By Femi Ogunshola
“If you incessantly repeat a lie, the lie would become reality,” says Joseph Goebbels, German Nazi politician and Reich Minister of Propaganda from 1933 to 1945.
Social media was recently awash with Buhari’s alleged move to take a new wife, the gossip gained much currency and like a wild fire spread without any official denial.
The rumour which emanated from social media was fuelled by the absence of the First Lady who later disclosed that her absence was due to ill health.
“Fake news will lead this country to something else if actions are not taken with immediate effect,” Aisha Buhari said on her returned from the United Kingdom on Oct. 13
Her comment was sequel to President Muhammadu Buhari’s rumoured marriage to Hajia Sadiya Farouk, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development.
Section 39 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as Amended) provides for the freedom of speech and expression without limitation.
However such right does not exist in a vacuum, as it comes with criminal or civil defamation that could send the culprits to jail.
Though speculations were earlier rife that Aisha’s inability to pull her weight round the Villa recently was due to infighting.
But, Mr Suleiman Haruna, the Director of Information to the First Lady, debunked the insinuation, stating that there was nothing like infighting in Aso Villa due to Aisha’s absence in the country for about two months
Some Nigerians, who would not want to take the information of the president’s proposed wedding with a pinch of salt, went further to `feed their eyes’ on Friday at Abuja Central Mosque.
The mosque prayer witnessed seemingly unprecedented number of faithful in what appeared to be an attempt by some curious worshippers cum observers to confirm or disbelief the story.
The wedding date was also widely circulated on the social media with Facebook and Twitter users aiding its circulation.
Dr Nathan Oguche of the Department of Mass Communication, Kogi State University, Ayingba, noted that the issue of fake news is a very complex one, adding that when there was no information; people would sell what was available.
He added that this notwithstanding, whether such information was real or not, promoters of fake news would go to town with what was available.
According to him, when people are creating the issue of Buhari getting married, it ought to be denied immediately.
“When you want to counter falsehood, you have to counter it with facts, but when facts are not available, people will continue to perpetrate this falsehood as facts until facts come to counter it,” he said.
He stated that when the citizenry were being suffocated and denied valuable information, the only option left was for them to trade in falsehood with the information at their disposal.
According to him, that is the basic problem we have within our government and in our democratic set up.
“We must curtail fake news by bringing out facts and you have to use the mainstream media to counter this falsehood,” he stated.
He observed that people thrive on fake news because there were online media that were aware that fake news sold more than truth and in order to generate traffic they spread fake news.
“You know in online news, your story is given prominence by the number of times that those stories are read and in order to generate traffic to your website, the handler deliberately sell out fake news,” Oguche noted.
Oguche said that as a communicator, it was easy for him to identify fake news, adding that when the news of Buhari getting married was brought to him, he took it with a pinch of salt.
According to him, I quickly dispel it even when there was no official information from the president’s media aides.
“I just know within me that such information should not be trusted, so I did not share it in anyway because they do not look true and genuine.’’
He called on those in the media industry to always do a fact check whenever they see such information, adding that it is the responsibility of the media to inform the populace.
Mr Donald Martins, a legal practitioner, said following the rumoured wedding of Buhari on the social media, there is an urgent need for the regulation of social media to stem the tide of abuse and fake news.
Martins noted that putting machinery in motion to check fake news on social media would help the country to wade off the binger of fake news.
The legal practitioner stated that unverified and fake news were capable of causing confusion in the polity and also breed disaffection within the family circle of the country’s first citizen.
He said that many people fell for the fake news, to the extent that there were printed wedding invitations online.
Martins queried the motive of those behind the fake news, adding that what they stood to achieve with such misinformation about the president’s planned wedding.
He called for the arrest of the purveyors of such fake news, stating that it would serve as deterrent to others brazing up to feed the nation with fake news.
He said that those behind the fake story were mischief makers who were bent on creating smoke where there was no fire.
Ms Frisk Larr, a social commentator, said it was unfair for some people to spread such fake information without recourse to the feeling of their target.
“The president’s wife is reportedly estranged, a minister is claimed to be replacing her in the matrimonial household.
“On the reported wedding day that was to hold in Abuja, the lady was spotted in New York.
“Now, while it may be normal or perhaps legitimate to throw dirt on the president, on whose head lies the uneasy crown, what has Aisha Buhari done to merit this smear.
“What has the minister done to be dragged into this mess, do people imagine the damage they are causing to others, when spreading malicious messages,” she questioned.
As Goebbels said, if you incessantly repeat a lie, the lie would become a reality; fake news is an ill wind and should be checked.
Ogunshola writes for News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)