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The estimate is that there are about 120 million social media users in Nigeria today. If that figure is correct it stands to reason that social media clearly pack a punch for good or for ill. The social media no doubt are the buzz of the moment. Currently, it is one formidable societal force to reckon with all over the world. The social media have substantially taken over the fundamental role of traditional media platforms.
Global communication with the overall media practice in terms of education, entertainment, sensitisation and information dissemination have been revolutionalised by the social media. The media are undoubtedly a powerful tool for societal change and rejuvenation, influence, decision making and opinion moulding.
People from all walks of life have leveraged on the potency of the social media to promote issues of vital interest. Products, services, people and politics are objects of promotion on social media. Friendships are nurtured and large followership drawn with the help of the social media.
Those in power have relied heavily on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Whatsapp to reach out to their people and further their goals. They increasingly utilise these platforms to pass information and promote their policies and programmes. They clearly understood the power of the media and often take advantage of it. Unlike the traditional media channels such as radio, television, newspapers and magazines, the social media require just smartphone and data to function from anywhere in the world. The system is fast, handy, easy, and affordable. The level of penetration and reach is in millions and the impact unimaginably tremendous.
In terms of information, the social media come in as a very handy tool. Unfortunately, for holding the government accountable, revealing the truth, for being an uninhibited channel of mirroring the society and feeding the public with information on topical national issues; the social media users are currently in the bad books of the Nigerian Government which are the reasons why they have put up stances, laws and algorithms to further curtail and minimise the spread of information that don’t suit their needs and wants.
Facebook Nigeria is not just one of the world’s biggest purveyor of information in the group of Google, Twitter, Quora and other major online forums; it is also one of the world’s biggest censors on information and news. The company maintains numerous blacklists that majorly impact on its users, generally without input or authority from any outside advisory group, industry association or government agency.
When Facebook’s employees or algorithms decide to block access to information about a news item, political candidate or business, they usually manipulate the opinions of the outside world, reputations can be ruined and misinformation becomes the order of the day. Because online censorship is entirely unregulated at the moment, victims have little or no recourse when they have been harmed. This phenomenon is what is currently happening in Nigeria today.
Facebook Nigeria is being controlled by an algorithm which has been put in place by the administrators who have been alleged to take their directives straight from the Nigerian Government. These algorithms are being used to censor information, news articles and posts that call out and expose the blatant decay in the Nigerian Government. These algorithms are popular for banning posts, slamming restrictions on pages and blocking numerous accounts according to how they deem it fit. And it should be recalled that these algorithms came into full effect after Mark Zuckerberg’s numerous meetings with the Federal Government of Nigeria in August, 2016.
To the Nigerian Government and these Facebook administrations, it breeds fake news which they claim is worse than corruption. Consequently, there has been this insistence or outright desperation to censor the social media and this slow ploy to strangulate the social media is increasingly worrisome. The social media have been instrumental to entrenching democracy and creating some desired societal changes in today’s world polity. The overall success of the Arab spring in 2010 was credited to the social media majorly Facebook. The social media have influenced electoral, major decisions and numerous historical events in a lot of countries like India, the United States, Denmark, Britain, France and many other countries. In Nigeria, Facebook was instrumental to the regime change in 2015. It was freely deployed to inform, educate, sensitise and flag the lapses of the previous governments by those in opposition then.
The recent #ENDSARS Protest in Nigeria was largely successful with the support of the social media. Most of the truth and facts would not have been easily placed at the public domain without the social media. On or before 2015, the social media were basically responsible to amplify free speech and freedom of information. It is surprising how those in position of authority now – who are beneficiaries of the social media could turn new enemies. They are agitated and have been driving efforts aimed at stifling the social media with a policy, act or law. One will not be mistaken to say that the social media is now seen as the current enemy of the state. The unwanted gad-fly of those in the position of authority.
Before now, the social media especially Facebook and Twitter have been fingered as posing a threat to national security and spreading fake news until their potency for driving change manifested fully during the recent #ENDSARS Protest. This is why the Nigerian Government in a ploy to cover its tracks filled with blatant corruption and misdeeds has teamed up with Facebook to further gag the truth from the general public.
A concerted effort by the government of the day to ensure that the social media are censored is in top gear. In March, a bill for Protection from Internet Falsehood, Manipulation and Other Related Matters sponsored by Senator Mohammed Sani Musa (APC Niger East) suffered a debilitating blow at the Senate public hearing. Among the provisions of the bill is that which provides for a fine of ₦5 million against an offender who fails to comply with an order of police to correct false statement. Another Hate Speech Bill, otherwise called the National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speeches sponsored by Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi (APC Nigeria North) is another effort at muzzling the social media. This bill states that anyone found guilty of hate speech is liable to life imprisonment and if it leads to the death of another, the guilty party should be sentenced to death by hanging.
It is laughable to impose life imprisonment and or death penalty for disseminating fake news while no stringent legislation is contemplated for corruption. The bill was rejected by majority of the stakeholders who saw it as an infringement on human right and a ploy to take away peoples’ freedom of expression.
The National Assembly seem to have succumbed to the wishes of Nigerians but utterances of those in the executive arm point to the contrary. The enormous energy invested by those in position of authority to ensure that the media is boxed into a corner has doubled considerably in recent times. Three television stations namely: AIT, Channels and Arise were fined three million naira each by the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission for airing alleged offensive contents during the #ENDSARS protest. Now, the traditional media platforms are already gagged and living in absolute fear. Psychologically, most media houses have been defeated. They now avoid any content or conversation which could earn them interdiction from government regulators. Their disclaimer of opinions and views of participants before and after interactive programmes and most especially ways and manners moderators control callers on certain topics are pointers to the callous state of fear of government and frustration within the media industry.
At every forum, the minister of Information and culture Lai Mohammed has never failed to tell his audience the dangers social media and damning exposé articles poses to the nation and why they have to be censored. In his recent outing; he made it clear that the nation has no national policy on social media. Therefore, one is expedient now. He saw China as a model for media control and censorship but failed to inform us that the same China beheads any office holder found to be corrupt. These plans by the Nigerian Government are only processes put in place to cover their misdeeds from the outside world and sadly, Facebook has joined in the bandwagon of stifling truthful information.