By Emmanuel Bida Thomas
Disinformation thrives in conflict situations and in the world’s youngest nation, South Sudan, years of political uncertainty have cultivated a severe information disorder. In the face of another postponement of elections, community peace building including through debunking disinformation is critical to the country being able to stave off hate speech and incitement to violence.
According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), word-of-mouth remains the most prevalent source of information for the masses in South Sudan. However, with increased mobile and internet penetration, an explosion of user-generated content has created an environment where rumours fueled on social media take hold offline and become difficult to counter.
With support from the Africa Digital Rights Fund (ADRF), an initiative of the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), DefyHateNow has recently concluded a six-months knowledge and skills building project on countering disinformation and hate speech, complemented with digital rights and cybersecurity advocacy in South Sudan.
“I loved it. We would like it to be regular; it should be a module in South Sudanese schools like universities and training for professionals,” said a trainee.
Select training beneficiaries were awarded fellowships through which they received more in-depth training and applied the acquired fact-checking and digital rights advocacy skills as part of placements within 211 Check and SafetyComm teams.
“The network that I have created as a result of this fellowship, both locally within the country and internationally, will help me to remain relevant and focused on fact-checking and digital rights.” – A fellow and Program Manager at Junub Youth Action Network (JYAN).
“The fellowship has empowered and equipped me a lot in fact-checking, both theoretically and practically, with hands-on tools. It has shaped and broadened my ability to confidently take on the tasks of fact-checking and research in the mis/disinformation paradigm.” – A fellow and student at the University of Juba.
In addition to the training and fellowships, four radio talk shows on Advance Youth Radio and two virtual meetups were hosted to raise wider awareness about disinformation and hate speech. Among the meetup guest speakers was an analyst from the National Communications Authority who presented on government efforts to establish a Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT). Discussions also explored the challenges related to the Computer Misuse Order 2021, with a representative from the telecom services provider MTN speaking about the company’s efforts to uphold data privacy and overcome fraud.
Moreover, together with Junub Open Space, a local National Nongovernmental Organisation (NNGO) in Juba, DefyHateNow hosted five editions of “Salaam Fi Bet” (Peace at Home), a community-centred discussion on trust circles for information verification. Up to 107 individuals (62% women) from five neighbourhoods in Juba attended the discussions.
DefyHateNow’s ADRF-supported project builds on initiatives spearheaded by UNDP to tackle Covid-19 related misinformation and the Sentinel Project, which addressed hate speech and misinformation at the peak of the civil war in the East African country. As the perpetrators, pathways and effects of false news and information manipulation online evolve, the need for continued education and empowerment remains preeminent. This project demonstrates that collaborative efforts in knowledge and skills building can contribute to equipping people with the tools and resources to keep communities safe.
Read the article on CIPESA.