According to a BBC investigation, political parties in Nigeria are paying social media influencers in secret to promote false information about their rivals in advance of the country’s general elections in February.
The BBC’s Global Disinformation Team has spoken to informants who are employed by two political parties in Nigeria as well as well-known influencers who have called it “an industry.”
According to the informants, parties reward their employees’ efforts with cash payments, expensive gifts, government contracts, and even political posts.
To preserve their anonymity, we gave them new names. Yemi is a well-known political figure, while Godiya is a strategist.
“We’ve paid an influencer up to 20m naira ($45,000; £37,000) for delivering a result. We’ve also given people gifts. Other people prefer to hear: ‘What do you want to do in government, be a board member, be a special assistant?’,” says Godiya.
In the months leading up to an election, situation rooms are frequent. Political parties use it to strategize, create goals, and assess the performance of their campaigns. However, there was another purpose in the spaces the whistle-blowers described to us: monitoring the effectiveness of false narratives linked to influencers.
According to strategist Yemi, false information is created to increase the chances of candidates: “You can intentionally misinform in a way that suits you.”
The BBC has spoken with a number of influential people who have confirmed that buying phony political posts is a common practice.
One Facebook influencer with approximately 150,000 followers who wished to remain unnamed revealed to us that political parties pay him to spread utterly bogus information about rival political parties. He claims he doesn’t do it out in the open but instead fabricates stories using other micro-influencers he recruits.
In addition, Rabi’u Biyora, a powerful figure well recognized for his support of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) party, has a key influence.
He claimed that an opposing party had “wooed” him into endorsing their candidate over the APC’s and promoting their own instead.
Posts on his Facebook timeline demonstrate that he indeed done so. He claimed that he did not accept any type of payment for doing this. However, we came up a Facebook post from 2019 in which he claimed to have received a car and cash from a gathering in return for his social media support.
He stopped responding when we explained this discovery to him.
Social media has a significant impact on national political discussions in Nigeria, where there are an estimated 80 million online users. Our analysis found various strategies utilized to increase Twitter followings. Many capitalize on contentious topics including religious, racial, and cultural divisions.
Influencers actively disseminated articles in July linking Kashim Shettima, the vice presidential candidate for the APC, to Boko Haram fighters.
Thousands of people posted this fake information on Twitter, where it spread to WhatsApp and other sites.
Reverse image search allowed us to determine that the people pictured with Mr. Shettima were not Boko Haram members but rather nomadic Fulani parents whose children he had enrolled in public schools in 2017.