Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, has warned that a Nigerian may cause Third World War if the proliferation of fake news is not confronted and curbed in the country.
While speaking on Wednesday at a BBC Conference on “Countering Fake News” for journalists, media trainers and politicians held at the Congress Hall of Transcorp Hilton Hotel in Abuja, Soyinka described peddlers of fake news as those who are ‘sick in the head.’
He harped that the country needs to provide sanctions to forestall the spread of the phenomenon brought about by the advent of social media.
Soyinka who stated that there are reports he never made but were credited to him on the internet said the ‘accidental publishers’ and creators of fake news should be treated as criminals.
“Let us get into the nitty-gritty. I’ll give you an example, apart from the fact that I’ve been killed on so many times, literarily. Last year, I had telephone calls asking me, ‘where are you?’ I said, ‘I’m in hell. Join me here. I know why you are calling… because you thought I was dead.’
“Now that’s one, you deal with that. You enjoy that actually, reading about your obituary; but then imagine waking up one day and finding a statement attributed to you in a kind of language which you will never use. For example, during the last presidency, statements attributed to me were saying that I said that it served President Jonathan right for marrying an illiterate woman. I never made any comment whatsoever about that lady, and suddenly there it is staring me in the face.
“And at other times a card is created, and from time to time that card comes out on the internet, is sent to me, and it says Professor Wole Soyinka says anybody who votes for this person, one, must be stupid, two, must be mentally retarded, three, his mother must be a goat, four, his father must be a gorilla… under Wole Soyinka’s name. And this goes on all the time.
“So I don’t want to understate the numerous motivations we go into this but basically I think the commonality is that those who create fake news are sick in the head and they are also cowards because they lack a conviction of their own and so they transfer to other people what they really are thinking.
“And I made a statement that if people are not careful world war three may quickly start by fake news and that fake news probably will be generated by a Nigerian.
“We have a system where fake news can multiple in a second. Many of the fake news carriers use it for business. I have someone whom we have tracked down in Poland, using a fake Facebook page of my name and my picture.
“And I gave him a deadline to pull down the page. He’s from the United States of America but lives in Poland. He is a member of an organisation called some AIESEC which actually encourages young businessmen and women,” he said.
“The first thing is to accept the fact that fake news is real and people should stop rushing to the fake sites. Individuals who have no voice before have been empowered suddenly.
“Every individual is now a journalist, editor promoter and most of all a publisher. There is competition to be the first to comment. So, the ‘419’ individuals sleep in cafes doing all sorts of things. Fake news should be treated as a crime,” he said.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, while delivering a keynote address at the event, also said the “capacity of fake news to cause great arm is not in doubt at all. It has been the realisation that it may even mislead.”
Editorial Director, BBC World Service Group, Jamie Angus; BBC Head of West Africa, Toyosi Ogunseye; President, Nigeria Guild of Editors, Funke Egbemode; Founder, Bella Naija, Uchechukwu Pedro spoke against fake news at the event launched in November 2018 by the BBC to find ways to address misinformation through events, media literacy programmes, and journalistic reports.