A pub that reflects graffiti calling for peace. African countries are increasingly finding fake news vexing and divisive, especially when elections loom. Jerome Delay AP African News Agency (ANA)
In Nigeria fake news can be so outlandish, yet widely believed, that the president recently felt compelled to declare that he had not died and been replaced by a Sudanese body double.

“It’s (the) real me, I assure you,” President Muhammadu Buhari said late last year, to dispel the story that was viewed more than 500000 times on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Nigeria’s fake news can also be lethal.

The stakes are high in Nigeria before Saturday’s presidential vote marked by widespread discontent over unemployment, poverty and insecurity in some parts of the country. Officials warn that fake or outdated pictures depicting communal violence trigger retaliatory killings.

Many were killed in reprisal killings sparked by horrific, but false, photos purporting to depict deaths in the conflict between herdsmen and farmers in central Nigeria last year, said Tolu Ogunlesi, a spokesperson for Buhari.

“Fake news kills people. We have seen a lot of things like that,” he said. “Some of the deadly clashes in Nigeria were sparked by fake news.”

He suggested that “the naming and shaming of members who peddle fake news” could stem the problem.

Africa’s most populous country is so awash in falsehoods posted on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube that 16 media outlets have been collaborating on a fact-checking initiative, CrossCheck Nigeria, to research suspect election claims circulating online.

Some of the stories CrossCheck Nigeria recently discredited include allegations that the first lady wants Nigerians to vote against her husband, as well as a suggestion that US President Donald Trump endorsed opposition candidate Atiku Abubakar.

Such allegations almost always appear on social media and are sometimes published by news websites.

The project is similar to Africa Check, which calls itself the continent’s first fact-checking organisation.

False reports spread on social media so fast and frequently that some people who are the subjects of it simply have to laugh.

Nigerian writer and Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka said that he enjoyed reading the regular obituaries of his death. However, Soyinka warned that “If we are not careful, World War III will be started by fake news, and that fake news will probably be generated by a Nigerian.” AP African News Agency (ANA)