Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information and Culture, today said that social media has now become a platform for disinformation, making his job tougher as the Nigeria’s image maker.
The Minister said this while speaking as Special Guest of Honour at the 4th Commonwealth Public Relations Congress held at Peninsula Hotel, Lekki, Lagos.
Social media has democratised information gathering and dissemination but it also makes the job of a government image maker, more daunting as it is being used to circulate fake and distorted news.
“Today, the job of a government image maker, or image shaper if you like, has been made more daunting by the social media, which has so democratized information gathering and dissemination, that anyone with access to a smart phone can put out any information, whether accurate or not, that could go viral in minutes,” the Minister said.
“The social media has enhanced access to information, which is a good thing. But the downside is that it has also become a platform for disinformation through fake and distorted news, which is a nightmare to any image maker, whether for the government or for an organisation. No fact-checking, no accuracy, no fairness, no rules. They just spread whatever information catches their fancy, and they have their own public that believes them”, Mohammed said.
Speaking on the theme of the event, ‘Strategic Management of Reputation Risk in an Interdependent World’, the Minister expressed confidence that the Congress will provide the much-needed opportunity for Public Relations Practitioners and Consultants, to brainstorm on the theme.
He expressed delight over the timeliness and relevance of the theme stating that building a positive image for the government has become increasingly challenging at this period.
“This theme could not have been more relevant. For those of us in the business of managing government’s image, we hope the outcomes of your deliberations will offer us a fresh perspective to better handle this increasingly challenging task.
“I said increasingly challenging because as we strive to project a positive image for the government and keep the citizens informed of government activities, we are constantly being forced to devise innovative ways to ensure a better, two-way communication between the government and the people,”he added.
According to the Minister, “to understand the seriousness of this, there is an ongoing debate in the United States over the role disinformation played in the recent presidential election.
“Some even accused the social networking site Facebook of helping to swing the election in favour of Mr.Donald Trump, through the fake and distorted news spread by websites belonging to those who call themselves Alt-Right, or Alternative Right. Of course Facebook has denied that. But then Facebook and Google have taken concrete action to check this by seeking to cut off the live wire to these fake news websites. According to published reports, Google said it will prevent websites that misrepresent content from using its advertising network, while Facebook said its ban on deceptive and misleading content also applies to fake news.”
Nigerian government image makers should not rest back to sleep on the issue, he added noting that “while we are sleeping, the purveyors of distorted and fake news are busy cooking their stuff.
“I cannot count the number of times that I have been removed from the Information and Culture portfolio on the Social Media in the past year, or that Ministers have swapped portfolios.
“The latest is the fake report that President Buhari gave $500 million to Hilary Clinton during the U.S. Electioneering Campaign. Even when the Presidency has denied this outrageous concoction, the so-called analysts and experts have continued to comment on it as if it is true,” the Minister said.
Explaining what the government is doing to tackle this challenge of disinformation, he said that “we have decided to take our messages directly to Nigerians and also get direct feedback from them. While the traditional means of communication like the radio, television, newspapers as well as the new ones, like the Social Media, remain indispensable, we have revived an age-long practice that worked so effectively in the past, Town Hall Meeting.
“Having realised its effectiveness, more so as every meeting is broadcast live on national radio and television, we have lined up a series of more Town Hall Meetings across the country to tell Nigerians what we are doing to revamp the economy and create jobs, fight insecurity and tackle corruption, all of which are the priority areas of this Administration,” he added.
He commended the resilience of Nigerians during this period of recession, noting that the government is aware of the effect caused by the economic challenges facing the country.
“We are not unaware of the harsh effects of the recession on the citizens. We share in their pains and we make no excuses as we continue to work round the clock to ensure that this tough time is quickly brought to an end. As I have shown here, the good news is that the prognosis for a quick end to the recession is encouraging. To quote a saying, the recession is a bend in the road, not the end of the road. The challenge for us as a government is to turn the bend, and we doing just that”, he said.