Thursday, 8th June 2023

Social media regulation not a remedy for fake news

By Abisola Olasupo
24 November 2020   |   10:59 am
The Nigerian Government's insistent to rein in the danger of fake news is back at the front burner of national debate in Africa's most populous nation with social media blamed for the rise in misinformation during the #EndSARS protests against police brutality. The #EndSARS campaign, which resurfaced on Twitter in October, eventually ended on the…

[FILES] #EndSARS protesters

The Nigerian Government’s insistent to rein in the danger of fake news is back at the front burner of national debate in Africa’s most populous nation with social media blamed for the rise in misinformation during the #EndSARS protests against police brutality.

The #EndSARS campaign, which resurfaced on Twitter in October, eventually ended on the streets of States across Nigeria. The protests got international attention from top politicians and celebrities with the help of social media. The protest was not only held in Nigeria as  Nigerians in the diaspora participated.

The protest was eventually hijacked by hoodlums and turned violent in some States across the country. Misinformation/fake news were blamed for the cause of violence and chaos which erupted during the movement.

Some Nigerians saw this as an opportunity to call on the censorship of social media claiming it is the major source of fake news in the country.

From #Endsars to # SayNoToSocialMediaBill
Nigeria’s pro-social media censorship minister of information Lai Mohammed said fake news threatens the country’s existence, blaming social media for the prevalence of the problem.

Mohammed blamed social media for the chaos, looting and violence that trailed the peaceful protests.

Governors in Nigeria’s northern region also backed the call for censorship claiming the use of social media during the protests threatened the oneness of the country.

But Nigerians have kicked against this move to regulate social media which might be another means to gag free speech and also clampdown on social media at the will of the government.

Government agencies have also been accused of weaponising fake news to discredit reports that put them in a bad stead.

A major point of reference is the toll gate incident on 20th of October. Many citizens demanded answers to who ordered the Nigeria Army to shoot at peaceful protesters at the Lekki Toll gate. Instead of the Lagos State government and the Nigrian Army yielding to demands of citizens they dismissed the reports while the military tagged it fake news.

Before the Lekki incident Nigerian army had announced that it will commence a nationwide Exercise Crocodile Smile VI, a cyber warfare exercise designed to identify, track and counter negative propaganda on social media.

The Army then started a lone fact checking activity flagging any news or reports about its activities which are not favouring fake news.

Social Media Regulation the remedy for fake news?
Digital right advocates have also argued that regulation of social media can’t stop the spread of fake news as proposed by the Nigerian leaders.

The executive director of Paradigm Initiative  Gbenga Sesan said it is evident across the world that social media regulation doesn’t curb disinformation.

Sesan said educating citizens could be used as a remedy to curb misinformation, and not social media regulation.

“Effective remedies include educating everyone to allow them spot and not share false information; proactive disclosure by governments to avoid gaps that can be exploited by merchants of false information; and promotion of community guidelines that various communities of practice — and people groups — abide by in order to discourage false information sharing,”Sesan said.

“ The real problems with the regulation approach in African countries are vagueness (the ambiguity in regulations that allow them to be used against the innocent) and context (a history of clampdown that will only build on “fighting false information” as an excuse).”

He further stated that the passage of any bill that will regulate social media is a bad idea given the history of abusing laws to punish the weak and lack of opportunity for legal redress if wrongly punished.

“Any social media bill that is introduced will have to go through the legislative process under the increasingly watchful eyes of citizens who have stood against such opportunism before, and we encourage citizens to follow keenly because eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,” Sesan said.

A fact checker Segun Olakoyenikan said currently, Facebook has partnerships with independent fact-checkers that are signatories to the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) to debunk all forms of misinformation on the social network.

“IFCN-verified fact-checking organisations commit to the network’s code of principles, including non-partisanship and fairness, transparency of sources, transparency of funding and organisation, transparency of methodology, and open and honest corrections policies,” Olakoyenikan said.

“So, more of these collaborations are needed with other social media platforms to debunk claims and ascertain the veracity of posts labeled as “fake news” on their social networks by government institutions.”

Also the president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Olumide Akpata faulted moves by the Federal Government to further regulate social media and believes the timing is wrong.

“I struggle with the terms that we bandy around. Like I said, I think the social media space is regulated already, ” the NBA President said on ChannelsTV’s Sunday Politics when asked if social media need further regulation.

“Are we saying regulate or shutdown? What are we saying because we hear them using regulate? We hear the minister of Information use the word ‘sanitize.’ I just say to myself, ‘what are we trying to do?’ The timing is suspicious.”

While admitting that there are people who are “irresponsible” in their usage of social media, he said the country has laws to deal with such kind of people.

“And if we need to tweak the laws here and there, as we amend our laws every day to meet with issues that may come up that were not previously contemplated, we are all well and good,” he argued.

“But it is not throwing out the baby and the bathwater approach like I suspect that is in contemplation by those who are handling the levers of power today. That is not going to work.”

With the government insistent on censoring social media as a means to curbing the prevalence of fake news, another faceoff between Nigerian leaders and an army of the country’s youthful population may be afoot.