“If it is circulating widely on social media, then it is likely to be fake news”: Reception of, and motivations for sharing, COVID-19-related fake news among university-educated Nigerians





fake news, misinformation, social media, news media, Nigeria, focus groups, COVID-19


This study explores how university-educated Nigerians living in two urban centres engaged with, and made choices about whether to share or not share, “fake news” on COVID-19 in 2020.The research adopted a qualitative approach by conducting focus group interviews with participants, all university graduates aged 25 or older, sampled from Lagos and Umuahia—two major metropolitan cities in Nigeria. Participants’ sense-making practices with regard to fake news on COVID-19 were varied. One core finding was that social media virality was typically seen as being synonymous with fake news due to the dramatic, exaggerated, and sometimes illogical nature of such information. Many participants demonstrated a high level of literacy in spotting fake news. Among those who said that they sometimes shared fake news on COVID-19, one motivation was to warn of the dangers of fake news by making it clear, while sharing, that the information was false. Other participants said that they shared news without being certain of its veracity, because of a general concern about the virus, and some participants shared news if it was at least partially true, provided that the news aimed to raise awareness of the dangers of COVID-19. However, some participants deliberately shared fake news on COVID-19 and did so because of a financial motivation. Those who sought to avoid sharing fake news on COVID-19 did so to avoid causing harm. The study provides insights into the reception of, and practices in engaging with, health-related fake news within a university-educated Nigerian demographic.


Metrics Loading ...


Adegoke, Y., & BBC Africa Eye. (2018). Like. Share. Kill: Nigerian police say false information on Facebook is killing people. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-sh/nigeria_fake_news

Africa Check. (2020a). No evidence Obasanjo said there was no coronavirus in Nigeria. https://africacheck.org/fact-checks/meta-programme-fact-checks/no-evidence-obasanjo-said-there-was-no-coronavirus-nigeria

Africa Check. (2020b). No, Sultan of Sokoto didn’t say Nigeria’s first Covid-19 case was faked. https://africacheck.org/fact-checks/meta-programme-fact-checks/no-sultan-sokoto-didnt-say-nigerias-first-covid-19-case-was-faked

Africa Check. (2020c). No, garlic doesn’t cure coronavirus. Get Covid-19 facts only from experts. https://africacheck.org/fact-checks/meta-programme-fact-checks/no-garlic-doesnt-cure-coronavirus-get-covid-19-facts-only

Africa Check. (2020d). Screenshot of Lassa fever cases, not Covid-19 numbers in Nigeria. https://africacheck.org/fact-checks/meta-programme-fact-checks/no-screenshot-lassa-fever-cases-not-covid-19-numbers-nigeria

Allcott, H., & Gentzkow, M. (2017). Social media and fake news in the 2016 election. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 31(2), 211‒236. https://doi.org/10.1257/jep.31.2.211

Allgaier, A., & Svalastog, A. N. (2015). The communication aspects of the Ebola virus disease outbreak in Western Africa – do we need to counter one, two, or many epidemics? Croatian Medical Journal, 56(5), 496–499. https://doi.org/10.3325/cmj.2015.56.496

Anderson, P. (2019, May 21). Tackling fake news: The case of Nigeria. Italian Institute for International Political Studies. https://www.ispionline.it/it/pubblicazione/tackling-fake-news-case-nigeria-23151

Aquino, F., Donzelli, G., De Franco, E., Privitera, G., Lopalco, P. L., & Carducci, A. (2017). The web and public confidence in MMR vaccination in Italy. Vaccine, 35(35, Pt B), 4494–4498. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.vaccine.2017.07.029

Bigman, C. A., Smith, M. A, Williamson, L. D., Planey, A. M., & Smith, S. M. (2019). Selective sharing on social media: Examining the effects of disparate racial impact frames on intentions to retransmit news stories among US college students.New Media & Society, 21(11/12), 2691–2709. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444819856574

Brennen, B. S. (2012). Qualitative research methods for media studies. Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203086490

Carey, M. A. (1994). The group effect in focus groups: Planning, implementing and interpreting focus group research. In J. Morse (Ed.), Critical issues in qualitative research (pp. 225–241). SAGE.

Chakrabarti, S., Rooney, W. C., & Kweon, M. (2018). Verification, duty, credibility: Fake news and ordinary citizens in Kenya and Nigeria. BBC. https://downloads.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/bbc-fake-news-research-paper-nigeria-kenya.pdf

Chadwick, A., & Vaccari, C. (2019). News sharing on UK social media: Misinformation, disinformation, and correction. Online Civic Culture Centre, Loughborough University.

Choy, M., & Chong, M. (2018). Seeing through misinformation: A framework for identifying online fake news. https://doi.org/10.48550/arXiv.1804.03508

Chua, A. Y. K., & Banerjee, S. (2017). To share or not to share: The role of epistemic belief in online health rumors. International Journal of Medical Informatics, 108, 36–41. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijmedinf.2017.08.010

Cox, P. (2013). Fledgling website brings fact checking to South Africa. VOA News. https://www.voanews.com/a/fledgling-webiste-brings-fact-checking-to-south-africa/1725136.html

Dafonte-Gómez, A. (2018). The key elements of viral advertising: From motivation to emotion in the most shared videos. Comunicar Journal, 43. https://doi.org/10.3916/C43-2014-20

Gelfert, A. (2018). Fake news: A definition. Informal Logic, 38(1), 84–117. https://doi.org/10.22329/il.v38i1.5068

Hirst, M. (2017). Towards a political economy of fake news. The Political Economy of Communication, 5(2), 82–94.

Lara-Navarra, P., Falciani, H., Sánchez-Pérez, E. A., & Ferrer-Sapena, A. (2020). Information management in healthcare and environment: Towards an automatic system for fake news detection. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(3), 1066, 1–12. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17031066

Lilleker, D. (2018). Politics in a post-truth era. International Journal of Media and Cultural Politics, 14(3), 277–282.

Madrid-Morales, D., Wasserman, H., Gondwe, G., Ndlovu, K., Sikanku, E., Tully, M., Umejei, E., & Uzuegbunam, C. (2021). Motivations for sharing misinformation: A comparative study in six Sub-Saharan African countries. International Journal of Communication, 15, 1200–1219.

Marwick, A., & Lewis, R. (2017). Media manipulation and disinformation online. Data & Society. https://datasociety.net/library/media-manipulation-and-disinfo-online

Nyamnjoh, F. B. (2005). Africa’s media, democracy, and the politics of belonging. Zed Books.

Ogwezzy-Ndisika, A. O., Amakoh, K. O., Ajibade, O., Lawal, T. O., & Faustino, B. A. (2023). Fake news and general elections in Nigeria: Fighting the canary in a digital coal mine. In U. S. Akpan (Ed.), Nigerian media industries in the era of globalization (pp. 61–72). Rowman & Littlefield.

Petersen, M. B., Osmundsen, M., & Arceneaux, K. (2023). The “need for chaos” and motivations to share hostile political rumors. American Political Science Review, FirstView, pp. 1–20. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0003055422001447

Sandikci, O. (1998). Images of women in advertising: A critical-cultural perspective. In B. G. Englis & A. Olofsson (Eds.), E – European Advances in Consumer Research, Volume 3 (pp. 76–81). Association for Consumer Research.

Soltaninejad, K. (2020). Methanol mass poisoning outbreak: A consequence of COVID-19 pandemic and misleading messages on social media. International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 11(3), 148–150. https://doi.org/10.34172/ijoem.2020.1983

Tully, M. (2021). Everyday news use and misinformation in Kenya. Digital Journalism, 10(1), 109–127. https://doi.org/10.1080/21670811.2021.1912625

Uwalaka, T. (2022). “Abba Kyari did not die of coronavirus”: Social media and fake news during a global pandemic in Nigeria. Media International Australia, online pre-print. https://doi.org/10.1177/1329878X221101216

Uzuegbunam, C. E. (2020). A critical analysis of transgressive user-generated images and memes and their portrayal of dominant political discourses during Nigeria’s 2015 general elections. In M. Ndlela & W. Mano (Eds.), Social media and elections in Africa, Volume 2 (pp. 223–243). Palgrave Macmillan. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-32682-1_12

Wagner, M. C., & Boczkowski, P. J. (2019). The reception of fake news: The interpretations and practices that shape the consumption of perceived misinformation. Digital Journalism, 7(3), 1–16. https://doi.org/10.1080/21670811.2019.1653208

Wang, Y., McKee, M., Torbica, A., & Stuckler, D. (2019). Systematic literature review on the spread of health-related misinformation on social media. Social Science & Medicine, 240, 112552, 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2019.112552

Wardle, C. (2019). Understanding information disorder. First Draft. https://firstdraftnews.org/long-form-article/understanding-information-disorder

Wasserman, H., & Madrid-Morales, D. (2019). An exploratory study of “fake news” and media trust in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa. African Journalism Studies, 40(1), 107–123. https://doi.org/10.1080/23743670.2019.1627230

Welcome, M. O. (2011). The Nigerian health care system: Need for integrating adequate medical intelligence and surveillance systems. Journal of Pharmacy and Bioallied Sciences, 3(4), 470–478. https://doi.org/10.4103/0975-7406.90100




How to Cite

Uzuegbunam, C. and Ononiwu, C. (2023) “‘If it is circulating widely on social media, then it is likely to be fake news’: Reception of, and motivations for sharing, COVID-19-related fake news among university-educated Nigerians”, The African Journal of Information and Communication (AJIC). South Africa, (31). doi: 10.23962/ajic.i31.14518.



Research Articles