Ugandan YouTubers spread disinformation with clickbait headlines

YouTube channels in Uganda with thousands of subscribers are using clickbait headlines to spread disinformation. The videos, which are recorded and captioned in the local language, Luganda, are designed to capture a wide audience with sensational but misleading titles that often have no bearing on the content. One Ugandan fact-checker said the ploy was common and a means of driving up revenue for content creators. AFP Fact Check analysed three examples.

On January 27, 2023, a YouTube video more than 38 minutes long was published on a channel called “Invader” which has 121,000 subscribers.

The clip's caption reads "In trouble: ICC issues arrest warrant for Museveni over war crimes", in reference to the International Criminal Court.

The footage features a politician called Denis Ssekabira of Uganda's main opposition National Unity Platform (NUP).

Speaking in the local language Luganda, he accuses long-serving President Yoweri Museveni of multiple crimes in the East African nation.

A screenshot of the YouTube video with misleading caption, taken on February 20, 2023 ( Mary KULUNDU)

However, he makes no mention of an ICC arrest warrant for Museveni.

The court's records also show there is no warrant for the Ugandan president.

The Hague-based ICC is invesfigating alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity by a rebel group known as the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in northern Uganda in the early 2000s.

LRA founder Joseph Kony launched a bloody rebellion against President Museveni more than three decades ago, unleashing a campaign of terror that spread to several other countries.

The ICC issued an arrest warrant for Kony and four other suspects in 2005. While one person was detained, two have died and another two are still at large, including Kony.

Unverifiable claims

Another video on a YouTube channel called “Hot News UG” with more than 120, 000 subscribers features the headline: "Museveni shot down the Tanzanian passenger plane that crashed into Lake Victoria, he wanted to Kill Bobi Wine."

A screenshot of the YouTube video with misleading caption, taken on February 20, 2023 ( Mary KULUNDU)

The clip, which is about 40 minutes long, was published on November 7, 2022 – a day after a passenger plane plunged into Lake Victoria, killing 19 people.

Bad weather caused the crash, the deadliest in the country in decades, according to police.

This is contrary to claims that Museveni shot the plane down to kill opposition MP Robert Kyagulanyi, popularly known as Bobi Wine. The politician was not on board the plane which crashed in Lake Victoria.

The presenter, who identifies himself as a pastor and former police operative, claims to have predicted the incident and warned Wine of Museveni’s plans to take him out.

Wine, Museveni’s main contender in the 2021 presidential race, has accused the Ugandan leader of human rights abuses on countless occasions and called on the ICC to investigate him.

In 2018, Wine fled to the US to receive treatment after what he said was “brutal torture” at the hands of Uganda’s Special Forces Command.

On the day of the Tanzanian passenger plane crash, Wine retweeted about a panel discussion, which he joined on November 8, 2022.

Throughout the video, the presenter, who again speaks in a local dialect, makes other unverifiable claims – about forced vaccinations, for example – and advertises products and services.

“If you have skin problems, Maureen Skin care is the answer, we have carpenters, builders metal works, and house finishings. if you need good furniture, why do you go to Dubai, Hong Kong, if you have building work, contact us on this platform,” he says.

Bella Twine, a fact-checker in Uganda working for The Debunk Initiative, told AFP Fact Check that clickbait videos are common in the East African country and aimed at monetising pages.

“There are so many sensational pages, those that are looking for numbers so that they can earn from YouTube, they do click-bait captions,” Twine said, adding that the video contents are usually different from what the caption highlights.

'Insufficient' measures

On January 14, 2023, a video published on the same “Hot News UG” YouTube channel shared another misleading headline claiming Ugandan police spokesperson, Fred Enaga, had been shot in the head.

A screenshot of the YouTube video with misleading caption, taken on February 20, 2023 ( Mary KULUNDU)

"Fred Enanga shot in the head," the caption reads. Yet there is no mention of the purported shooting in the video.

Two days after the clip was published, Enaga gave a press conference on Uganda's security situation.

Broadcaster NTV Uganda reported his conference.

Twine said the videos hook viewers who click on them expecting to see content related to the headline.

In 2022, a global coalition of fact-checking organisations wrote a letter to YouTube expressing concerns that the largest video-sharing platform with two billion active users was a conduit for misinformation.

The letter, signed by more than 80 groups, highlighted that many videos spreading misinformation in non-English speaking countries and the Global South went under the radar of YouTube’s content policies.

While the community guidelines restrict the circulation of false misinformation and harmful content, fact-checkers told the video-sharing- platform that removing such content is not the ideal way to address falsehoods.

“Current measures are proving insufficient,” the fact-checkers said.

They called on YouTube to extend current and future efforts against disinformation in languages other than English, and to provide country- and language-specific data.