There are 33 million active monthly users of Facebook in Nigeria. There are also many millions of people exchanging information on Twitter, 280 characters at a time. But just like the country’s population of phone subscribers cannot be determined using only the number of SIM cards in circulation, it is also hard to say for sure because not all these accounts on social media are authentic.
There are a number of reasons for this. One, it is easier for the information you share to be spread widely and presumed to be true if it is believed to come from a public figure. Second, people sometimes assume false identities in order to mimic certain personalities for the sake of humour or satire. Third, in large numbers, fake accounts can be used to spread all forms of propaganda. And then, there are those who just want to make some money off any activity within their competence.
The sale of social media accounts, from Twitter to Facebook and Instagram, appears to be a thriving industry. For Facebook, personal accounts that have a long history are preferred, largely because new accounts raise suspicion when used by scammers. The prices of Twitter accounts and Facebook pages often range between one naira and two naira per follower.
The many #EndSARS impersonations
This practice provides an incentive for people to create multiple accounts on social media and assume false identities in order to gain followers. The trend was especially noticeable on Twitter during the recent campaign for reforms in the Nigeria Police. In the first two weeks, the EndSARS hashtag had 173 billion impressions and nearly 100 million mentions.
While many of the fake accounts helped amplify the #EndSARS message, contributing to the advocacy for police reforms and an end to brutalityㅡtheir motives regardless, they have also contributed to the spread of misinformation.
In one instance, this account shared fake news about the supposed death of President Muhammadu Buhari, a statement falsely attributed to First Lady Aisha Buhari, an unverifiable quote linked to former All Progressives Congress party Chairman, Adams Oshiomole, and another misleading picture.
Another fake account on October 21 shared a video of a military officer firing into the night, thus suggesting that was how “shootings were being coordinated” against peaceful protesters. A fact-check by AFP, however, showed that the clip predated the EndSARS campaign.
The same video was shared by another fake account impersonating DJ Switch, Obianuju Udeh, and has been watched over 34,000 times.
On October 23, the verified handle of the All Progressives Congress branch in the United Kingdom shared two pictures supporting the claim that DJ Switch gave contradictory death tolls from the shooting at Lekki tollgate. “DJ Switch reduced ‘confirmed dead’ from 78 to 15 within 2 days and maybe 0 by next week. This is reckless and silly,” the account stated.
The only problem was while one of the figures was given by Udeh through her official Instagram account, the second one originated from a fake Twitter account registered in her name. The tweet was deleted after this was pointed out by AFP fact-checker Tijani Mayowa.
When fake accounts make attempts to be humorous, often such attempts go too far. A young Nigerian, Okechukwu Obi-Enadhuze, was killed on October 21 after thugs attacked a police station in Oshodi, Lagos. Following the incident, his girlfriend took to Twitter to express her anguish. The same day, an account (now deleted) (re)named “Oke” and with the same picture on the late Oke’s account, replied the girlfriend’s tweet with the words: “My love, trust I’m in a better place. I’ll be watching you from the skies.” The account user then added trending hashtags “#unarmed #EndSARS”.
Impersonation against Facebook, Twitter rules
According to the former’s policies, “Your account should represent you, and only you should have access to your account. If someone gains access to your account, or creates an account to pretend to be you or someone else, we want to help. We also encourage you to let us know about accounts that represent fake or fictional people, pets, celebrities or organizations.”
Twitter also states that impersonation is a violation of its rules. “Accounts that pose as another person, brand, or organization in a confusing or deceptive manner may be permanently suspended under Twitter’s impersonation policy,” it warns.
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