In the evolving knowledge societies of today, we are constantly bombarded with information, some true and others untrue. Everywhere, people yearn to express themselves freely, share information; actively participate in governance processes, and to engage in national discourse. However, it is worth noting that not all of these sources are reliable, and this, coupled with the proliferation of social media platforms, has made the fight against dis/misinformation a daunting task.
In light of this, Penplusbytes commends the Ministry of Information and the Information Services Department for joining in the effort with the launch of their new online platform “Ghana Today” www.ghanatoday.gov.gh to fight misinformation.
The platform, according to the Minister of Information during its launch, is to serve as a repository of all information relating to government’s ministries, agencies and departments and will contain content such as full text speeches and information relating to different sectors of government.
Penplusbytes believes this is a good tool for acquiring factual information on government business but may not necessarily be a good tool in addressing the misinformation menace. As it stands, the platform, is nothing more than an information sharing tool for government (nothing different from all other MMDAs’ existing gov.gh platforms) rather than providing tools or resources to orient citizens on the dangers of dis/misinformation and how society as a whole can curb the menace.
Mis/Disinformation in our current information ecosystem has gone beyond online media platforms; in fact, both traditional and new media platforms are prone to such vices and indeed contribute to their spread.
That is why it is essential that we approach the fight against mis/disinformation as a fight against a disease and deal with it in a holistic manner. But to fight this disease, we at Penplusbytes, do not propose a “cure”; instead, we are trying to create “vaccines” that will strengthen people’s resistance to false news and other online deceptions. This “vaccine” is media and information literacy.
Empowering people through media and information literacy (MIL) has become an essential prerequisite for determining the authenticity or otherwise of information, and as such, individuals who are equipped with MIL skills and knowledge are less likely to share, create or consume inaccurate stories or information. What this means is that, if we really are determined to fight misinformation, then it must be done well.
In view of this, Penplusbytes is therefore urging Government to:
· As policy, formally integrate media and information literacy (MIL) into Ghana Education Service’s (GES) curriculum for schools. This will ensure the building of MIL competencies right from our basic schools and informal sections.
· Enforce Section 76 of the Electronic Communications Act, 2008 (Act 775), which stipulates that:
“A person who, by means of an electronic communications service, knowingly sends a communication that is false or misleading and likely to prejudice the efficiency of life-saving service or to endanger the safety of any person… commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine of not more than [thirty-six thousand Ghana cedis] or to a term of imprisonment of not more than five years, or both.
A person is taken to know that a communication is false or misleading if that person did not take reasonable steps to find out whether the communication was false, misleading, reckless, or fraudulent.”
Due to the possibility of legal consequences for spreading false information, the enforcement of this Act will serve as a deterrent and help bring sanity to how people use various social media platforms like WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook, etc.
· Partner with Penplusbytes and other civil society organizations like Dubawa, Media Foundation for West Africa, etc. who have already led various MIL initiatives and organized trainings amongst various target groups and continue to advocate for the government’s attention on the need for MIL competencies among citizens.
Penplusbytes has been in the MIL space for a very long time and has viewed the fake news phenomenon from all possible viewpoints and can conclude that the newly built platform “Ghana Today” by the ISD will not be enough to address this issue.
However, a concerted effort from government (the Ministry of Information, the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Communications and Digitilization), CSOs such as Penplusbytes, fact-checking organizations (Dubawa), and higher educational institutions (GIJ, NAFTI, and the Department of Communications) would go a long way toward properly fighting misinformation.