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‘Nigeria must strengthen democratic process to handle hate speech’

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PHOTO: TONYE BAKARE

With various dangers identified with hate speech and its handling by the Federal Government, experts have said that Nigeria must strengthen democratic process to avoid huge pitfalls. While some have condemned alleged bias on the part of government in handling some issues in the country, others are of the opinion that the government has to be diplomatic in handling challenges bedeviling Nigeria.

Though experts at The Guardian hosted session at the ongoing Social Media Week (SMW) Lagos, yesterday, expressed different opinions on the matter, including that hate speech differs from region to region.

They stressed that hate speech in Nigeria differs from that of the globe, as such requires different approach in handling its peculiarities.Indeed at the session, which had speakers including, Head Anglophone West Africa, Africa Public Policy, Facebook, Adaora Ikenze; Media Consultant/Host of Your View on TVC, Morayo Afolabi-Brown; Chairman/CEO, Nigerian in Diaspora Commission, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, represented by an official in the commission, Oladipo Odebowale; and Legal Partner, SBM Intelligence, Cheta Nwanze, they submitted that government must not be sympathetic to one region at the expense of another.

To Nwanze, hate speech is incidious speeches that lead to violence targeting a particular clan or group of people, which according to him has been the case in the country. With the session’s topic put as “Defining and Regulating ‘Hate Speech’: Impacts on Audience Needs and Retention,” he stressed that government must be able to differentiate between when people are angry and there are hate speeches.

From her perspective, Ikenze, hate speech are those that attacks and potentially leads to harm to individuals defined as ‘protective’ groups, “but at Facebook, we expanded that to go beyond speech that just attacks, we have three tiers of what we considered as hate speech. These include speeches that clearly lead to up line harms, speeches that threatens direct harm to people; we have slurs, and speech that promotes exclusions.”

Afolabi-Brown, who harped on hate speech been region-specific, stressed that for a country like Nigeria, whose democracy is still growing, “where we are still trying to know who is who, trying to define the kind of people we are, I think hate speech for us differs. We need to understand what defamatory speech is and what hate speech constitutes.

“The definition is a problem in Nigeria. Some claimed it leads to violence, but some people have heard these speeches, but no violence happened. So, I think is still something to be discussed more and clarify gray areas. Nigeria is developing, so we need to know what hate speech means to us, we need to know if whether in democracy, we allowed to speak our minds or not.”

On what Facebook is doing to curb spread of hate speech on the platform, Ikenze said the social media platform has revolutionised human communication, and has strived to also enforce checks and balances to control speeches on the platform.She stressed that hate speech doesn’t help the Facebook platform, as such the firm has deployed Artificial Intelligence to track and pull down as fast as possible, posts considered to be offensive, and that that can lead to violence.

According to her, with over 2.2 billion people on Facebook, the platform strived to ensure that users are familiar with the community standards, activities of AI, and workings of human reviewers.

Further on audience responsibilities, Nwanze stressed that huge responsibility lies with the user. According to him, the better educated the society is, the more likely the people within the society are able to identify that certain things are not acceptable, “little things such as nuance, which makes it easier for them to say this is wrong, this is right, this should not be shared, this should not be propagated. Even in some of the educated societies, there will always be fringed groups. The country must understand this and be prepared to adjust in this regards. So, in trying to define hate speech, we need to be very careful about curbing the generality of people’s freedom of speech.

“This is because there are various levels of sensitivity here. A potential authoritarian regime will be far more sensitive to criticisms, and more likely to brand anything critical of it as hate speech, and has a result, use hate speech laws to clampdown on dissents. The process of clamping down on dissents, it means that such regime has started moving away from democratic norms it swears an oath to.”

According to him, government should know that in a society where any speech that is critical is not allowed, “there will be issues to contend with, therefore, we must be careful in managing what we term hate speech as a country.”

Nwanze stressed the need to take a cue from countries including Rwanda, South Africa, where there are Truth and Reconciliatory institutions to handle some issues, “but in Nigeria, we hide, we don’t want to talk, rather we continued to pretend that some things didn’t happen. The effect of that is what I will call the ‘Gaseous Bottle Effect’. That is when you suppress things for too long, they will find a way out one day, and there will be calamity.”According to him, the country must define what constitute vents and what hate speech really is, to avoid problems.


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