Twitter Spaces ‘Spreading Disinformation In 2023 Elections’
Twitter Spaces have contributed immensely in spreading awareness of politics in Nigeria. But during the 2023 general elections, nefarious political actors are using the feature to spread disinformation.
The peace accord that was signed before the elections by all the leading contenders was, in the words of one untraceable, all-but-anonymous Twitter user, “organised to make Peter Obi accept the outcome of rigged elections.”
It’s a claim without evidence, but many people in the Twitter Space hosting the discussion agreed, their assent emitting from the speakers of thousands of phones.
The Twitter user has a picture of a woman in her profile and identifies herself as “Ifedi” with the Twitter handle @ikukuamanoya, but is otherwise anonymous. “She” was participating in one of the Twitter Spaces held after the 2023 Presidential elections.
Ifedi’s baseless claim is one among many monitored during the electioneering period, showing the proliferation of fake and manipulated news coming from this corner of social media.
Fake information is dangerous, it could be the trigger for violence.
Twitter spaces are open-ended audio broadcasts where Twitter users can click and join scores, hundreds, or even hundreds of thousands, of other users to discuss anything they like. Young people constitute the larger group of users of the relatively newly-invented feature. Users open the Twitter app, “join” the space, and air their opinion on current affairs, lifestyle, and popular culture.
The “Ifedi” Twitter account has less than 300 followers who would see her tweets, but by joining the right Twitter Space, they could reach hundreds of thousands of people in an instant.
In the build-up to the general elections, the discussions in Nigerian spaces were mostly about politics. In some cases, their opinions are riddled with fake and unsubstantiated claims and inaccurate and exaggerated figures.
Another speaker, through the host’s account on one of the Spaces, said Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, the INEC chairman, was reading results as written by APC candidate and President-elect Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
He added Prof Mahmood was shown on the TV cancelling the results that were brought to him, using a pencil to rewrite them. He insisted that the results announced were scripted, with no evidence to buttress his point.
“This script must not be allowed to stand!” the user, simply identified as Steve, exclaimed. Others agreed.
Twitter spaces are long and unregulated. Another Twitter Space hosted on Feb. 28 by @PeterObiUSA, a group of Nigerians in the diaspora who are canvassing votes for the Labour Party’s presidential candidate, lasted for 24 hours and had 101,000 Twitter users tuned in.
Other political parties who participated in the elections were all caught at different times on Twitter Spaces making misleading statements.
According to Twitter, during its launch in 2020, Spaces’ “ephemeral, live audio conversations allow for open, authentic, and unfiltered discussions, and there’s a Space for any and every topic and conversation, from small and intimate to millions of listeners.”
The feature gives users the opportunity to express themselves without restriction on the app.
Hashtags are used by the hosts to further amplify the message. The tag is created mostly through trending topics.
Aisha Ibrahim Abba, a fact checker and team member at the Election War Room at the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), expressed concerns over how the feature is being used to spread disinformation.
She said fake news is easily spread on Twitter Spaces because most of the hosts have little or no expertise on the topic they are discussing.
“This is worrying because Twitter Spaces are hosted by individuals who, most of the time, have preempted intentions as to why they are hosting the Space. Moreover, some of the speakers in these spaces are not experts per se, but rather people who would gather mass followership,” Aisha told HumAngle.
It is difficult to fact-check the claims that are made on Spaces. Some run for hours and are therefore difficult to monitor.
However, she proffered solutions to control how Spaces is being used and may likely be used in the future to misinform people, especially during elections campaigns in Nigeria.
“Fact-checking organisations in collaboration with Twitter could develop something like this as it saves time and effort towards identifying and fact-checking claims on social media platforms, especially in cases like Spaces which has its peculiarities. Also, there should be increased awareness of the danger of misinformation and disinformation such that average Twitter users and social media users, in general, would know to not just believe in just anything,” she said.
She also suggested that Twitter should know a host, his topic, and how versed they are in the area they want to speak on its Spaces before giving them the chance to go on air. According to her, this will go a long way in controlling the proliferation of disinformation on Twitter Spaces.
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