Tag: Africa

‘Bots’ – The problem of ‘fake news’ in the age of social media

By now, the phrase ‘fake news’ is no longer new to many people, but its influence couldn’t be more widespread. We have all been victims whether we like to admit it or not. We have been exposed to propaganda disguised as news through Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp or Instagram and some of us have ‘fallen’ for it. We all like to think we are not being manipulated or controlled by what we read or see on social media, but the truth is, we are.

FAke News
Photo credit – http://www.mashable.com

The influence of ‘fake news’ is more devastating in countries where there are delicate balances of power and spreading false rumours could easily offset this balance, sometimes with catastrophic consequences. For example in multi-ethnic societies like the ones in Africa and Asia, spreading false information about an ethnic group could quickly increase tensions and could lead to strife, or conflict in extreme cases. It could alter the political landscape and cause power shifts.

Countries, organisations or individuals who want to influence the socio-political dynamics of a society know the fact that most people will believe what they read, if you can sensationalise it enough. Gone are the days when media corporations are the only ones who could wield this kind of influence, today, an 18 year old with some knowledge of Adobe Photoshop and video editing software could create powerful ‘false information’ that would get the attention of millions of people. I think this is scary enough, but when you now realise there are actually groups and syndicates out there (sometimes sanctioned by governments) sending out internet ‘bots’ in their millions into societies with the sole aim of churning out hundreds of tweets per hour, spreading false information manufactured with state of the art softwares, then the ball game changes.

This week it was exposed that there are state-run organisations in Russia who have well developed methods of targeting western democracies with false information with the sole aim of creating suspicion and fracturing societies. The allegations are endless, the UK referendum, the US elections, the Immigration debate, the Catalonia referendum etc.

A particular photo was held up this week as a clear evidence of this type of deliberate misinformation for political gain. I could remember seeing this picture (below) circulating widely on twitter when the tragedy occurred on London Bridge earlier in 2017. The reaction it generated was that of fury and anger. The tweet read:

“Muslim woman pays no mind to the terror attack, casually walks by a dying man while checking phone #PrayForLondon #Westminster #BanIslam.”

Blog image
Photo credit: London Evening Standard

At a time of difficult discussions around immigration and religious freedom in Britain,  this photo added a lot of fuel to the fire, particularly for far-right groups who were already injecting a dose of toxicity to the debates.

It has now been discovered that the twitter account behind this photo was actually an internet bot manufactured in Russia. An internet bot as defined by Wikipedia as “a software application that runs automated tasks (scripts) over the Internet. Typically, bots perform tasks that are both simple and structurally repetitive, at a much higher rate than would be possible for a human alone”. So these are computer codes controlled from thousands of miles away, which wield ten or twenty times more ‘tweet-power’ than a human being.

Contrary to the tweet, the young woman wasn’t ignoring the crime scene, but rather horrified at what was happening around her. The photo was taken out of context and used for a malicious narrative.

As the general population is now beginning to understand, millions of twitter accounts, facebook profiles and instagram accounts are actually bots. Many of these accounts are used for criminal purposes, contain malicious content or were created to spread false information very quickly across the web. Bots do not know borders or political boundaries. Tweets sent by bots in St.Petersburg will be seen in London in seconds and its intensity beyond your wildest imagination as it saturates the media space at a rate that can never be matched by a human being.

I don’t know what the solution to ‘fake news’ and malicious bots is, but I am sure Russia is not the only suspect. The extent to which this actually affect societies and shape public opinion is yet to be clearly established.

The only effort we can all make is to make sure we do not believe everything we read or view on the internet. Many videos though look like they are real, many times they have been carefully ‘doctored’ and taken out of context to drive home a particular agenda. I see this all the time on Facebook. Social media is fast becoming a playground for people with an agenda. Some of these posts for example disguise as an emotional appeal, designed to tug at your heart strings, be careful, and do your research before you fall for it. I see it all the time, people jumping to conclusions on a sensational post on facebook. Protect your mind.



‘Fantastically corrupt’ Nigeria – A personal experience (Part 2)


Getting into Lagos and out of the airport was a relief. My dad was out there with a pick up car and we drove to a hotel in town to sleep over for the night. The hotel brought some food for us in the room after we had arranged the fees and everything else. I had a very light sleep that night in anticipation of seeing the rest of my family in Ibadan (2hrs away from Lagos and the second largest city in Nigeria). It was incredibly hot as well. I was sweating all the time

We set out mid morning the following day for Ibadan and we travelled on the infamous Lagos-Ibadan expressway (local name for the dual-carriage way). I was shocked at the size and number of potholes on this road. It has always been a notorious road for car accidents and armed robbery, but it is the only direct link from Lagos to Ibadan. There were no road markings and cars swerved in out out of their lanes avoiding potholes, some so deep they would damage your car seriously if you ran into them. I held my breath as the driver switched lanes every 2 minutes while doing 100km/hr. There were big trucks and petrol tankers also swerving around, so it was all a potentially dangerous situation. I asked him why the road is so bad, that when I was in Nigeria, I couldn’t remember it like it is now. He said the government had awarded the contract but due to high-level corruption, the project never took off properly and there had been many starts and stops. Currently he said, they are working on it and they are nearly half way and we would soon get to where the work is going on. We did, and to be fair, some some serious work was going on on this road, though slow, but at least, after so many years of nothing, it is nice to see it is being fixed and made safer. I thought to myself I won’t be taking that road again until I am off to the airport for my return, as it looked just too risky. One thing I noticed though was that there weren’t many police checkpoints anymore compared to many years ago when I lived there, we only encountered one checkpoint and they just waved us on.

I stayed in a hotel in Ibadan for the nights and spent most of my day time hours at home with my family. The weather was too hot and I needed a place with constant power supply and air-conditioning to be able to unwind and sleep at night. The hotel provided this.

The hotel staff were generally helpful and nice, but they could spot that I had been out of the country for quite a while, because of the sort of questions I asked, like how do you load phone credit, where can I get internet connection and so on. That said, many of the staff waited for something in return whenever they helped me out with anything. I could see in their body language and sometimes they will ask me directly. I did what I could and sometimes I just said thank you and walked away. But overall I had a pleasant stay.

My time had now come to leave after two weeks of a memorable time with my family. I set out on the Ibadan-Lagos road again and off to the airport. At this point, there was a biting scarcity of fuel and there were many queues on the road causing traffic jams all the way to Lagos. I got to the airport quite early due to the unpredictable nature of events in Nigeria, I couldn’t bear to miss my flight.

When check-in time started, I was ready. The lady at passport control looked at my documents and quickly waved me on to Departures. I went through a few more checks but everything was smooth until I got to security where you were scanned along with your hand luggage. The lady checking my stuff, suddenly looked and whispered to me, ‘anything for us sir?’ I said sorry, what do you mean, she said it again and added ‘nothing is too small’. I was shocked, this was security at the main international airport in Nigeria asking me for money! I pretended I didn’t really understand what she meant and in frustration just waved me on after checking my luggage. I couldn’t believe what I just heard. I thought to myself, I know these guys are paid very low, but this is security at stake here. I wondered what someone with sinister intentions might do knowing all the security guys would gladly take money. Scary thought.

As I walked through security, glad I left the uncomfortable situation behind, I suddenly heard a shout from a corner with 3 or 4 men in immigration uniforms waving me over. I thought why are they calling me. I went over to these guys and one of them said to me ‘where are you off to tonight sir’, I said London. He looked at my boarding pass and stared uncomfortably for a while and then said ‘have a safe journey sir’. I thought to myself, did he want money as well? I was a bit concerned at this point thinking why are they all expecting something from me. I am just a regular traveller.

I got to the waiting room where we would sit and wait for boarding the plane. We were subjected to another search here. A man searched my person and a lady searched my bag. As the lady was going through my hand luggage, I heard again in a quiet voice, ‘anything for us tonight sir’, I replied ‘sorry, don’t have any spare cash or anything as I am broke right now’, She giggled and said ‘okay, have a nice journey sir’.

I went to my seat and just slumped in the chair tired of it all. Why on earth are airport officials asking travellers for money, almost openly? The announcement came on that our plane was ready and we boarded ready to leave Nigeria behind with mixed feelings.

Low-level corruption is widespread in Nigeria and people don’t take it seriously, but it is the individuals perpetrating this that will go on to commit higher level crimes when given some power. Imagine the security lady being promoted to become a supervisor, or a manager of a team at the airport, what sort of leadership will she offer? I try not to think about it.

Nigerians shouldn’t deny the reality of corruption in the country. Lets all hope the current regime’s fight against it bears some fruit.



‘Fantastically Corrupt’ Nigeria – A personal experience (Part 1)


People have condemned David Cameron’s unguided utterances last week where he referred to Nigeria and Afghanistan as ‘fantastically corrupt’ countries. I condemn him too as I don’t think such careless talk does any favours to both the speaker of it nor the receiver(s) of it. It achieves nothing but fractured diplomatic relations.

However, as a Nigerian, I completely relate to what David Cameron said. I grew up in Nigeria and it is true corruption has become a way of life for many years in the country. Corruption is defined by the Oxford dictionary as “Dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, typically involving bribery”. From my translation of this definition, ‘those in power’ does not only refer to politicians but everyone who provides a service for which you rely on. For example your electricity company, water company, the local community leader and even the receptionists.

I made a brief visit to Nigeria in 2015 after 8 years of living in the UK. Not much has changed in terms of infrastructure and development. The roads are still bad (in fact has got worse in many places), there is still intermittent power supply, there are still fuel shortages and generally life is still very hard for the average man on the street. The noise, the colour, the dust, the garbage on the streets, all still the same.

I landed at Muritala Muhammed International airport to a hot, rancid air with the arrival lounges looking very bland in contrast to other international airports I’ve been. There was water from the air conditioners running across the floors and it all felt a little bit grotty. Though I felt it unfair to compare Nigeria’s main international airport to Heathrow in London or Schipol in Amsterdam, after all it is a developing country trying its best everyday to make things better in very difficult circumstances. I progressed with my journey towards passport control trying not to be judgemental. I should be glad I landed safely and excited to see my family. I heard one of the passengers with whom I exited the plane, walking behind me, chuckle and whisper, ‘welcome to Nigeria’.

The first check point was manned by a loud talking gentleman checking our landing cards. One of the arriving passengers who was not Nigerian was trying to communicate with the man on the desk in a foreign language (sounded Lebanese). The man on the desk simply shouted at him to speak English or he will spend a long time in the queue. I thought to myself again ‘welcome to Nigeria’ where magic happens. If this ‘Lebanese’ man was able to speak English, wouldn’t he have done so in the first place I thought, or maybe I’m wrong. I made it past this desk and into passport control and met a long line of people waiting for their passports to be checked. I quickly took my spot and waited for my turn. It was around 9pm by this time, about 30minutes after I exited the plane. I kept looking at the decor in this part of the airport and all looked very old fashioned and outdated. I thought it could be worse and I should not be judgmental. It was very hot in there though. I looked round for anything (digital) that could give a hint of the outside temperature, couldn’t find any, but never mind, that was the least of my worries.

As we all waited in the queue I suddenly heard a commotion of some sorts and quickly looked to see what was going on. Two women were making their way past everyone on the queue clutching shopping bags from duty free shops in London and everyone was wondering where they were going. You are right they were making their way to the top of the queue, ignoring shouts from people waiting not do so. They shuffled past me as well and the look on their faces was indifference as if ‘what are you going to do, stop me?’. They got to the top of the line, right in front of the desks. The airport staff did not stop these women, rather they appealed to the people waiting in line to not create more problem by creating a scene. The women were attended to after being questioned by one of the staff. I don’t know what they discussed, but they must have been allowed to jump the queue for some reason. I thought to myself again, don’t be judgemental, maybe one of them is ill and can’t queue or they have some serious medical condition.

I finally made it past passport control after about 30 minutes of standing in line. Then we made our way to the baggage section to pick up our bags. I thought I am nearly done now, just pick up my bags and get out into Lagos! Home of the brave! How wrong was I. I spent nearly 2 hours waiting for my bags, in fact I thought at some point they were lost and I started to panic. In the meantime I looked around for a baggage trolley (as you would in any airport) to load my bags on if or when they eventually came out, but couldn’t find any in sight. Eventually, I saw my bags coming down the escalator and was pleased. As I pulled them off the escalator and onto the floor, a young man approached me and said do you need a baggage trolley, I looked up and said excitedly, yes please! He said wait here. He went off and got me a trolley and I wondered where that had suddenly appeared from. I had looked everywhere before then and didn’t find one. Anyway it wasn’t the time to be Sherlock Holmes, I quickly thanked him and he said he would help me to load my bags as well. I told him he didn’t have to, but he did and loaded by 3 heavy bags onto the carrier for me. I thanked him profusely and thought to myself Nigerians are really nice people aren’t they. I noticed though, as I thanked this man, he wasn’t that chuffed, he just had a stern look. And then he broke his silence, he said ‘what have you brought for us from London’. I said, ‘ah…sorry i don’t have anything on me at the moment, just a couple of pound coins’ left over from having coffee at Heathrow. He replied ‘that would do’. To my shock, I quickly ransacked my pockets and brought out a handful of British coins totalling about £3.00 (about N750 or N800 in Nigerian money), probably enough for a meal in Nigeria.He thanked me and moved on very quickly lending a hand to another passenger and having a chat with them too. At this point I was tired and can’t wait to get out of the airport. Moved my baggage trolley out of the front door into the hot Lagos air, almost hotter than when I was inside the airport. ‘Welcome to Nigeria’ said a big banner on one of the metal rails outside.

Corruption in Nigeria is not just in the high places, it is present in everyday life and perpetrated by everyday people. My next article (Part 2) will tell you of the experiences I had of these low-level everyday corruption in Nigeria during my short stay there in 2015. But overall, it is a country I admire for its tenacity and ability to thrive in very difficult circumstances. Nigerians endure everyday struggles that will dwarf any hardship you can refer to in western societies.