When BBC Africa Eye got in touch with Facebook, the company disabled the account of a man in the UK who was spreading misinformation to thousands in Nigeria.
Facebook’s third-party fact-checking partners in Nigeria have committed just four full-time fact checkers to review false information, on a platform used by 24 million Nigerians.
On 23 June 2018, a series of horrifying images began to circulate on Facebook.
One showed a baby with open machete wounds across his head and jaw. Another – viewed more than 11,000 times – showed a man’s skull hacked open. There were pictures of homes burnt to the ground, bloodied corpses dumped in mass graves, and children murdered in their beds.
The Facebook users who posted the images claimed they showed a massacre underway in the Gashish district of Plateau State, Nigeria. Fulani Muslims, they said, were killing Christians from the region’s Berom ethnic minority.
A massacre did happen in Gashish that weekend. Somewhere between 86 and 238 Berom people were killed between 22 and 24 June, according to estimates made by the police and by local community leaders.
But some of the most incendiary images circulating at the time had nothing to do with the violence in Gashish. The image of the baby, which was shared with a call for God to “wipe out the entire generation of the killers of this innocent child”, had first appeared on Facebook months earlier. The video in which the man’s head was cut open did not even come from Nigeria, it was recorded in Congo-Brazzaville nearly a thousand miles away, in 2012.
But the truth didn’t matter. The images landed in the Facebook feeds of young Berom men in the city of Jos, hours to the north of the rural district where the massacre was happening. Some of the Facebook posts suggested that the killings were happening right there in Jos, or that the inhabitants of the city were about to be attacked. Few stopped to question the claims, or to check the origin of the graphic pictures that were spreading from phone to phone.
“As soon as we saw those images, we wanted to just strangle any Fulani man standing next to us,” one Berom youth leader told the BBC. “Who would not, if they saw their brother being killed?”