OPS raises concern as disinformation threatens businesses

…MAN, NECA, others mull technical c’ttee, to liaise with govt

Amid growing concerns over its damaging impact on businesses, the organised private sector of (OPS) is considering setting up a technical committee to liaise with key stakeholders and close ranks with the government towards limiting the effects of disinformation within the Nigerian economy.

Disinformation is described as false information deliberately created and spread via various channels to influence public opinion or perception on a particular subject with the intent to harm or gain an advantage over one party or an organisation.

The 2022 World Economic Forum ranks disinformation as one of the world’s top global risks, while a 2019 study conservatively estimates that fake news articles spread over the internet accrue an economic loss of about $78 billion annually. This is excluding costs from the developing world where generating credible figures is a challenge.

In Nigeria, like in other climes, disinformation creates a significant negative impact on businesses. Its most critical impacts, according to The Nextier, in its recent survey released to members of the OPS, include reputational damage to the targeted business, employee or customer disaffection, loss of business and legal challenges.

“In addition, disinformation can lead to the closure or suspension of business operations and negatively impact the economic sector and result in job losses”, according to Patrick Okigbo, the founding partner of Nextier Capital Limited, in a report titled “Disinformation in Nigeria’s private sector.”

The Nextier report, an outcome of a survey commissioned by the Centre for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) in collaboration with OPS member organisations, indicated that the primary actors involved in disinformation were rivals or competitors, disgruntled clients and mischief-makers with no apparent motives, as well as disgruntled staff.

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“Given that almost 91 percent of Nigerian businesses are micro, small, and medium-scale enterprises, the rivals, clients, mischief-makers, and staff are primarily local. Therefore, it is local competitors who start and disseminate the disinformation campaigns.

The primary intent of these local actors is to fracture the trust between the disinformation target and their customers”, the report said.

It further added that those who create and spread disinformation aim to reduce trust and gain an advantage over their targets. They seek to create distrust in business sectors and disaffection against their target businesses, de-market a company based on allegations of poor product or service delivery quality (in some cases leading to business failure), and even link the company to incidents outside its control (for instance, xenophobic attacks in their home country)”, the report said.

On possible ways to fight disinformation and its damaging effects on businesses and the economy, Nextier, in the report, called for a joint role by critical stakeholders.

While acknowledging that Nigeria requires a multi-sectoral coordination approach to address its disinformation challenges, the report identified the government, private sector, technology companies, traditional and social media firms, educational institutions, as critical in limiting disinformation.

“A significant effort is required to address Nigeria’s disinformation challenges. Coordination between the government and business organisations is critical to address these problems” the report noted, adding that various parties must be sufficiently engaged in the search for solutions.

“These parties include educational institutions, the organised private sector such as business associations, technology companies, and the non-governmental sector.”

Earlier at the presentation of the report, Wale-Smatt Oyerinde, the director-general of Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA), said the report having deepened the understanding of the private sector, member organisations would be coming up with measures to address the challenge.

Segun Ajayi-Kadir, the director-general of Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), said the OPS would be considering a technical committee and liaise with the government for a possible legislation.

Lola Adekanye, the country director, CIPE, said while technology plays a significant role in the spread of disinformation, the same technology can be used to counter its effects, and urged the industry to explore such options.

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