Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp are hugely influential platforms with millions of people using them globally to communicate and share important information.
But at the same time, these platforms have become a source of fake news and misinformation.
In the era of fake news and misinformation, what is the role of the media, and tech platforms in disrupted digital world?
Participants at GSMA Mobile 360 Africa conference in Kigali on July 17, 2019. Emmanuel Kwizera.
This is a question that emerged during the on-going GSMA Mobile 360 Africa, a conference taking place in Kigali, that attracted stakeholders from the telecommunication and technology industries.
Facebook has been accused of being a platform that allows users to propagate hate speech and other negative views and false news.
Participants at the ongoing GSMA Mobile 360 Africa conference in Kigali use Virtual Reality headsets to experience the evolution from 2G-3G-4G and to 5G internet yesterday. Emmanuel Kwizera.
The platform has become known in the past for mishandling and exposing people’s personal data to firms that then use that data to influence what they consume.
In countries like Kenya, Nigeria and the United States of America, it has been used to influence people’s democratic decisions.
Participants at the GSMA Mobile 360 Africa conference taking a selfie with the Made in Rwanda Mara Phone smartphone before buying one on July 17, 2019. Emmanuel Kwizera
A case in point is the Cambridge Analytica political scandal.
The company harvested the personal data of millions of people’s Facebook profiles without their consent and used it for political advertising purposes during the US Presidential Elections.
Kojo Boakye, Facebook’s Head of Public Policy for Africa, admitted on a panel that platforms like Facebook have had to deal with bigger problems, but that there was work being done to curb misinformation and fake news as well as protect consumer data.
Serigne Dioum from MTN group, Williams Otto from Visa, Dare Okoudjou from MTS Africa and Ahamed Darmish of United Nation Capital during the meeting on July 17, 2019. Craish Bahizi
“Since 2017 we have increased the number of fact-checkers from 10,000 to 30,000. We are now in many countries with ability to look at context but also integrate local languages to better understand situations,” he said at the panel discussion moderated by BBC Africa’s Larry Madowo.
Boakye added that the growth in Facebook’s artificial intelligence technology is also enabling them to shut down fake accounts, where most of the problems of misinformation and fake news come from.
While all this is happening, Ngozi Madueke-Dozie, Kwesé-iflix’s General Manager in West Africa, noted that the content landscape in Africa is now diverse with many platforms beyond Facebook and news media.
“What is interesting is that in as much as we watch Game of Thrones, we also watch FIFA and others. I think there is more accessibility on the content. The content is diversified and the more platforms for content the more our awareness increases,” she noted.
Her company, Kwesé-iflix, an online television platform, allows thousands of Africans to access more than 50,000 movies and TV shows as well as sports. The platform is particularly known for promoting Nigerian movies.
“I think we are getting better at telling our own story in a way that it resonates with other people,” Madueke-Dozie said.
For Samo Onyemelukwe, the Head of Anglophone Africa TRACE TV, the opportunity for future growth and investments lies in internet and internet-enabled devices and how much media companies are able to master them.
“Due to the disruptive power of the internet and the digital era, the power lies in how users are empowered to use different digital platforms and how best content creators monetise them,” he said.
But Madueke-Dozie said she believes the future lies in how much media managers invest in skill-set in content creators – who tell the story, the videographer, the cinematographer, and the entire value chain.
“Everybody that is investing in upping the game for content creation will see the reward in the future. Once you have the content that is accessible, palatable and interesting to everyone, then you are in,” she said.
On the future of news media, Toby Shapshak, the Editor-in-Chief at STUFF, a news media company in New Zealand, blamed media organisations for failure to evolve with the changing times.
“As much as journalists say Facebook and Google are still advertising and they say it is the biggest threat, I say the biggest threat is that management of media organisations does not understand digital and how to evolve with the nature of things,” he said.
Like any landscape, Shapshak adds that if the media does not respond to what they call new threat, it will not be the “threat’s fault”.