Ahead of the 2019 general election, a coalition of news organisations in Nigeria is collaborating to combat misinformation, fake news and other information disorders that might have a negative impact on the polls.

The goal of the collaborative verification project is to help improve the quality of information available to the voting public, debunk misinformation and fake news and sanitise the media space in the run up to the elections.

The verification project will allow several newsrooms in Nigeria to work together to investigate claims and rumour circulating fast in the social media and debunk them before they go viral or do harm.

The reporting will be powered by a group of about 15 newsrooms across the country drawn from print, electronic and online media, through a central portal and then amplified by the project partners via their own channels and publications, ensuring more Nigerians gain access to accurate information.

The verification project is powered by First Draft, a UK organisation working at combatting misinformation across the globe. First Draft has developed a reliable technology to aid a rapid and amplified response to false, misleading and confusing information.

Over 46 journalists trained

A two–day bootcamp was organised for about 46 journalists, ICT and social media staff from 15 participating newsrooms, to learn about the new verification technology and how to work in a coalition.

Participating journalists will investigate claims on election–related issues and then work together to author reports that will help the Nigerian public have a better understanding of what is trustworthy or unreliable.

Building on experience in Brazil to crowdsource tips from the public about misinformation circulating on WhatsApp

The project will benefit from collective learning gained by First Draft and its partners on the Comprova project in Brazil: the first journalism collaboration to use the WhatsApp Business API for managing communications. Comprova collected almost  70,000 audience tips through WhatsApp.

As with Comprova, WhatsApp has provided advanced access to CrossCheck Nigeria, allowing multiple journalists to manage tips coming in from the public and respond faster.

It's the biggest collaborative project by Nigerian newsrooms

About 15 media houses are involved in this collaborative effort. These include The Guardian, Punch, Daily Trust, The Sun, Tribune, Thisday and The Nation.

Others are Channels Television, Freedom Radio,Sahara Reporters, Premium Times, The Cable, The ICIR and News Agency of Nigeria, NAN.

The coalition also includes AFP (Agence France-Presse).

The Mass Communication Department of the University of Lagos is joining as a research partner in the collective effort and will help test interventions and conduct computational research for the project.

Dayo Aiyetan, the Executive Director of International Centre for Investigative Reporting, ICIR, an independent, non-profit news agency, whose organisation will coordinate the project, expressed concern about how politicians weaponise information either to deceive the public or injure the reputation of opponents.

He said that as recent local elections have shown in the country, “the social media, including Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp, have become avenues for politician to spread misinformation, rumour, falsehood and fake news", adding that the media bears responsibility to verify information being churned out on social media to ensure that they are true.

“Journalists need to learn the skills to verify and fact check such misinformation and debunk them before they mislead people or cause harm,” he stated.

Aiyetan said no newsroom in Nigeria could singlehandedly confront the daily circulation of fake news with significant effect, which made the collaboration among several media houses necessary.

First Draft’s Managing Director Jenni Sargent said that “CrossCheck projects are designed to help the public to understand not only what to trust, but also why.”

“Followers of the CrossCheck Nigeria project will be shown the fact-checking and verification steps behind each report, and will also see the logos of all partner newsrooms that have taken part in each investigation. This transparency is essential to maintaining trust and credibility in this age of misinformation. We are delighted to be supporting such dedicated and talented journalists in Nigeria who are not afraid to show their work to each other or their audiences,” she added.

In addition, a number of select bloggers will be invited to join the traditional newsrooms as re-publishing partners. Participants in the coalition will benefit from continuous training and the opportunity to share knowledge, tips and expertise with each other across newsrooms.

"We really want this project to be driven and owned by Nigerian journalists as you know your audiences and political context far better," said Phoebe Arnold, the International Projects Co-ordinator at First Draft.

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