It was just a few months ago when dozens of influencers and creators took to Twitter to announce their new contract with Chinese-owned content platform Opera News.
However, a number of them have begun to speak up about instances of direct or indirect censorship after the platform rejected a story by one of its content creators Adeyeye Olorunfemi about reported mass lay-offs at the United Bank of Africa (UBA), shortly after it was published, on the grounds that it contained fake news.
“I had written a story on mass retrenchment through calls and text messages in UBA earlier today that was placed live on the app and had gone viral already with a lot of reactions trailing it,” Olorunfemi wrote in a Facebook post on Sunday. “I refreshed the app a few hours ago only to find out that the story was rejected and labelled “fake news.””
He added that this was not an isolated case, citing a previous story which he says was also unduly tagged fake.
“This is not the first time I am getting the “fake news” feedback. It happened with a story on poor hygiene at the College of Medicine, UNILAG,” he wrote. “After the Authorities cleaned up the place, they came up with a press release 2 days after, that I posted fake news.”
Olorunfemi’s story quickly spread through Twitter, spurring other content creators to share their own experiences.
David Hundeyin, a former Opera News content creator, accused the platform of terminating his contract without reason “despite giving them their two all-time most read articles in December.”
Although David’s contract provided for a limited, one-time-only engagement, he noted that the termination “came in right after [he] submitted a string of op-eds highlighting the problems with authoritarianism vis-a-vis democracy” — hinting at a possible attempt by the platform to censor him.
Another content creator Fola Folayan said she stopped writing for Opera News after one month for similar reasons. She wrote in a tweet that the platform rejected two of her articles for “ridiculous and flimsy reasons.”
“Honestly, I felt some kind of way [sic] from the beginning where the contract said articles will be vetted before publication. A part of me thought it was going to be for things like typos and stuff… But after experiencing the ridiculous censorship? I just couldn’t do it,” she added.
However, Opera News explains on its creators’ website that posts are first examined by machines and human editors, and are either rejected or flagged for revision “if problems like misleading headlines, vulgar content, advertisements and low-quality content are identified.”
The allegations against the platform have sparked a broader conversation about how they echo China’s infamous reputation for content censorship and press freedom. Reporters Without Borders ranks China’s press situation as “very serious,” the worst ranking on their five-point scale.
“Shock, surprise, Chinese company does not want criticism of Chinese-style government and promotion of democracy on its platform,” David Hundeyin tweeted. Fola Folayan also maintained, “Chinese people cannot be determining what I should say and how I should say it.”
Is Opera News now owned by the Chinese? Can any of my friends who contribute to it please sneak in a line about human rights abuses (in China or in some other place). I want to see something.
— Kọ́lá Túbọ̀sún (@kolatubosun) November 28, 2019
Opera News Hub, a platform which allows users to create content and earn money, officially launched in Nigeria last year. The launch was followed with much fanfare on social media as O-Play, the company under which provides Opera News, signed contracts with dozens of bloggers and influencers to create content on the platform.
The influencers contracts were categorised based on the individual’s ‘professional level,’ — which is determined by the individual’s social media and professional influence — according to a source. A content creator revealed that he was offered up to ₦28,000 for each article (capped at 15 articles per month), summing up to ₦420,000 (~$1,200) per month.
Other terms of the contract include the influencers granting O-Play unrestricted rights to their content and personal brands: “Influencer hereby grants to O-Play a worldwide,
irrevocable license to use Influencer’s name, photograph, likeness, voice, image, statements
and biographical information for advertising, trade, publicity, promotional, and internal purposes, including any related television, print, or Internet advertising campaign, in any and all media”
While Opera News has also hired seasoned journalists like Bayo Olupohunda, former editor-in-chief of Legit.ng, to lead its operation, there has however been criticism about the platform promoting sensational and click-bait content.
Several sections of the contract also encourage the content creators to generate clicks and engagements in order to get bonuses. A section of the contract reads, “Extra pay will be based on how your article performs in Opera News platform: clicks and engagement.”
One contract seen by Techpoint reveals that apart from the fixed offer per story, the content creator is entitled to an additional ₦360 ($0.99) for every 10,000 clicks and ₦1,800 ($4.97) per 100 user engagement (likes, shares, comments and favourites).
David describes the platform as a “content mill, not a platform for journalism.” Muhammed Adedeji Akinyemi, another content creator on the platform, tweeted: “They don’t give a damn about you. Just get signed and pump as many stupid contents as you can.”
We reached out severally and through different channels to Opera News for comments but received none as at the time of publishing this story.
UPDATE [JANUARY 10, 2020]: Opera News has gotten in touch with an official statement. It reads:
Opera News Hub is committed to develop the local writing ecosystem in Nigeria and open space for local stories of authors across the country. Our guidelines clearly state that Opera News Hub does not censor any contributor in the platform. We continuously optimize our news curation process to detect misleading articles that can generate confusion among our audience and reach out to content creators when detecting misleading editorial information.
The claims made in the article “Here’s how Opera News may be creating a culture of Chinese-style censorship in Nigeria” towards Opera News Hub, are not true nor accurate as they do not comply with our internal guidelines. Therefore, the article published in Tech Point, shouldn’t have been published without having the right information about the optimization and curation of the content in the Opera News Hub platform.
A representative of Opera News Hub has already reached out to Adeyeye Femi, to clarify and solve the situation after the initial submission of the article to the Opera News Hub platform.
I write about media, technology and internet culture. Reach me on Twitter @okikesam