Ghana Election 2024: Be Wary of Information Disorder

Source: Graphic online

Of course! Ghana stands at a crossroad; a moment of opportunity, a chance of change—Election Season. The media landscape is full of political discourse, news, and commentary. Social media platforms, in particular, have become hotbeds of political activity, where netizens engage in lively debates, share myriad information, and express their opinions on candidates and issues. With the increase in social media usage, the floodgates have opened for user-generated content, including ‘fake news’ generated and distributed at the speed of light (Ahiabenu, Ofosu-Peasah & Sam, 2018).

According to the Global Risk Report released by the World Economic Forum in January 2024, misinformation and disinformation have risen rapidly in rankings to first place for the two-year time frame. The report adds that “misinformation and disinformation may radically disrupt electoral processes in several economies over the next two years. A growing distrust of information, as well as media and governments as sources, will deepen polarized views – a vicious cycle that could trigger civil unrest and possibly confrontation.”

Misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation, the three dangerous children of what Wardle & Derakhshan (2017) refer to as Information Disorder, pose a weighty challenge to the integrity of the electoral process. False rumors, fabricated stories, and manipulated images are easily spread like wildfire on social media, shaping public perceptions, influencing voters’ behavior, and undermining trust in democratic institutions.

Considering just this year, fact-checking organizations such as Fact-check Ghana (a project of the Media Foundation for West Africa) and Dubawa, a West African independent verification and fact-checking project, initiated by Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID), have been pivotal in debunking numerous claims emerging from Ghana’s political arena. These claims proliferated across social media platforms and mainstream media, contributing to the widespread dissemination of misleading and false information.

On March 25, 2024, Sammy Gyamfi, the National Communications Officer of the National Democratic Congress,  addressed a concerning issue on Facebook regarding a fraudulent account impersonating him. He stressed that the account named “Sammy Genfi” is not associated with him and urged the public to report it to Facebook. Despite Gyamfi’s repeated disclaimers and efforts to have the imposter account removed, it continues to attract a significant following, with a stark difference in followers compared to his genuine account. While Gyamfi’s verified Facebook page boasts 137k followers (as of writing), the counterfeit account under “Sammy Genfi” has amassed a stunning 166k followers, perpetuating deception among thousands with false information. Gyamfi clarified his professional identity as a lawyer, Economic Policy Analyst, and politician, clarifying that he does not engage in marriage counseling or motivational speaking as the imposter account suggests.

The rise of misinformation during elections is fueled by various actors with differing motivations. Political parties may create misleading narratives to discredit opponents. Profiteers seeking website traffic are also culpable, employing sensationalism and clickbait. Fake social media accounts, bots, deepfakes, and visuals are common tactics used.

During my recent trip from the Eastern Region to Accra, I happened to strike up a conversation with a fellow passenger in the tro-tro I boarded. For anonymity’s sake, let’s call him Alvin. Our discussion turned to the dangers of misinformation after I mentioned the widely-shared quote card falsely depicting Vice President Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia making an alleged statement that head potters have stopped using head pans because of digitalization. The fabricated image was made to look like it came from JoyNews.

Alvin then revealed with unsettling nonchalance that he had actively worked to propagate such deceptive content during the 2020 elections to help his boss, a sitting MP, get re-elected. “Yeah, as the campaign strategist, I coordinated a whole team to create and amplify disinformation that made our opponent look bad,” he admitted.

According to Alvin, his role involved systematically identifying potential controversies or outrage-inducing narratives about the opposing candidate. His team would then craft incendiary quotes, memes and videos misattributed to credible sources like JoyNews. They carefully optimized the content for virality before disseminating it through bot networks, troll farms and shady social media influencers.

“If people were already riled up about the opposing candidate over one issue, we’d pile on with more disinfo to pour fuel on that anger,” Alvin disclosed bluntly. “Social media algorithms reward content that triggers strong emotions, so we exploited those vulnerabilities.”

Hearing Alvin’s candid admissions about his unethical work as a disinformation mercenary was deeply disturbing. 

Electorates must be cautious consumers of information, particularly anything shared on WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter or other platforms that appears to portray candidates in an extremely negative light or aligns suspiciously well with one’s personal biases. Verify extraordinary claims through credible fact-checking resources before spreading potential disinformation further. Remain wary of sensationalized content optimization for virality over truth.

Malicious disinformation operators are becoming more sophisticated, harnessing AI, bots, targeted advertising and other tactics to ensure their deceptive narratives achieve maximum persuasive impact. They prey upon the public’s psychological vulnerabilities and social media’s powerful ability to bypass authoritative sources and propaganda gatekeepers.

No one is immune to falling victim to misinformation or disinformation. However, by maintaining a critical mindset, cross-checking sources vigorously, and promoting media literacy, Ghanaian citizens can resilience against those who would undermine democracy through lies and deceit. An informed, discerning populace is the strongest defense against information disorder.

As the adage goes, “cautious ears and discerning eyes lead the wise through the thicket of deceptions and lies.” In this era of information disorder, exercising prudence has become a civic duty to preserve Ghana’s electoral integrity and democratic values.

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