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GhanaFact: Combating misinformation during elections

GhanaFact: Combating misinformation during elections
Supporters react as the National Democratic Party (NDC) is said to arrive first at a polling station after the vote for the presidential and parliamentary election in Ghana   -  
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When Ghana’s 2020 election loomed; political parties, the electoral commission, civil society organizations, CSOs; the media and general populace braced up for the season in different ways.

One such outfit that also prepared for the season was GhanaFact, a fact – checking platform located in the capital Accra. The “lean” team led by Managing Editor, Rabiu Alhassan, prepared on doing their level best to ensure the credibility of the polls by combatting fake news.

Preparations for December 7 polls

Preparations for the poll fact check assignment was mooted a year to the polls, when in 2019; GhanaFact conducted a reconnaissance survey to measure the fake news ecosystem in the country.

“69% of respondents indicated that they had encountered misinformation in the last one year,” Alhassan told Africanews in an exclusive interview.

“Respondents also pointed at the 2020 elections as an area that will be likely targeted with mis/disinformation and suggested that there was the need for a full-time fact-checker in the country (90% respondents),” he added.

Fact check collaboration, D-day activity

Thereon, GhanaFact knew that its work was cut out before, during and after the 2020 polls. But the need for broad based collaboration was not lost out on the team. As part of preps towards the poll, Ghana’s largest fact-checking collaboration was launched.

Fact-checkers, different news outlets and civil society groups were brought together to build a nationwide network against election misinformation. The outfit engaged in alerting to, educating about and actively busting fake news that were being spread across a number of social media platforms – principally Facebook and WhatsApp according to Alhassan.

On the day of the vote, December 7; GhanaFact was active on its main platforms – Facebook and Twitter. Platform activity for Twitter included over 40 posts – tweets, retweets and quoted tweets.

Majority of them being fact checks on viral postings on Twitter and Facebook – among them were; burning of ballot boxes, report of widespread power blackout, alleged killing of a ballot snatcher, tampering of ballot papers, military disruption of votes in opposition strongholds etc.

Challenges of young fact check outfit

The months leading to December 7 however came with big challenges that the team had to surmount. Capacity, information flow and or lack of it plus funding were at the center of the challenges faced.

The Managing Editor said: “One of our main challenges remain the lack of capacity to be able to effectively deal with the wave of misinformation we are alerted to.

“There is a mismatch between the volume of misinformation being churned out via social media and the ability of a slim fact-checking team to appropriately deal with them.

Specifically on the day of voting, he added: “During the polls, we faced the challenge of information flow from key stakeholders to help quell the spread of misinformation. 

These are the sort of gaps that allow for the easy spread of misinformation. Another challenge has to do with the capacity of the team members to know how to use digital tools for fact-checking.

The digital space keeps on evolving and even though there were a number of training opportunities that afforded team members to build capacity, there will be the need for more of such trainings to ensure members are up to date with the tools needed to be effective as fact-checkers.

“Operating as a non-profit social enterprise also means there will be the need for funding to be able to cover grounds and be effective, which is a challenge,” Alhassan stressed.

Fake news and its impact remains a threat to information flow with broader effect on security and national cohesion. That said, the GhanaFact team has resolved to keep up the fight against the menace.

The outfit aims to accelerate the adoption of digital technology using videos, graphics, and creative storytelling to promote higher engagement of fact-check reports.

Africanews will subsequently publish a full interview with the Managing Editor of the team. Where he touches on other areas such as future plans, extent of fake news menace and how Ghanaians see fake news.

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