…Says It’s Open to Criticism
… Solicits Media Support
By Emmanuel Elebeke
The Federal government says it will leave no stone unturned in the proposed social media regulation law, saying that ‘it is will be premature for anyone to cry over the outcome.
The minister of Information and Culture, Alh. Lai Mohammed stated this on Thursday during a meeting with the members of the Guild of Corporate Online Publishers (GOCOP) in Abuja.
He said there was no need for anyone to worry over the proposed law as the administration is open to criticism and has no plan to muzzle the media, especially those opposed to the administration.
Alh. Mohammed maintained that ‘Those who were opposed to the regulation had acknowledged the dangers inherent in the irresponsible use of social media, especially by anarchists and non-patriots.’’
His words: “I have been meeting with online publishers in Lagos, the latest of which was on Oct. 20th 2019, but this is the first time I will be meeting with online publishers here in Abuja. I do hope we can also institutionalize this meeting.
‘‘We have been monitoring the debate. Some analysts and commentators have supported our plan, while others have opposed it. An interesting part of the debate has been that even those who oppose the regulation have acknowledged the dangers inherent in the irresponsible use of social media, especially by anarchists and non-patriots. We thank everyone who has spoken out, and we hope the debate will continue.
‘‘We have noticed that most of those who are opposed to the planned regulation of the social media have based their argument on two main points: That the nation already has enough laws to deal with those who are using the social media to purvey fake news and hate speech and, that the planned regulation is aimed at stifling free speech and muzzling the media, especially those critical of the Administration.
To allay the fears of stakeholders, the minister said, the ministry had dispatched letters inviting representatives of the media, civil society, technology and security experts, online publishers, bloggers, relevant agencies of government, etc, for this purpose.
‘‘We have not told anyone how we plan to go about the regulation. This is because this will not be a unilateral process. It will involve all stakeholders coming together to chart the path forward. Let me announce here that we have just kick-started the process.
‘‘There are many options open to us in regulating the social media. Apart from enacting new laws, we can also leverage technology, working with big techies like Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, Instagram to check the spread of fake news and hate speech. It is therefore premature for anyone to say ‘Oh, there are enough laws already to deal with social media deviants’. In essence, the committee we plan to set up will determine the best option for us to use.
‘‘The fear of stifling free speech or muzzling the media is totally unfounded. We have no such plan. As we speak, people are on social media criticizing the Administration. We have no problem with that because it is part of democracy. People are using traditional media to criticize the Administration. Why not? This is a democracy and there should be a plurality of opinions. But our concern has to do with the abuse of the social media by those who are bent on
spreading fake news and hate speech, and the dangers inherent in that for our national peace and unity. We have no hidden agenda.
‘‘No responsible government will sit by and allow fake news and hate speech to dominate its media space, because of the capacity of this menace to exploit our national faultlines to set us against each other and trigger a national conflagration.
‘‘While we welcome robust debate on this issue, the criticisms in certain quarters will not stop us from going ahead with our efforts to sanitize the social media space. It is the right thing to do in the circumstances. And we are not alone in doing this. Countries around the world are as concerned as we are, and they are doing something about social media. The list is long: Germany, UK, Singapore, China, South Korea, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Zambia, etc,’’ he added.
He, however, used the opportunity to solicit the support of the social media publishers for the National Campaign for Fake News and Hate Speech.
‘‘In recent days, as you must be aware, the campaign has assumed a heightened dimension, especially after we announced, on Oct. 29th 2019, our plan to sanitize the social media.
‘‘Let me say, straight on, that the intense debate and the debate has indeed been intense – that has been generated by our announcement, is a welcome development. This is because the announcement has pushed the issue of social media to the front burner. We can only benefit
from such debate,’ said Mohammed.