Dr Mustapha Muhammed Jamiu is an Assistant Professor of Communication, Media, and journalism courses at the Department of Mass Communication, RUDN University of Russia where he also coordinates the Center for Information Pollution. Mustapha is also the Executive Director of The Center for Research on Development of African Media, Governance and Society, CEREDEMS-Africa where he is leading a research project on monitoring the ongoing 2023 Nigerian Presidential election campaign. Dr Mustapha is a member of the International Association for Media and Communication Research-IAMCR, and UNESCO Media and Information Literary Alliance. His research interests are in Information Pollution and African Elections, Media Literacy and Development Communication.
In the world of media today, it is dangerous for conventional media to keep committing grievous mistakes or keep violating one of the key ethics of journalism such as verification. For the sake of emphasis, adhering to standards will not only produce credible output but also reassures the audiences about the honesty and trustworthiness of a source of information. In the information age and the post-truth era, the relevance of verification cannot and should never be overlooked. It is easy to find information if we are interested and equally easy to know the type of information to use. Mainstream media must refrain from mistakes to serve as a key backup for people who are in search of accurate information.
From this week onward, I shall be producing weekly insights from the results of my research works on information pollution and elections in Africa in tandem with the ongoing Nigerian election campaign. The aim is to educate, inform, equip, and alert the democratic stakeholders on things to be wary of for us to realise a free, fair, and credible election capable of giving us the right leaders.
Key Elements and Key actors
Here, I’ll define the elements and actors of democracy regarding information pollution.
Information Pollution: I defined information pollution as news reported by traditional media, especially newspapers that portray some people and organisations in a bad light to make the general public see them as bad and incompetent to hold any political position. Information pollution is a threat to the information ecosystem and it causes much damage to the growth of democracy in different parts of the world. This is becoming more alarming and rapidly becoming an integral part of the tools being used by different agents of democracy such as politicians, media personnel, influencers, and selfish individuals using tools just to manipulate and mislead electorates to win elections or to earn money.
Media: To mitigate or combat the effect of information pollution, media as the fourth estate of democracy need to reaffirm their position in strengthening the growth of democracy and prevent its fall directly or indirectly. To do this, they need to pay keen attention to what the production of media means (that is to reimagine the process) and understand the audience in the age of information proliferation and pollution with the aid of technological advancement. In one of my research interviews, I defined two different types of audience mainstream media needs to pay attention to which I categorised as visible and invisible. I defined the visible audience as “the dubious individuals and politicians using the tool for their gain (monetary, popularity among others). This class of people understand the media as information as a tool and is purposefully using it. While I identified the invisible audience as the innocent individuals with no knowledge of why what is written and for what. These sets of people are of two categories; the ones who read and share the headlines without following the link to read the whole story whether it conforms with each other, they will start forming an opinion; and the one who reads a rewritten headline or story from malicious sharers that uses a faulty headline for personal gain.”
Government: While the effect of information pollution on democratic stakeholders leaves no party untouched and governments have been working on combating it, they need to be extra careful in the process so as not to tamper with the dividend of democracy and the basic human rights of the people. Access to Information and freedom of speech are the bedrock of democracy and they are well respected in many stable democratic states that are currently doing something to combat information pollution. They are rather looking at necessary means to help their citizens grow in discerning appropriate contentments responsibly. The Nigerian government should work on this by reviewing existing laws and policies.
Influencers: Today, influencers tend to break news earlier than mainstream media outlets, they have more information items for people, and people stay longer on their various handles than normal media houses or the government’s social media handles. As they have become an integral part of the sources of information in society, there is a need to pay attention to their effect as they have become one of the key hubs for the means of spreading information pollution.
Information serves as a key pillar of democracy, because, it is believed that when citizens are well informed, it helps them to participate actively and meaningfully in the process of democracy while making their choice of a representative, or patriotic pursuit towards the development and growth of the state. Thus, we need to pay keen attention to every key stakeholder as a potential disseminator of information pollution by verifying and double-checking all information.
Next week, I will be looking at some unfolding key issues in the ongoing election campaign about information pollution.