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Practitioners fault proposed censorship of social media, say it’s awful

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Media practitioners have joined the larger society in condemning the 19 northern governors seeking censorship of the social media. Recall that on November 2, 2020, these governors, traditional rulers, legislators and other stakeholders met in Kaduna to discuss recent #End SARS protest and insecurity in the country.

Chairman of the Northern Governors Forum, Simon Lalong, said the meeting took note of the devastating effect of uncontrolled social media in spreading fake news and called for major control and censorship of social media in Nigeria.

They argued that social media fuelled the protest leading to loss of lives and wanton destruction of properties.

In a chat with The Guardian, President, Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Chris Isiguzo said, “we have consistently expressed our opposition — beginning with the bills at the National Assembly, which has to do with the planned regulation of the social media. If you want to regulate, don’t regulate end users. You should regulate the platforms themselves like twitter, instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn. They can go into understanding with the owners of these platforms such that before certain information is published, do fact checking.”

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Similarly, celebrated columnist, Ray Ekpu, said, “the use of these one-man or one-woman platforms for news dissemination is awfully wrong because you are not even sure who sent the messages, whether it was verified or not and what was the motive for sending it. If you want to be titillated by gossip or fiction, it is fine to go to these platforms. But if you want credible information your best bet is to go to either the mainstream media or social media platforms that are manned by people with mainstream media experience. The collection, processing and dissemination of information are a rigorous process that involves checking and crosschecking. The idea is to be able to satisfy the professional canons of fairness, objectivity, balance and accuracy. If those four canons are observed what you will get to a large extent, come close to the truth because it is factuality that leads to the truth. The reckless method of dishing out information on most social media platforms without checking and cross-checking cannot.”

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On his part, former governor of Ogun State, Chief Olusegun Osoba, insisted, “I don’t agree with any group or body that is supporting regulation of the media — whether, print broadcast or social media. I know some of the social media practitioners are blackmailers. Some bloggers are giving the press terrible names. Some of them propagate fake news, which can cause upheaval in any sector or any country. In spite of all these shortcomings, I still don’t agree that government that should regulate social media. What I have been preaching is that trained journalists should move en mass to the social media space and create credible platforms and blogs to counter the untrained journalists that give the mainstream media unpleasant names.

Prof. Pate Umaru, Department of Mass Communication, Bayero University Kano said, “criminalizing social media is a very difficult task in the sense that it is going to be expensive and affect almost everyone in the country. There are many criminal laws that we have and people are still violating them. If you look at the way people use the social media, some ignorantly forward messages thereby misinforming people not because hey have the intention of mischief. Then there are people who deliberately package messages that are not true but for mischief or because they want to cause confusion or crisis or damage the reputation of some people or organisation.

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“And because of the credibility people tend to believe some of their messages thinking such messages must have gone through gatekeeping processes. People will be worried when they see conventional media engage in fake news and taking news directly from the social media without doing proper fact checking. Today’s media content becomes history tomorrow. In the next 30 or 40 years, such information may be used as references. People may want to make reference and if such newspaper has told lies, then it would become an issue of the day. So this is why conventional media must maintain some level of decency.

“The solution is that government should encourage media literacy in the minds of the people so that individuals may become critical in consuming the messages they receive in the social media. If you are critical, you are going to double check; you are not going to be an outright believer of whatever you see. But more importantly, government itself must be fair, just, and fulfill its promises to the citizens or else people will talk or raise comments.”

The Anti-Social Media Bill was introduced, in 2019, by the National Assembly, to criminalise the use of the use of social media.

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