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FG hopeful code of practice will improve content moderation, online safety

By Adeyemi Adepetun
28 July 2022   |   3:02 am
The Federal Government is optimistic that the recently released Code of Practice will transform and improve the online space in the country.

Isa Ali Pantami

• Social media platforms come under checks

The Federal Government is optimistic that the recently released Code of Practice will transform and improve the online space in the country.

The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Prof. Isa Pantami, who said this, noted that Code of Practice for Interactive Computer Service Platforms/Internet Intermediaries and Conditions for Operating in Nigeria will provide opportunity to protect the fundamental human rights of Nigerians and non-Nigerians living in the country, as well as defined guidelines for the interacting on digital space.

Pantami, who was represented by the Director-General of NITDA, Kashifu Inuwa, said this at the Nigeria’s First Content Moderation and Online Safety Summit organised by the Advocacy for Policy and Innovation (API) with the theme “The Challenge for Content Moderation and the Opportunity to Improve Online Safety in Nigeria”, in Abuja, yesterday.

Reiterating the importance of ensuring a safer platform for online users, he referred to President Joe Biden’s request to the owner of Facebook, who pleaded that Facebook should moderate dis/misinformation on the platform, and Nancy Pelosi’s petitions to the House of Representatives requesting Facebook and Twitter to take-down videos of her ripping the SOTU speech.

The Minister mentioned American patriot Benjamin Franklin’s response when asked upon his emergence from the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787 “What form of government the United States was going to have? Franklin answered succinctly, “a Republic if you can keep it.”

Pantami clarified that Franklin’s response came 70 years before the emergence of the Republican Party, which means that he was referring to the true meaning of the word “Republic”.

He elaborated that the new democratic republic is not just a new form of government but a government that needs vigilance and at times actions to protect and maintain it.

Essentially, in a democracy, he stated, there are three key things to the development of every individual and they are, Power, Freedom, and Justice. In the Federal Republic of Nigeria, we shouldn’t allow anyone to have unaccountable power over others.

“Today, looking at the social media incident before the US election, indicated that Big Tech has more power than the Government. Users are compelled to obey the Big Tech rules because of the restrictions and sanctions in its usage. For example, if you use Twitter there is a limit of the words you can tweet,” he said.

The minister emphasized that in a democratic setting citizens should have representatives elected by people to write rules rather than a few, according to him “This causes challenges such as the recruitment system being gender biased, or the recognition system being racist, and so on.

“While we need modern Software Engineers, there is also the need for Social Engineers to control our social justice.” The summit, therefore, is timely and is expected to prompt lead ways to protect the ungoverned online space.

“From the period of John Ballos declaration in 1996, which explains how he predicted a new cyber world without government, to Eric Smith’s comment that cyberspace is an ungoverned space; to 2018 when Mark Zuckerberg said that the real question is neither if there is need for regulation or not, but what is the appropriate regulation?”

He concluded that those who control the online space must therefore be held accountable. “We need to look at technology as a citizen, how it impacts our life? What the Big Techs should control, and under what conditions? Because we believe that today’s technology is central to our social, economic, and political lives.

In his welcome remarks, the Director Advocacy for Policy and Innovation (API), Barrister Kasim Sodangi, outlined the harmful ways the Internet is affecting people’s lives.

He said, “We are at a crossroads due to the abuse of freedom given by the Internet. In rhetoric he asked, do we regulate and clampdown? Do we educate more? What are the tools needed to educate people? How do we properly tackle misinformation and disinformation? These questions leave us to ponder because as a shared resource, the Internet is meant to be enhanced and not restricted, so we are left to consider how we can effectively maximize its general usage.”

The Executive Director of Internet Sans Frontiers (Internet Without Borders) and the Executive Director of Content Policy & Society Lab at Stanford University, Julie Owono, opined that to have stability for a whole society and safety of online spaces, stakeholders must come together.

She said, “The government bodies and agencies must create laws, guidelines, and online content regulations as well as partner with private technology companies, civil society organizations, citizens, and academia.”

She emphasized that the Tech world must not act in silos, but rather in collaboration with relevant stakeholders to be really effective.

Julie stated that the need for transparency is paramount in online spaces. Making an example of Twitter suspending Donald Trump’s account due to Trump inciting street violence and unrest in the American society through his tweets.

According to her, this form of regulation helps prevent insurgence and protects the safety of the citizens. She affirmed the need of a governance model to ensure proper review and seamless taking down of harmful content on the Internet.