The Platform

Schoolchildren in Ibadan, Nigeria. (Tobie Eniafe)

Misinformation in mass media is the new normal. For residents in places like Ibadan, Nigeria this can come at a cost.

The underserved and underdeveloped community of Bere in Ibadan, the capital of Oyo State, is markedly hindered by educational, economic, and technological deficits, which collectively impede its socio-economic progression. This lack of technological engagement renders the populace especially vulnerable to misinformation, which proliferates through traditional media outlets such as radio, pamphlets, and direct oral communication. Bere’s residents, often unsuspecting, thus become unwitting carriers and victims of false information. This article will further examine the challenges these individuals face in verifying information and propose how specific technological solutions could effectively address these issues.

A detailed exploration of this community shows that its residents are primarily low-income earners living in slum conditions. Many cannot afford television, and those who own radios rely heavily on radio broadcasts to inform their decisions, including political choices. However, the biases inherent in radio programming expose listeners to skewed, false, or sensational information, without adequate technological means for verification. Bere’s residents often accept and propagate these narratives without alternatives for authenticating the information.

One might consider community radio as a form of technological exposure that should adhere to ethical standards in disseminating information. Nonetheless, it would be misguided to assume that grassroots-level radio is free from the push of false narratives. Similarly, Internet exposure remains low among Bere’s aging population and its less educated youth. The young people, potentially the community’s digital bridge, are instead often preoccupied with unproductive activities, leaving a gap in digital literacy and sensitivity to misinformation.

In these challenging economic conditions, where demographics are less comfortable with digital tools and where educational voids persist due to the absence of relevant institutional support, traditional methods like flyers and radio broadcasts remain the most accessible forms of communication. Yet, they also lack robust mechanisms for information verification. As a result, the community is exposed to various political agendas and disinformation campaigns, with residents unwittingly becoming conduits of misinformation—thus potentially enabling the ascent of dishonest and unqualified political figures.

Misinformation thrives when residents, lacking credible sources and proper media literacy, champion their preferred political candidates in group chats, marketplaces, religious gatherings, and other community events based purely on hearsay. This rampant spread of unchecked information underscores the urgent need for accessible technological solutions.

The introduction of USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data) technology could offer a viable solution in environments like Bere, where Internet access is scant. USSD, a protocol used by GSM cellular networks to communicate with service providers’ computers, could be harnessed to verify information directly on mobile phones, which are widely used across demographic groups in the area. This approach could employ simple USSD codes to facilitate the verification of circulated information, incorporating interfaces that accommodate voice inputs in multiple local languages.

Such technological interventions could significantly empower Bere’s residents, enabling them to make informed decisions, authenticate claims, and advocate for political candidates based on truth and not falsehoods and conjecture. The implementation of USSD technology and verification interfaces could decisively counteract the information disorder prevalent in Bere by providing residents with reliable tools to verify information using their mobile phones and other simple technological means, thus protecting them from disinformation agents and political manipulators.

Miskilu Aminat Olaitan is a self-driven Creative who is passionate about conflict and humanitarian reporting, social justice, and the environment. She tells stories that leave a mark. Aminat's knack for weaving well-researched and detailed content won her a fast recognition at TVC communications, during her internship. She can package detailed reports; edit videos; voice news script and edit news script for news production. Accordingly, she now hosts a podcast: On The Journey. Aminat anchored and produced the news at the 113th Islamic Vacation Course camp organised by the Muslim Students Society of Nigeria, Lagos state Unit.