Protests across the world and especially in Africa have assumed a new dimension in scope, mobilization and execution. Aided by advanced communication technology and rapidly changing demographics, protests are becoming more sophisticated and effective ways of making the voice of the people heard and their grievances on socio-political, economic issues pushed to the front burner. Thus, experts, academia and policymakers all over the world are confronted by the new modes of registering dissatisfaction by citizens.
From America to Nigeria, Brazil to Egypt, people have found and leveraged the power of the Internet to mobilize, create massive awareness and generate narratives for the demands that made them hit the streets. The creative use of the internet and its accessories has been applauded widely as a result of the ability to glocalize issues of protests in real-time.
Examples of this wonder of the Internet abound in recent dissents to socio-political issues in the world. From the Arab Spring to #BringBackOurGirls to Black Lives Matter and the ongoing #EndSARS movements in Nigeria, the magic wand of the Internet-enabled platforms to attract public interest and global attention to the issues of dissent could not be overlooked. As it is in war, so it has been in civil protests.
There is, usually, contention between the protesters and the authorities to drive narratives in their direction. While the protesters seek public and international sympathy to their cause, civil authorities strive to attract global understanding on the status quo ante. Consequently, the struggle leads to narratives and counter-narratives in a bid to win the war of narratives.
The struggles have often made the public vulnerable and open to misinformation, disinformation and information disorder. This has given rise to critical questions about protests and the information superhighway enabled by the Internet. Having seen how actors spread fake news and the impacts of misinformation, disinformation and mal-information during the protests, the Center for Research on Development of African Media, Governance, and Society (CEREDEMS) organised the first virtual webinar to dissect the issue and examining possible solutions. The event, which was organised on Saturday 14th November 2020, consisted of speakers and panelists from five African countries including Nigeria, Ghana, Mali, Namibia and South Africa.
Our analyst had earlier spoke with Mustapha Muhammed Jamiu, a Development Communication and International Public Relations Specialist, who hinted that Africa needs to kill disinformation and misinformation before it causes civil wars. Apart from the panelists who discussed issues around information disorder and protests in Africa, our analyst reported that over 200 participants from around the world were trained on how to fact-check information during protests. During the workshop, the participants were walked through determination of authenticity of information across the media -mainstream media and social media.
At the end of the event, a 11-points communique was released by the organisers. One of the points is that: “There is a need for media organisations in Africa to be sensitive to conflict reporting, how protests are presented and reported. And journalists should refrain from being willing collaborators in the promotion of wrong narratives during protests.”