The WhatsApp Generation

[This post is an excerpt from Accountability Technologies, my recently published handbook]

In the second quarter of 2018, popular messaging application WhatsApp achieved 450 million daily active users and it is becoming a favourite technology tool to mobilize citizens and form groups across borders. In 2017, all activists I interviewed in West Africa, for the handbook on Accountability Technologies confirmed that this is becoming a great new tool to mobilize citizens. However, it can be daunting getting citizens and government on the same platform as alluded by Abdul from Network Movement for Democracy and Human Right (NMDH) in Sierra Leone. On NMDH community service delivery project, they added government and Civil Society Organization (CSO) members to a WhatsApp group to exchange information on what concerned government officials can quickly respond to, as it regards service delivery in the health sector. After sometimes, the government officials on the platform had to leave because of false information shared.

Before the 2015 elections in Nigeria, I was able to coordinate 879 election observers in 26 states of the country using WhatsApp as one of the reporting tools for our Ushahidi platform. The WhatsApp group were created for the 26 states, while coordinators were chosen to lead the administration of each group. Police Monitor, an initiative of the Network on Police Reforms in Nigeria (NOPRIN) uses its WhatsApp group to mobilize journalists and activists to hold the police in Nigeria accountable for human rights abuses. The WhatsApp group also had police officials who responded to these abuses. The initiative has since moved to Telegram, as WhatsApp could not contain its over 250+ members. In 2016, when CODE’s Follow The Money was initiating the decentralization of its campaigns, it piloted communications with members using WhatsApp. A group was created by regions for members. After piloting this for 4 months, it became chaotic, as knowledge was lost, and new members couldn’t have access to initiate conversations. The WhatsApp groups have been closed, while the architecture has been transferred to a niche network.

Creating groups on WhatsApp can be frustrating for the administrators, but these simple steps could make it easy to use to meet your objectives. Just in case you have more tips, feel free to put them in the comment box.

  1. Know the objective of setting up the groups and write down your rules of engagement on the team based on this goal. It is essential to think through what you will achieve with your group, to reduce distractions.
  2. Create a Code of Conduct. This can be used as a binding agreement between intending members and your organization. CODE’s Follow The Money has a Code of conduct for its 1000+ members.
  3. Before adding people to the WhatsApp group, inform them about your objective and that you will like to add them to your team. This will allow you to communicate your objective to them, and get feedback from people that will decline.
  4. Add those that agreed to be on the platform and then post guidelines and rules of engagement.
  5. As the creator of the group, you must be ready to engage members on issues related to your objective. Set the tone. Some teams fix a time in a week to discuss accountability issues, while another post can be a discussion of the critical problems related to the group objective. Some choose a day for general topics. Most WhatsApp groups are distractions, scheduling conversations could be more fruitful than a free to post at any time, anything – group.
  6. WhatsApp can be used to spread rumours and fake news swiftly, always verify images, text and videos that are posted using tools like Google Images and TinEye.
  7. Introduce Perks or Badges, members of your group will be encouraged to discuss better. The Police Monitor Group in Nigeria announces Birthday Greetings for members.
  8. Whenever you add new participants, send the rules and guidelines immediately.
  9. Have two or three more administrators that can help in moderating discussions on the platform.
  10. Democratize the process by requesting a vote for administrators in the coming year. It is a way to show leadership, and show you support participatory democratic systems.
  11. Encourage members to use emojis on a post sent in by members. It will encourage members to post and facilitates more discussions.

Misinformation and Alternative Facts in our Brave New World!

At the beginning of 2018, I embarked on a 26 – day ethnography study, to know the number of fake news that is shared within WhatsApp groups that I belong. The results were shocking and worrying – at least, 3 different unverified and fake news is been shared within 2 days, in six groups. That’s 18 fake stories within 2 days, and 234 fake stories within the 26 days. What is more worrying is that the target groups were civil society activist group. Today alone, you might have received tens to hundreds of WhatsApp messages, Facebook Posts, and Twitter Messages. It is highly likely that some of those messages might be unverifiable and false, most times – false alarm. So what about those from the mainstream media – TV, Radio, and Newspapers? They are complicit as well, but owing to their regulation, false information from them might not spread as fast as information dissemination medium that is internet based. As changemakers, in our various domains, we have the civic duty to verify information and use evidence-based information to engage critically. This article is about strategies you can use to halt the spread of false and unverified news. A society should not be built on propaganda, false alarms and untrue information, but by critical thinking and evidence-based discussions.

How Fake News Spread on WhatsApp
One of the WhatsApp Group when a fake news was posted. I normally respond with a Fake News Alert and reasons why the story should not be trusted.

False news, misinformation and propaganda has lived with us since the beginning of the world, through the medieval age, and the renaissance time.  Noam Chomsky’s classic – Manufacturing Consent, gave a detailed picture of how countries, organizations, and individuals have utilized propaganda as a tool to suppress and misinform rivals. It has become more ubiquitous because of the proliferation of the internet. As of today, there are 3.9 billion internet users. That’s about a 42% increase in people using the internet in just three years. The social media gains 840 new users each minute. Since 2013, the number of Tweets each minute has increased 58% to more than 455,000 Tweets per minute in 2017. Since 2013, the number of Facebook Posts shared each minute has increased 22%, from 2.5 Million to 3 million posts per minute in 2016. This number has increased more than 300 per cent, from around 650,000 posts per minute in 2011!

Remember, you are the first line of defence against false information. When you see one, stop it, and give reasons why the story should not be trusted. Together, we can halt the spread!

Strategies to shield yourself from false Information, Stories, or News (Culled from How to Spot Fake News)

1. Consider the source. Are you familiar with the source? Is it Legitimate? Has it been legitimate in the past? If not, you may not want to trust it. If it is a WhatsApp message with no source included, ask for the source of the information from the poster.

2. Read beyond the headline. if the headline is provocative, read all the write – up before passing along the information. Even when the information is legitimate, the headline might not tell the whole story. For example, “Jonathan Bribed lawmakers with 17 billion Naira to pass the budget – Okonjo Iweala”. That is a provocative headline, which ends up untrue.

Also, there are some screaming headlines designed to pull a fast one on the reader. These posts are designed to encourage clicks and generate money for the creator through ad revenue, but they aren’t news.

3. Check the Author’s credential. If it was sent to you without an author, ask the sender who the author was. You can then look up the Author’s name using Google Search.

4. What’s the support sources? Many times, false news or stories will cite official – or official sounding sources, but once you look into it, the source doesn’t back up the claim. For example, there is a false news that the state house budgeted 70 million for the presidency haircut in the Nigeria 2018 budget, but if you check the 2018 approved budget details, Page 118 which has the statehouse budget have nothing of such in the budget line.

5. Double Check the Reference or Source Given. Some false information is not completely fake, but a distortion of real events. They take legitimate stories and twist it, or even claim that something that happened long ago is related to current events. Recently, there was a news that former minister of finance, Okonjo Iweala, in her new book – Fighting Corruption is Dangerous, The Story Behind the Headlines said Jonathan bribed the National Assembly before they could pass the 2015 budget. However, if you flip to Page 80 of the book, where you have a related story, it was not true.

 6. Check your biases. Confirmation bias leads people to put more stock in information that confirms their beliefs and discount information that doesn’t. The next time you are automatically appalled at some social media post concerning, say a politician you oppose, take a moment to check it out. Try this:

What other stories have been posted to the news website that is the source of the story that just popped up in your social media feed? You may be predisposed to believe a story about a politician you don’t like but if the alleged news site also features a story about a football match involving India and Nigeria that ended 99 – 0 in favour of India maybe you should think twice before sharing. And that’s actually a fake news that has been around since the 80’s 😉

7.  Consult the Experts. We know you are busy, and some of this verification takes time. But fact checkers get paid to this kind of work. Contact them at http://africacheck.org ; https://www.snopes.com/

9 Nonprofit Group You Should Join

Recently, I have heard my mentees ask networks they could join since they are interested in Nonprofit Management. I took time to do some research on available ones, and also the one that I have joined, and in which their conversations have really helped in my work. Please find below this nine, and if you know of any other great ones, please add them in the comment box, I will add them to the list. The world will be glad you did!

  1. Young Nonprofit Professionals Network (YNPN)

With 13,076 members (last accessed, November 6, 2017) It’s a National Movement that provides professional development, networking and other resources for young nonprofit professionals.

2.  The Nonprofit Times

With 17,582 members (last accessed, November 6, 2017), the group is focused on developing a strong image for your non-profit. Discussions are around accounting, fundraising, marketing and human resource.

3. The Nonprofit Professionals Forum

Have 22,920 members (last accessed, November 6, 2017). It provides a forum to discuss new ideas, strategies and challenges faced by professionals, and also a platform for networking with other professionals.

4. GuideStar – The Nonprofit Conversation

It’s a meeting place of 13,485 Nonprofit professionals (last accessed, November 6, 2017) and organizations. If you need the latest information about nonprofits, then you should be here.

5. LinkedIn Nonprofit Solutions

This is a virtual collaborative space for 4,532 nonprofit professionals (last accessed, November 6, 2017) to tell their stories, foster relationships, engage future partners, staff or board members.

6. Non-Profit Network

This is the largest nonprofit group on LinkedIn with 254,716 members (last accessed, November 6, 2017). There are general discussions from organization management to program management, trade, sustainability et al. Members can actually invite other members.

7. Nonprofit Board Forum

If you are looking for a learning community on the responsibility of board members in a nonprofit organization, then you should be here. Every founder, board member, aspiring nonprofit professional should endeavour to share experience and learn from this group. There are 11,085 members (last accessed, November 6, 2017) that discuss challenges facing nonprofit boards!

8. Nonprofit and Charity Network

Have 18,014 members (last accessed, November 6, 2017) sharing ideas, asking advice from people who work in the same thematic areas. Are you trying to get your head around a burning issue with your nonprofit, then get – in now!

9. The Chronicle of Philanthropy

Have 119,496 members (last accessed, November 6, 2017). In this group, you can connect with other nonprofit professionals, find out about latest online events and job openings. Welcome to the World of Philanthropy!

Know of any other great group, kindly comment with the name of the group and link to the group. I will be glad to add them to the list. Holla!