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Not more than 15 Nigerian news organisations have joined forces on Wednesday to bring war against misinformation ahead of February’s elections in a collaborative effort as the country’s main political parties trade accusations of fabrication and exaggeration.
The CrossCheck Nigeria project purpose is to get newsrooms to work together to investigate and disprove erroneous claims, especially on social media.
Completed investigations will appear on a central platform only when at least five partners have approved the work, in a move designed to improve public understanding and trust.
Nigerians go to the polls on February 16 to elect a new president and parliament, while gubernatorial and state assembly elections take place two weeks later.
President Muhammadu Buhari is seeking a second, four-year term but facing a strong challenge from former vice-president Atiku Abubakar.
CrossCheck Nigeria involves about 50 journalists from local print, broadcast and online media, plus AFP, supported by academic partners at the University of Lagos.
The public will be able to provide tips via WhatsApp. Cross-checked claims will appear on www.crosschecknigeria.org.
One of the most-shared rumours spread online is that Buhari, who spent months receiving treatment in London in 2017 for an unspecified illness, actually died.
Supporters of pro-Biafran separatist leader Nnamdi Kanu in southeast Nigeria have claimed Buhari, a former military ruler, has been replaced by a lookalike from Sudan.
Those involved in the CrossCheck Nigeria initiative said given the avalanche of misinformation, journalists needed to work together, using the same technology to fight it.
“It’s not the time for the competition,” said Martins Oloja, editor at The Guardian newspaper in Nigeria.
First Draft, a British non-profit which aims to tackle misinformation around the world, is providing the technology and research expertise for the project.
Jenni Sargent, managing director at First Draft, said the Nigeria project and others like it were designed to help the public make informed political choices.
“This transparency is essential to maintaining trust and credibility in this age of misinformation,” she added.