Nigeria admit and deny its existence at different points depending on what’s convenient even though their actions mostly acknowledge the influence. This influence is not direct, in my opinion. At least there’s nothing to prove it is.”

Respondent 2

And finally, the third point of view

Yes, social media has a significant impact on elections in terms of constructing narratives and spreading information. It has done a lot to place Peter Obi (past Anambra State Governor and one of the youngest presidential contenders) in the hearts of the youngsters while portraying Tinubu (past Lagos State Governor and one of the oldest presidential candidates) as a tyrant. 

However, in previous elections, there has also been slacktivism at work because most people on social media (especially Twitter, which is the platform most commonly used for election information, propaganda, and so on) tend to come out in mass on social media but you will not see them on the actual day of voting (also because of fear of rioting or due to the fact that some are outside the countries or they dont think their vote really counts). Market ladies, the elderly generation, and those who do not follow social media trends are the ones that vote. (These individuals vote depending on the political party they favour, the person, or if they come from the same region as the political candidate.)

There seems to be a change this year, thanks to campaigns on social. More youths have gotten their permanent voters cards and have decided to be more actively involved. More celebrities are vocal about their political stand on social media. We don’t know if this will make a significant difference but youths engagement and participation has increased significantly.

Respondent 3

Three slightly different opinions, but all agree that social media does have an impact on the Nigerian elections. At least it has in the past. None of them mention the fact that fake news is being spread by influencers who have been paid by politicians. Does anyone believe the influencers? I suppose their followers do, but are they merely the slacktivists that don’t actually vote as mentioned by Respondent 3….