OrderPaperToday – The #EndSARS wave of massive nationwide protests and its violent aftermath tend to have provided a renewed bid for protagonists of the rejected social media bill to relaunch a perverse legislative proposal.
That hash tags like #SayNoToSocialMediabill and #KillSocialMediaBill lately maintained top trends on Twitter are reflective of fears of the contentious bill getting passed by parliament.
The renewed bid on the bill gained more ground following the two weeks-long peaceful protests against police brutality and the culminating spread of false pieces of information on the internet.
The social media bill…
Titled, ‘Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation Bill,’ it was introduced by Senator Sani Musa (APC, Niger) in 2019 and has since received numerous criticisms from several quarters who perceive it as a ploy to impede on democratic freedom of expression and other fundamental human rights.
It was discovered that the bill is a replica of Singapore’s ‘Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act,’ a claim Musa defended under the guise that a piece of legislation can be copied from other jurisdictions because it is a public document.
Draconian provisions contained in the bill include stringent penalties for violations with a fine of up to N300,000 or three year imprisonment for individuals and N10 million for corporate organizations.
Another is that the proposed law grants security agencies regulatory powers over internet intermediaries— a highly contentious provision.
Opponents of the bill readily cite the Cybercrime Act as a legislation that contains stipulations for the sharing of false information— which is seen as overlapping of functions.
They also mention the Nigerian Communications Commission Act which grants the agency powers to oversee the function of telecommunications providers.
The controversial bill gained so much momentum that it became a debated discourse on the international scene.
After its second reading in November 2019, the discussions condemning the bill resurfaced, effectively laying the legislative draft to rest up until the #EndSARS protest propped a renewed bid for its resurrection.
Emboldened by fake news…
Protagonists of the bill were appalled that social media, precisely Twitter was used as a convergence point to plan the every aspect of the protest which got a backing from the platform’s Chief Executive Director, Jack Dorsey.
Infuriated by this, a former presidential candidate and ally of President Muhammadu Buhari, Adamu Garba sued Dorsey to a Federal High Court in Abuja demanding $1 billion.
At that point, unverified pictures and videos were linked to the protests particularly the reported shooting of protesters by the military at Lekki toll gate in Lagos state then shared on the internet.
Some of them were flagged as fake news by fact-checkers, giving the supporters of the bill an upper hand and the renewed bid for clampdown.
Desmond Elliot and Macaulay troll…
Days ago, Lagos lawmakers during a sitting handpicked social media as one of the tools that caused pandemonium in different parts of the country after the #EndSARS protest was hijacked by thugs.
Desmond Elliot representing the Surulere constituency of Lagos state had said: “We need to address certain things: Nigerian youth; the social media; the social influencers. All of these are making the narrative that we’re seeing today. Except we’re joking with ourselves, social media, yes though good has its negative impacts.”
“Please celebrities; please social media influencers, stop the hatred already. You have a means constitutionally to change the government; it’s called your PVC.”
Although, fact-checkers confirmed that the lawmaker did not directly call for the regulation of the social media, it is believed that his statement sparks the resurrection of the condemned bill.
Another member and representative of Odofin 1 constituency, Mojisola Alli-Macaulay equally tagged social media as a platform for youths to perform all sorts of atrocities.
“I think it’s about time that the National Orientation Agency needs to set to work. We need to begin to orientate our young people. They need people who can talk to them from time to time.
“They are high on drugs most of the time, most of them. They go to social media, they do all sorts of things.”
Lai launches new bid…
In a related development, the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, an ardent supporter of the bill reiterated calls to regulate digital space.
“They mobilised using social media. The war today revolves around two things. Smartphones and data and these young men don’t even watch television or listen to the radio or read newspapers. We are sitting on a time bomb on this issue of fake news.
“Unfortunately, we have no national policy on social media and we need one. When we went to China, we could not get google, Facebook, and Instagram. You could not even use your email in China because they made sure it is censored and well regulated,” he said.
“You will be shocked that when you start arguing with your children, they will be quoting the social media. So, we need a social media policy in Nigeria and we need to empower the various agencies and we need technology to be able to regulate the social media”, Mohammed said when he appeared before the House of Representatives Committee on Information, National Orientation, Ethics, and Values to defend the 2021 budget proposal.
Sunday Akin Dare, Minister of Youth and Sports, said with the nationwide #EndSARS protest, the government considered shutting down the social media space during the #EndSARS protests.
But instead of using that route, it will go through the National Assembly.
“The protests brought home the dangers of fake news. The talk around regulation, of course, we have a National Assembly, it will have to go through the normal process. We have a constitution, we have to make sure it does not violate certain provisions of the constitution that has to do with freedom of expression.
“Where you have fake news destroying lives, the government has a responsibility to make sure that there is a level of control. It is not censorship but some level of control,” the minister stated.
Similarly, President Muhammadu Buhari while addressing the nation in a broadcast about the #EndSARS protests, mentioned that the misinformation was majorly dispersed on social media.
“The spreading of deliberate falsehood and misinformation through the social media in particular, that this government is oblivious to the pains and plight of its citizens is a ploy to mislead the unwary within and outside Nigeria into unfair judgment and disruptive behavior”, he said.
More recently, governors of northern states at meeting in Kaduna state called for the censorship of social media to “avoid the spread of fake news” adding that the effect of uncontrolled social media is devastating.
The above statements and moves from government officials heighten worries that there will be a possible passage of the dreaded bill when the National Assembly reconvenes sitting later in November even though the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan repeatedly assured to consider all inputs about the bill.
Opponents of social media bill understand the damages of fake news but there is a high level of mistrust in the current administration on this renewed bid on the bill with fears that it will be used as a tool for untold suppression of digital platforms.
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