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Wednesday, 4 November 2020

CAN NIGERIA REGULATE THE SOCIAL MEDIA?

"Nigeria is sitting on a keg of gunpowder if the issue of fake news is not URGENTLY addressed"- Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information and Culture.

Chinecherem Ogodimma Ubaka


Introduction
According to the Honorable Minister, to curb the menance of fake news and misinformation, the social media must be regulated. The rationale behind the purported social media regulation are as follows: 
1. To stop cyber- bully.
2. To limit fraudulent activities especially fake identities.
3. Prevent breach of data privacy
4. Fake news and misinformation
5. Restriction of obscene materials.

Can Nigeria regulate the social media?

Nigeria is a sovereign state and as such she has the obligation to protect her citizen's lives, properties and welfare. She does this through the duly elected democratic governments at all levels. To protect and preserve Nigeria's democracy, fake news, hate speech and misinformation must be tackled. 

Social media are mostly cross-border platforms where people maintain an online presence, online community as well as to exchange ideas in the most liberal language.  The platforms include; Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Google, Tik-Tok, Netflix amongst many others. To regulate the social media, Nigeria has to regulate each of the internet companies and ensure that they take responsibility for the content published on it's platform. They must also answer to a number of regulatory agencies like the Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy, Ministry of Information and Culture, Data Protection Commission (whenever it comes into existence) amongst other governmental authorities settled with the responsibility to regulate internet activities. This would amount to censorship. 

China is one of the countries where social media is heavily regulated. In fact, most of the social media platforms mentioned above have been censored and banned from China. Nevertheless, the reality is that the Chinese use a "VPN" i.e. Virtual Private Network, to connect to websites via servers located in different, unrestricted locations. 

Nigeria cannot afford to toe the line of the Chinese government by ensuring government censorship of the media. 

This is because Nigeria is a democratic state with diverse citizens and cultures as opposed to the communist state of China. Furthermore, as a 3rd world country, our international relations is fundamental to our development. An attempt to censor the social media platforms will strain the foreign relations between Nigeria and the developed states.


The Protection of Internet Falsehood and Manipulation and other related offenses Bill, 2019

This Bill is popularly known as the social media bill. It was sponsored by Sani Musa(Niger) and Elisha Abbo(Adamawa).

The Bill has been adjudged to be vague and a deliberate attempt to gag the social media with it's vague provisions. 
Part (3) (12) allows law enforcement agencies to shut down the internet at will. Part 2(3) (16) stipulates three year jail term or N300k fine for making statements that diminish public confidence.

Global Standards on Free Speech
Art. 19 of UDHR provides that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Art. 9 of ACHPR provides that every individual shall have the right to receive information. 
2. Every individual shall have the right to express and disseminate his opinions within the law.

To preserve our democracy, hate speech and fake news must be checked. However, any attempt by the Nigerian government to regulate the social media must be in accordance with International standards on free speech.

-image by kbuntu-Fotolia
 
Keywords: Social Media Bill in Nigeria, Social Media Regulation, Fake News, Censorship.

Chinecherem Ubaka is a Legal Practitioner based in Lagos. She can be contacted via lumenaogo@gmail.com



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