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Professor finds ‘fake news’ wide-spread in sub-Saharan Africa

Assistant professor of journalism Dani Madrid-Morales  co-authored a study finding that people are more likely to share “fake news” in sub-Saharan Africa than factual news. | Photo courtesy of Ben Corda and Jessica Almanza/University of Houston

Assistant professor of journalism Dani Madrid-Morales and Herman Wasserman at the University of Cape Town co-authored a study published in August where they found that people in sub-Saharan Africa are more likely to believe “fake news.”

In Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, 93 percent of people believe they are being regularly exposed to misinformation, according to the study.

Information that is considered “fake news” in sub-Saharan Africa can often be spread through American social media outlets, according to the study.

“They relate American-based social media to fake news, and that has a long term impact on how people understand the U.S., which is thought to be a land of freedom and expression and so on,” Madrid-Morales said. “But maybe that sort of expression for some Africans is going to be a synonym of fake news.”

As a result of the wide-spread “fake news” in sub-Saharan Africa comes the increased amount of distrust in American news outlets, according to the study. 

However, despite the disbelief in what American sources have to say, 29 percent of Kenyans were still inclined to share a political news story they believed to be fake.

“There were elections in both Kenya and Nigeria shortly before and after the survey was conducted,” Madrid-Morales said. “People really attach themselves to whatever candidate they support, and for many people, they knowingly share fake information on politics because the really wanted to support the candidate they rallied for.”

Madrid-Morales said the study surveyed many highly educated individuals who live in urban, middle-class areas and have access to social media, so the extent to which false information was willingly being spread in sub-Saharan Africa was unexpected and alarming, Madrid-Morales said. 

“We were surprised to see that so many people knowingly share fake news,” Madrid-Morales said. “Those who could help the spread of fake news were not really doing anything about it, they were just contributing to the spread of fake news.”

Fake news is a term that was popularized by Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential election. Since then it has spiraled into everyday language.

Madrid-Morales emphasizes that one of the greatest takeaways from the study is that “fake news” is a relevant topic outside of the United States.

“Even though we think that fake news and misinformation are a Western concept, the reality is that in all the parts of the world misinformation is a problem,” Madrid-Morales said. “As scholars and also global citizens we should be concerned how misinformation is actually affecting all parts of the world.” 

As the topic of misinformation is becoming a more discussed issue, many are pushing to maintain the media’s credibility.  

“Maybe we should try to start coming up with strategies to not just prevent the spread of misinformation, but also help regain trust in the media,” Madrid-Morales said.

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