Somalia: Policy Paper Addressed to the Head of Somalia-President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud Responding on international level: A multilateral approach to tackling disinformation.

Awareness for Journalists by CSHRDs.org

Introduction:

Disinformation is false and harmful information spread deliberately to divert the attention of the recipient from the truth. it aims to spread anger and hate etc. Disinformation erodes public trust in democracy, in the existing government systems, their faith in elections and other democratic institutions and processes. In democratic countries, aaccess to information is a fundamental human right. Today, with the current technological advancement and easy access to smartphones, and internet, social media has become the biggest source of information.

There is much unfiltered information on the social media without consideration of the recipients, as access to social media is open to everyone and masses end up consuming information that may not be meant for them. sometimes, disinformation is a means of making money as the influencers always tend to use catchy titles that draw public attention. This is where the disinformation spread on the social media becomes dangerous and uncontrollable.[1]

Through social media, citizens have been in the past mobilized to protest during campaigns which raised tensions among the communities and oftentimes ended in violence, loss of life and property in extreme cases. For instance, in Somalia, the international rights groups accused Facebook (the giant social media company) of compromising press freedom and undermining journalists.[2]

Disinformation can also be cited during the COVID 19 pandemic rumouring about the origin, number of deaths and vaccination de-campaigns. No wonder, the Director General of WHO said in February 2020, “We are not just fighting an epidemic; we are fighting an infodemic.” Somalia’s mediascape, much like that of the rest of the world is flooded with unreliable and inaccurate information.

During the campaigns to elect a democratic government rivalling members spread false information against one another for their own personal gain. Others paint very beautiful pictures about themselves as the best candidates who can solve the citizens’ problems. There is also misinformation during election results which leave parts of the public unsatisfied and this can pose political threats to the country that is recovering from civil war and lawlessness.

The aim of this policy paper is to point out how disinformation is affecting democracy, stability and good governance in Somalia and to generate possible solutions to the problem of disinformation in Somalia.

Description of the Issue/Problem

For over 30 years, Somalia has been undergoing civil war which grew out of resistance to the Military Junta which was led by Siad Barre during the 1980’s. The clan- based opposition groups overthrew the Barre Government in 1991. Also in 1991, the government system collapsed completely with the Somali population running for their lives and seeking refuge in the neighbouring countries like Ethiopia and Uganda among others.[3]

Somalia has also suffered terrorism since 2006 by Al-Shabab Terrorist Group.  In 2010, a technocratic government was elected in office. 2012, September, saw the establishment of the Federal Government of Somalia. Somalia, the horn of Africa nation is struggling with drought, terrorism and economic issues and is now in the middle of parliamentary elections. In the process of campaigns and convincing the public to elect them, rival candidates are spreading misleading information about their opponents.

The electorate is finding difficulty in distinguishing between disinformation, misinformation and true information. Such unfiltered information is misleading and has potential to create political instability and negatively affect the economy if nothing is done to stop it. It also undermines the democratic processes, leading to poor election decisions among the voters who end up voting wrong people who may not be representative enough in parliament.

This is also a violation of human rights that threatens the fabric of society. An example of fake news is a news headline which said the Somali Parliament wanted to oust the prime minister after he objected to a term extension for President Mohamed Abdullah Farmaajo. It later turned out to be fake news. Al-Shabaab terrorists who are actively waging war against the government of Somalia is also waging disinformation campaign in the horn of Africa region.[4] Disinformation is also used to defame the government of Somalia.[5]

Possible Solutions

For establishment of effective democratic government, citizen must make well informed decisions as they participate in the election process. Therefore, disinformation must be eliminated in the process. To achieve that, the subsequent attainable solutions/strategies I, II, III, have to be put in place:

Strategy I. The government of Somalia should consolidate its position/stance as the legitimate guardian of national security and realise its obligation to tackle disinformation through multilateral approach by collaborating with all stakeholders and concerned parties. This strategy is possible to be implemented through passing new domestic laws that illegalize ‘’Disinformation’’.  This is the best solution, because it brings all stakeholders together to tackle disinformation by adapting the following policies: –

Create Public Awareness to educate the people of Somalia that it is unlawful to use disinformation for anything, whatsoever, and it is punishable by law and make them aware of the disinformation in the mediascape inside Somalia.[6]

Conduct Media Literacy campaign for the masses so that they know who created the information, why they created it and whether it is credible for consumption and sharing and should enabled to distinguish between news and opinions. Personal opinions express how the individual writer feels which can never be treated as news, people should avoid spreading personal opinions as news.

Rating News Websites and the users should be made aware of the scores assigned to each when they visit them. The higher the score for the website, the more authentic its news is. This helps in showing people which sites to avoid.

Support Journalists with digital tools, training and other resources to detect, analyse and flag false election- related news.

Journalists to Stick to the Journalism Code of Conduct to deliver the truth and not lies to the public. This calls for signing of the code of conduct by journalists as they assume office in respective media houses and create disinformation lab.[7]

The government of Somalia e.g. the ministry of information should bring all disinformation sources under control, whether it is national or international propaganda/disinformation sources by asking google to delete online disinformation sources, as well as Somalia government should respond to the problem on different levels by asking its international friends to help fight against disinformation aimed at its very existence and reputation.[8]

Strategy II. The notion behind this strategy is to restore public trust in media and in the government after massive disinformation ruined the public trust. This strategy can be achieved through joint efforts to implement national policies to fight disinformation at all levels.

Strategy III. This is aimed at involving Somalia’s international partners e.g. The African Union, EU, USA, Canada, etc.  in order to further boost the multilateral approach to fight against disinformation effectively. This strategy can be accomplished by involving external players that can contribute to the positive impact of the fight against disinformation which is a global phenomenon.

 Recommendations

Since “Disinformation is a threat to the Democratic Process, Stability and Good Governance in Somalia“, the government of Somalia should consider the following recommendations: –           

  1. Government to Control Media Space to filter which information is sharable to the public without violating the press freedom and freedom of expression and in line with the national legal framework.
  2. Put in Place Media Law and Educate the Public about the existing law that does not permit spreading of false information; breaking the law means punishment as stipulated in the same law.
  3. Taxing Users of Certain Websites which score low in the news website rating, this will discourage the ordinary citizen who is always the target of fake news, from visiting those sights. This is by making it expensive to visit those sites in terms of high data consumption.
  4. Ministry of Information as the custodian of information should set strict guidelines for reporting by media houses without jeopardizing their right to communication and their mandate to inform the public and avoid censorship.
  5. Government to Give Access to Journalists in the voting and tallying centres so that they get first-hand information to avoid doubting election results.
  6. Create trust between state and independent media outlets in Somalia in order to jointly combat disinformation within the legal framework.
  7. Government of Somalia should consider creating synergy or multilateral approach to effectively tackle disinformation on both nationall and international fronts.
  8. Government of Somalia should put in place policies that effectively combat disinformation both online and offline by strengthening online and offline accountability by the law.

Bibliography

  1. Africa Centre for Strategic Studies. ‘’Domestic Disinformation on the Rise in Africa.’’ Lasted modified

October  6, 2021. https://africacenter.org/spotlight/domestic-disinformation-on-the-rise-in-africa/

  1. The Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA). ‘’Combating disinformation challenges in Africa.’’ Lasted modified October 26, 2021.

https://cipesa.org/2021/10/combating-disinformation-in-africa-challenges-and-prospects/             (last accessed 21 April 2022)

  1. Centre for Strategic and International Studies CSIS. ‘’Deciphering Disinformation in Africa.’’ Last modified May 4, 2021. https://www.csis.org/podcasts/africa/deciphering-disinformation-africa
  2. Garbe Lisa, Lisa-Marie Selvik, and Pauline Lemaire. ‘’African countries respond to fake news and hate speech.’’ Taylor & Francis Online -Thisis the journal content platform for the Taylor & Francis Group: The site gives online access to all journals published by Taylor & Francis and Routledge. Last updated November 09, 2021.    https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/1369118X.2021.1994623
  3. Friedrich Naumann Foundation. ‘’Africa – State Control of Internet and Fake News in Times of Covid-19.’’ Last modified May 20, 2020.  https://www.freiheit.org/sub-saharan-africa/africa-state-control-internet-and-fake-news-times-covid-19
  4. The CONVERSATION (academic rigour, journalistic flair). ‘’Concerns about ills of social media and resistance to government controls in Africa.’’ Lasted modified June 1, 2020. https://theconversation.com/africans-are-concerned-about-ills-of-social-media-but-oppose-government-restrictions-137653
  5. Ilori, Tomiwa. ‘’How Social media companies help African governments abuse: Disinformation laws- to target critics.’’ Rest of the World. Last modified November 04, 2021. https://restofworld.org/2021/social-media-africa-democracy/
  6. Sahar Atrache, Arden Bentley, Alexandra Lamarche, and Rachel Schmidtke. ‘The coronavirus has become terrorists’ Combat Weapon of Choice.’’ Last accessed April 21, 2022. https://www.refugeesinternational.org/reports/2020/6/15/the-coronavirus-has-become-terrorists-combat-weapon-of-choice
  7. Bradshaw, Samantha, and Philip N. Howard. “The Global Organization Of Social Media Disinformation Campaigns.” Journal of International Affairs, vol. 71, no. 1.5, 2018, pg 28

 

  1. The current law is a slight edition of the very problematic 2007 draft media law, available at https://www.refworld.org/pdfid/4753e5c86.pdf

 

[1] Mohamed Dhaysane, ‘’False information spread via social media endangers Somalia’s political stability,’’ Anadolu Agency, last modified Febraury 13, 2022. https://www.aa.com.tr/en/africa/false-information-spread-via-social-media-endangers-somalias-political-stability/2501402

[2] Somali Journalists Syndicate – SJS, ‘’Facebook disregard safety of journalists in Somalia, fails to tackle disinformation and threats on press freedom,’’  last modified May 3, 2021. https://sjsyndicate.org/2021/05/03/wpfd-2021-facebook-disregards-safety-of-journalists-in-somalia-fails-to-tackle-disinformation-and-threats-on-press-freedom/

[3] For more information about Somalia’s civil war see https://theowp.org/crisis_index/somali-civil-war/

[4] Abdi Awaleh Jama, ‘The Washington Post-Disinformation campaign against Somalia,’’ The Washington Post, last accessed April 10, 2022. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/opinions/1988/09/20/disinformation-campaign-against-somalia/46d618ba-9785-4b87-a56f-320f4349351c/

[5] Timothy A. Sikorski, ‘’AIRWAVES AND MICROBLOGS: A STATISTICAL ANALYSIS OF AL-SHABAAB’S PROPAGANDA EFFECTIVENESS,’’  Naval Post Graduate School – Monterey, California, lasted accessed April 9, 2022. https://www.hsdl.org/?view&did=811634

 

[6] Dr Hodan Osman Abdi, ‘’Disinformation in Somalia’s Mediascape,’’ Hiiraan online, last modified September 14, 2021. https://www.hiiraan.com/op4/2021/sept/183913/disinformation_in_somalia_s_mediascape.aspx

[7] Mohamed Kahiye, ‘’Combating disinformation in the Mass Media in Somalia – Somalia Journalists Launch Disinformation Lab’ to combat spread of fake news,’’ lasted modified June 1, 2021. https://www.voanews.com/a/africa_somali-journalists-launch-disinformation-lab-combat-spread-fake-news/6206486.html

 

[8] For more information about disinformation against Somalia see https://www.gov.za/speeches/agriculture-warns-public-about-fake-news-regarding-bananas-containing-helicobacter-imported

By – I. A.

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