Yesterday, muslims marched into a college in Nigeria, separated out the Christian students and killed them. 70 dead.
Ten days later, the status had been shared tens of thousands of times. However, its comments did not include any citation or link to a news article providing details about the purported massacre.
The popular and far-reaching post was an example of text-based status updates, which have already proved to be a common and pernicious tool for spreading disinformation and misinformation. In previous weeks, similar status updates contained claims — for example — that new IDs in Chicago enabled undocumented immigrants to vote, that United States President Barack Obama had settled 70,000 Somali refugees in what would become Rep. Ilhan Omar’s district in order to get her voted into office, and that a voting access bill allowed undocumented people to vote.
In early March 2019, journalism school Poynter published an article about the proliferation of falsehoods or shaky mixed truths in the popular Facebook status update format:
But since [the format was introduced], like other formats on Facebook, the text post feature has been weaponized into an effective way to spread misinformation on the platform.
Over the past few weeks, some of the most viral hoaxes on Facebook have spread in the form of text posts. They make salacious political claims without linking to any website or attaching a photo or video. They often come from regular Facebook users instead of Pages or Groups.
A classic element of misinformation in the example above was its use of “yesterday” as a marker of chronological relevance; rumors that purportedly occurred “yesterday” often spread in perpetuity thanks to their perceived relevance. A search of Twitter revealed that the same claim continued circulating about “yesterday” more than a week after the initial post was published on Facebook:
However, some people did make note of the date and adjusted their tweets accordingly:
Still, though, few posts included any sort of link or citation. Two days before the Facebook post appeared, a similar (but not identical) claim was shared on Twitter — presumably as part of the conversation after a deadly March 15 2019 mass shooting at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand:
Some of the claims were similar to ones made in a March 18 2019 Facebook video shared by MRCtv, “The Left Hypes Mosque Massacre, But Ignores Thousands of Christians Killed By Muslims.” At approximately the 1:10 mark, the speaker claims that 69 people and a stillborn baby were killed in “just the last week,” possibly the source for the status update’s claims.
Once again, no link. Thus far, all claims about 70 Nigerian Christians killed on a specific day in March 2019 were asserted without any citation whatsoever. The frequency with which the claim was made was likely a factor in its popularity, creating a false impression of accuracy due to apparent consensus.
A WXYZ article published on the same day as the original status update was titled “Hundreds of Christians killed in Nigeria attacks,” but its details did not match the claim. The story also contained nuance that was not included in the headline:
From February through mid-March , as many as 280 people in Christian communities in northern and middle Nigeria were killed in attacks.
Islamic Hausa-Fulani militants and Boko Haram continue to attack Christians in the country — in 2018, there were thousands killed.
Last week, 52 women and children were killed and 100 homes were destroyed in attacks on the Inkirimi and Dogonnoma villages in Maro, Kajuru Local Government Area (LGA), according to the Christian Broadcasting Network.
The provided figure (280) was different than the number (70) in the status update, and the first sentence said “in Christian communities,” not that the victims were necessarily themselves Christians. WXYZ referenced a March 17 2019 report by the Christian Broadcasting Network, “Nigerian Christians Under Siege: Attacks Claim 120 Lives Since February.”
Bizarrely, that piece referenced a completely different number of deaths in Nigeria:
At least 120 people have been killed in a series of alleged attacks by the Fulani militia on Christian communities in the Adara chiefdom of southern Kaduna in Nigeria since February , according to the nonprofit group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
The organization reported 52 people were killed and 100 homes were destroyed last Monday in the latest attacks on Inkirimi and Dogonnoma villages in Maro, Kajuru Local Government Area (LGA). The victims included women and children.
CBN cited Christian Solidarity Worldwide’s March 14 2019 statement.
Going back through both cited reports, we were unable to locate the 280 deaths referenced by WXYZ, nor did we find any mention of the March 18 2019 attack in the original status update. One portion in the CSW statement appeared to partially match the subsequent claim made in the MRCtv video, but the number of deaths (including a stillborn baby) was revised up by the latter to either 69 or 70:
On 11 March , 52 people were killed and around 100 homes were destroyed in attacks on Inkirimi and Dogonnoma villages in Maro, Kajuru Local Government Area (LGA). The victims included women and children. According to survivors, their assailants divided into three groups; one group was shooting, another set fire to homes as people ran away, and the third waited in the bush to intercept fleeing villagers. Later that evening, dozens of people were injured and 43 houses were burnt in an attack on Ungwan Gora village.
Pictures have emerged of hospitalised survivors of the Dogonnoma attack, showing men women and young children with deep machete wounds to different parts of their bodies. CSW was informed that one traumatised female survivor who suffered a deep cut to the hand had delivered a stillborn baby soon after the attack.
No mention was made in the entirety of the statement about a college, a university, or the separation of Christians from non-Christians before any killings were carried out. The ranking site Media Bias Fact Check firmly classifies CBN as “Conspiracy-Pseudoscience”:
Sources in the Conspiracy-Pseudoscience category may publish unverifiable information that is not always supported by evidence. These sources may be untrustworthy for credible/verifiable information, therefore fact checking and further investigation is recommended on a per article basis when obtaining information from these sources.
Factual Reporting: MIXED
Notes: The Christian Broadcasting Network was founded by Christian televangelist Pat Robertson in 1961. Its best known for the show called the The 700 Club, which features Pat Robertson making extreme right wing and conspiratorial claims. For example, Pat Robertson claims that natural disasters occur due to gay immoral acts. The actual news broadcast on CBN has a very far right bias in reporting and also delves into right wing conspiracies. Anything heard on the CBN or the 700 Club needs to be fact checked. This source is a borderline hate group. (D. Van Zandt 3/24/2017)
A March 13 2019 BBC article reported 69 total casualties:
At least 69 people have been killed in several attacks on villages in Katsina state, north-western Nigeria.
Witnesses say dozens of attackers rode motorcycles into villages and killed anyone they found.
The assailants appear to have been ethnic Fulani cattle herders who have a history of tension with local farmers.
Police say the attack is not linked to the Islamist militant group Boko Haram, which is mainly active further east, particularly in Borno state.
For months, the area has been terrorised by raids blamed on semi-nomadic Fulani herders attacking Hausa farmers. Both groups are Muslim.
Most Fulani-related violence in Nigeria is concentrated around central Plateau state, where Muslim herders are pitted against Christian farmers. Thousands have been killed in recent years.
According to that article and other international reporting, those deaths occurred in multiple outbreaks of violence (not a massacre at a college), that two warring groups are Muslim, and that in one area Christian farmers and Muslim herders were at odds in an ongoing crisis. It did not describe a massacre in which Christians were separated and targeted. This appears to be part of a long-running and inflammatory disinformation campaign about violence in Nigeria and the tensions that fuel it.
According to the original Facebook status update, 70 Christian Nigerians were targeted and killed on an attack at a college on March 18 2019. That claim continued to spread as “yesterday” on social media, and no citation was ever included. Even information spread by propaganda groups about purported targeting of Christians in Nigeria made no such claim, and we were unable to find any news item reporting that any such massacre occurred.
The popularity of the rumor appeared to be a direct response to an outpouring of grief due to a massacre of Muslims in New Zealand, but the reason the “mainstream media” did not report is likely because it never happened as reported in the first place.