By Gabriel Ewepu
AS the protection from internet falsehoods and Manipulation and Other Related Matters Bill, 2019, also known as Social Media Bill continues to be shrouded with controversy at the National Assembly, a Civil Society Organisation, CSO, Centre for Liberty, CFL, Wednesday, demanded other options to fight hate speech and fake news in view of not infringing on fundamental human rights of Nigerians under democracy.
This was the position of CFL at a press conference held in Abuja, where its conveners, Adebayo Raphael, Adebayo Raphael, Deji Adeyanju, Ariyo-Dare Atoye, and Assistant Project Officer, CFL, stated that from the assessment of the Bill it should be withdrawn “because it is unfit for a democratic country like Nigeria”.
“There are democratic solutions that Nigeria can create or adopt from other democratic nations around the world, to tackle the problem of Fake News without violating citizens’ rights to Freedom of Expression as guaranteed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“On Thursday, August 13, 2020, Center for Liberty in collaboration with other human rights organizations, activists and lawyers held a strategy review meeting to review a document titled ‘Democratic Solutions to Fake News In Nigeria.’ The document was presented by Ms Chieme Ogbeyialu Chukwu Esq. – a Democratic Strategy Consultant for Center for Liberty.
“The document emphasizes how we now live in a digital world, surrounded by a deluge of information and how the internet has made the world more connected than ever, thus a threat anywhere is a threat everywhere. Fake news has in recent times raised a lot of concerns about democratic freedoms and the abuse of those freedoms. because of its impact prevalent in contemporary democratic politics.
“Our goal in engaging a democratic strategy consultant was to see how other democratic nations around the world are dealing with the problem of fake news and how Nigeria can either adopt or learn from their strategies in dealing with the problem.”
According to CFL “Turkey uses ‘The first called ‘Gunun Yalanlari’ (Lies of the day) says on its website it verifies news, photos and textual content shared on social media, and comments by politicians, among others.
“The second is called ‘fact-checking Turkey’ and has content in English and other languages. it says it monitors ‘’factual accuracy’’ of news related to Turkey; In Sweden, the government distributed civil defence pamphlets to its citizens which included guidelines on dealing with ‘false information’; Indian government appealed to WhatsApp which has more than 200 million users in the country, and it reduced the number of times a user can forward a message at a time to five. The world’s largest messaging app has also begun a campaign of online, print, radio and TV ads to increase awareness about the dangers of sharing false rumours.
“A number of fact-checking outlets have been founded in recent years to verify controversial stories that go viral on social media and messaging apps; In order to stem the widespread of false statements, false declarations, and harmful contents, the UK government set up a rapid response unit within the cabinet office to work with social media firms to remove fake news and harmful contents from their platforms. The unit works to knock down misinformation and disinformation which undermines genuine information and expert information very quickly.
“The government also re-launched a campaign called “don’t Feed the Beast”, urging the public to think carefully about what they share online, so as to stop false rumours from spreading and taking hold.
“From what these countries are doing, it can be seen that employing a democratic and civilized approach ensures that the fundamental Human Rights of citizens are safeguarded, and guaranteed.
“Nigeria should learn and adopt these democratic and civilized approaches of fighting the problem of fake news rather than resorting to the anti-democratic approach to enact tyrannical and draconian laws that will further shrink our civic spaces.”
The CSO also called on NASS to consider democratic solutions to the problem OF fake news in Nigeria: “Public Awareness Campaigns-It is crucial to inform the people about fake news and educate them to make judgments about the reliability of news and information; which enables them to use services which give them shorthand information on how to know what is reliable. NCC and NOA will play a vital role in this regard.
“Rebuttal Unit to Counter False Publications; The Government should form a Rapid Response Unit charged with the responsibility and duties of countering fake news. This unit will, among other things, be saddled with creating a website for rating news platforms and mediums of disseminating information; publishing rebuttals to inaccurate information, and proving beyond reasonable doubt the reliability and trustworthiness – or otherwise of any public information, so that the public may know what is true, verifiable and reliable.
“Working alongside Social Media platforms to help in flagging down false publications – All digital platforms have rules and regulations. individuals or organisations who breach the codes, rules, regulations or terms and conditions, often face the consequences of their actions through suspension or deregistration.
“Social media companies also help in limiting internet falsehoods, false declarations and misinformation, by fact-checking and/or taking down harmful posts, harmful publications, and harmful content.
“These social media platforms have restrictions that apply to the usage of internet platforms and sites. Incidents of fake news or incitements to hatred or violence may lead to the restriction of the social media accounts and pages of the users. The government can consolidate on this by collaborating with the social media platforms to ensure that this is continued regardless of whose ox is gored.
“The government through its agencies or special units may work with the social media companies by providing verified, credible and authentic information against fake news and false publications and enable these companies to flag down false statements and fake news.
“Civil Society Group Advocacy/Campaigns Against Fake News – The government can partner Civil Society Organisations in coming up with media literacy initiatives that will help amplify awareness and equally educate the citizens on Fake News and how to be better communicators.”
In conclusion, the organisation said the proposed Social Media Bill, if passed, will cause greater harm to the nation’s democracy and civic spaces than it is trying to cure.
“It will cause the government to ride roughshod on the rights of citizens and especially Rightsholders such as people living with a disability, age discriminated group (youth and elderly), indigenous ethnic minorities, women facing exploitation and abuse and violence, and the media.
“However, the proposed democratic solutions are capable of combating the problem of fake news published on the internet from anywhere in the world. As a democratic country, Nigeria must practice and uphold the tenets of democracy in all its dealings and approaches.
“We, therefore, hope that the highlighted solutions will be seriously considered by our legislators and the federal government, just as we pledge our unflinching resolve to support the government in adopting any or all of the measures highlighted above, in combating the problem of Internet Falsehoods or online fake news in Nigeria,” it added.