As part of its concerted efforts aimed at ensuring Nigeria realises the full potential of digital media, stakeholders at the recently concluded 2020 Lagos Digital Summit univocally opposed the proposed Social Media Bill based on the freedom of speech impediment that it will occasion while advocating a youth-centric approach to governance and development planning.
At the event themed “Digital Media as a Tool for Nation Building, “experts warned that the perils of clamping down on freedom of expression, particularly in the digital media space, far outweigh the good. They stressed that besides the unwelcome lid it will put on creativity that could stimulate rapid economic growth because the nation has a teeming youth population, it is also the only avenue people participate in the democratic process. The ripple effect of the Act, they maintained, will be a reinforced distrust between the government and the governed.
Speaking as a panelist, renowned actress and social commentator, Kate Henshaw said: “Censoring of the social media space is something I do not support in any way. How then do you want people to speak because it is about the only way they get to express themselves, especially in Nigeria.
Social media is where we all coalesce to air our views on a multiplicity of issues and provide feedback to the government. So, regulating the social media space is suppressive and should be discouraged. It is common knowledge that criticism helps leaders improve and should a leader be averse to it then he/she has no intention to listen to the voice of the people. Moreover, we have the 2015 CyberCrime Act that was conceived for this purpose so there is no justifiable reason for the proposed bill.”
Although the panelists agreed that there is a need to stem the tide of fake news and digital propaganda, they called for a more holistic and far-reaching approach. According to media guru and Communication & Public Relations Manager, Google West Africa, Taiwo Kola-Ogunlade, the onus is both on the government and the citizens to work collaboratively to stop the spread of fake news. He urged the government to embark on a nationwide sensitisation on fake news rather than suppress social media.
Kola-Ogunlade remarked: “Google is one of the organisations at the forefront of the battle against fake news and we have identified five steps to help identify fake news: confirm the broadcaster; read beyond the headline; verify the source; check who else is telling the same story; watch out for the media (picture) that goes with the story.
Meanwhile, other panelists such as Creative Director, Expoze Nigeria, DemolaAdetona and CEO, HumanSquad, Tunde Omotoye credited the government for initiatives such as MarketMoni aimed at the bottom-of-the-pyramid, however, they clamoured for enhanced youth capacity development should Nigeria wish to be in the ranks of the top countries in the world.
The first step, they agreed, is a revamp of the educational curriculum which most believe is not on par with current day realities. They asserted that having an outdated curriculum puts the Nigerian youth at a great disadvantage, therefore, making them work extra hard to reach the levels of their global peers.
The panelists added that technology should be a mainstay in the public educational system, pointing at the valuable school time lost as a result of the rampaging pandemic and how more advanced countries switched to virtual learning. Counties world over are harnessing the potential of their youth and Nigeria must toe the same path.
On his part, Convener, Lagos Digital Summit&Marketing Communications expert, Wale Adetona, affirmed that the adoption of technology is no longer optional for players in the private and public sector particularly because of the emergence of the “Chief Transformator,” COVID-19. Adetona stressed that Nigeria and other African nations need to pay more than lip service to the idea of digital media being a critical tool for governance and a reform catalyst.