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.
As the 2023 general election is closing by, different aspects of threats to democracy that are capable of denying us the realisation of free and fair elections keep on surfacing. Friends are turning into enemies, families are not on good terms, and mentors and mentees do not see eye to eye again because of differing opinions and for aligning with different political views and parties. This week, I look at social relation, personality and reputational damages through information pollution as a threat to the election process and democracy at large with results from my recent studies and the ongoing work of the CEREDEMS-Africa/PAN election campaign monitoring project.
A lot of democratic actors in the current Nigerian election campaign have forgotten that elections will come and go but people, personalities and our society will remain. With the current campaign atmosphere, stakeholders should consider what is going to be left after the election for governance. Is it the relationship lost or damaged reputation and society in terms of creating unending conflicts? What will be there to work with and how are we going to realise a functioning democracy in our society?
Relationships form a key part of human beings which every member of society strives to build and maintain. The moment it is damaged, society loses its strength to unite. Both relationships and society are two essential needs for a functioning democracy. What will happen to democracy when these are damaged? While democratic processes need relationships and a stable society to be meaningful, information stands at the centre of realising or crushing it. When the information ecosystem of a democratic setting is polluted, the realisation of a stable relationship and society is merely a dream.
From the first edition of the monthly report by CEREDEMS-Africa/PAN on election campaign monitoring, we found that disparagement of personality, leadership competence, and educational backgrounds were part of the strategies deployed by the political actors and supporters. Though it became less prominent in the fourth week with 64.16% less intensive attacks, 32.66% slightly intensive, and 32.66% of moderately intensive disparagement. While the decline of disparagement is a good sign, the political actors and supporters need to eliminate it totally and focus on issue-based campaigns.
In my recent research on the two previous Nigerian elections (2015 and 2019) which focused on the impacts of information pollution, social relation and reputational damage were identified by the respondents as some of the costs of misleading information. I found that reputational damage played a key role as a significant consequence of spreading polluted messages or information during the elections. The survey revealed that 63.4% (n=362) of the respondents (n=572) believed that information pollution is creating reputational damage, demeaning leadership and societal relation damage accordingly. The analysis also indicates that the propagation of polluted messages during the electoral cycle of the two presidential elections damaged peace and tranquility, and electoral and voting decision processes.
If we all love our nation, democratic actors such as politicians, candidates, supporters, media, and CSOs must endeavour to stick to issue-based campaigns and agendas and refrain from disparaging personalities, damaging reputations, and destroying social relations to avoid setting the country on fire and relegating its democratic process.