Facebook, Instagram indiscriminately flag #EndSars posts as fake news

On Tuesday evening, as people moved online to stand in solidarity with peaceful #EndSars protesters who were attacked by heavily armed Nigerian security operatives at the Lekki tollgate in Lagos, Facebook and Instagram moved to flag users’ posts as fake. 

“I got a notification from Facebook that what I wrote is not entirely true, that they did their fact-checking,” Nuel Okwudili told The Continent.

Photos, graphics and graphic images of the casualties and the ruins left at the tollgate— after protesters flouting a curfew order by the state government were subjected to a shooting spree — flooded the internet

Fact-checking exercises were done indiscriminately — posts from pop star Rihanna on Facebook and Instagram also suffered the same fate.

Emeka Obi “posted the Nigerian flag covered in blood” on his Instagram story but saw it “classed it as false information and I saw several other accounts with similar issues”. Obi and Okwudili confirmed the visibility of their posts was hindered. The former said he usually has “60 — 90 story views but this particular one had just 19”. 


Even messages as benign as “Pray for Nigeria” had been labelled fake news.

“Flagging simple solidarity posts that ask people to pray for Nigeria as false – when the authorities are actively spilling blood on the streets — is highly problematic and amounts to, inadvertently or not, political censorship,” said Ray Walsh, a digital privacy specialist at ProPrivacy, a digital advocacy firm.

“But why would they do that?” asked Zion, a Facebook user.

Walsh said that although Facebook and Instagram fact-checking is appropriate, however, it is evident “those algorithms simply aren’t up to the job of fact-checking when large scale breaking news events occur”.

As the dust settled, fact-checkers were out to highlight several disturbing posts that were fake, because they had no connections to the killings or the #EndSars protests. Okwudili suspects one of those pictures could have made Facebook react. 

But Jo O’Reilly, ProPrivacy’s deputy editor, believes “the situation should have been carefully managed on a case by case basis. Simply using a one size fits all warning — which causes people to question all posts regarding the protests — is not good enough. And we need Instagram to work much harder to ensure that its algorithms either stay out of it or find a way to only put warnings on those posts that are known to contain false information.”

Okwudili, Obi and Zion have yet to make any #EndSars posts on both platforms since the night of 20 October; they would rather use other platforms like Twitter. 

“It would appear that Twitter has not followed suit, and has avoided putting warnings or fact-checking posts coming out of Nigeria, simply because it has been unable to definitively single out posts that they know to be false,” O’Reilly said.

Facebook and Instagram have since apologised for “letting our community down in such a time of need”.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Tolu Olasoji
Tolu Olasoji is a Nigeria-based journalist covering sports in Africa, and its intersections with human being and social issues

Related stories

Nigeria’s queers say ‘enough’

Notorious police unit that harassed LGBTQ+ community disbanded after widespread protests.

You can get fired for bad tweets even when you’re not at work

The law has extended the disciplinary arm of employers — posts made on personal social media accounts may constitute a sufficient enough reason for dismissal

NSFW: The tricky business of OnlyFans

In an increasingly digital world, OnlyFans has given online creators a new way to make money on their own terms

Editorial: A failure of leadership in Nigeria

For as long as there has been an independent Nigeria, its government has been killing its people.

Unite with Nigeria’s ‘Speak Up’ generation protesting against police brutality

Photos of citizens draped in the bloodied flag have spread around the world in the month the country should be celebrating 60 years of independence

The Nigerian government is killing its citizens — again

‘Nigeria kills its people. Nigeria has always killed its people.’
Advertising

Subscribers only

Covid-19 surges in the Eastern Cape

With people queuing for services, no water, lax enforcement of mask rules and plenty of partying, the virus is flourishing once again, and a quarter of the growth is in the Eastern Cape

Ace prepares ANC branches for battle

ANC secretary general Ace Magashule is ignoring party policy on corruption-charged officials and taking his battle to branch level, where his ‘slate capture’ strategy is expected to leave Ramaphosa on the ropes

More top stories

‘We struggle for water, but power stations and coal mines...

A proposed pipeline will bring water polluted with Gauteng’s sewage to the Waterberg in Limpopo to boost the coal industry during the climate crisis

Journey through anxious Joburg

A new book has collected writing about the condition of living, yes, with a high crime rate, but also other, more pervasive existential urban stresses particular to the Global South

Football legend Maradona dies

The Argentinian icon died at his home on Wednesday, two weeks after having surgery on a blood clot in his brain

Covid vaccines: Hope balanced with caution

As Covid vaccines near the manufacturing stage, a look at two polio vaccines provides valuable historical insights
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…