The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed has reiterated the Nigerian government’s stance that it will do everything possible to ensure that the twin evils of fake news and hate speech do not jeopardise the nation’s security.
Making the remark while delivering a lecture with the theme: ‘The Impact of Fake News and Hate Speech on National Security in Nigeria,’ at The National Defence College, Abuja, the Minister noted with regret that social media platforms are now being used to promote subversive and anarchic ideas by the purveyors of fake news and hate speech.
He said the epidemics of fake news mixed with hate speech are a disaster waiting to happen and threats to democracy.
Speaking on the wide reach of social media in news dissemination, the Minister cited an August 2019 Report by Social Media Marketing platform, Hootsuite, which showed that of the 98.39 million Nigerian Internet users then, 54% accessed the Internet on a daily basis while only 12% (24 million) had active Social Media accounts.
Specifically, the InformationMinister highlighted the nexus between fake news/hate speech and national security and the ease at which people can circulate fake news and hate speech thereby putting the lives of the citizens in danger as well as posing a grave threat to the existence of the nation.
“The large population of 24 million people (actually, that number rose to 27 million by January 2020) active on Social Media is a huge market for the communication of ideas on whatever scale. The fact that the Internet is unrestrained and the absence of a policy or Act of Parliament to regulate its use, at least for communication purposes, makes the platforms susceptible to abuse”, the minister added.
To buttress his argument, the Information Minister cited instances of the dangers posed by the dissemination of fake news, according to him, amongst which are the government’s long battle against polio, which he said was dogged by rumours in certain circles in Nigeria that polio vaccines were aimed at depopulating Nigerians, and a 2018 BBC report about farmers-herders clashes in Nigeria, which he said were fuelled by fake news in the Social Media.
He said: “It was convenient for those trying to sow the seed of discord in Nigeria to pick pictures and videos of violence in other climes and rebroadcast them as if they were events taking place in Nigeria. Such videos fuelled reprisals, depending on which side of the divide one was. The people behind the spread of those fake pictures and videos were faceless but driven by dangerous motives.”
Other instances of fake news, according to him, were the reported slaughter of five students of the College of Education in GidanWaya, Kaduna State by Fulani herdsmen in 2016 which featured on the social media handle of an entertainment entrepreneur, a development which the information minister claimed “ inflamed passions and almost caused reprisal attacks in the state,” as well as the circulation of disturbing videos of purported scenes of last year’s xenophobic attacks against Africans in South Africa on the Social Media.
Alhaji Mohammed also expressed grave concern over the effect on hate speech in the run-up to the 2015 and 2019 general elections during which President Buhari was ‘maligned and tagged with all sorts of names just to present him in a bad light’.
The Information Minister noted with regret that the government has not achieved much success in curbing the spread of fake news and Hate speech through social media.
“Despite our best intentions and hard work since we pushed these two issues to the fore in 2017, we have not succeeded in curbing fake news and hate speech. But we have succeeded in bringing both issues to the front burner of national discourse”, he said.
While admitting that the federal government is seriously handicapped in tackling the menace of Social Media, due to its lack of technology to monitor the Social Media and stop the purveyors of fake news and hate speech in their tracks, the minister said the government will not relent in efforts to evolve a national policy on the use of Social Media in the determined bid to curb the excesses and misuse of Social Media.
“There is no doubt that the security and intelligence agencies have a big role to play in stopping the misuse of Social Media. We have best practices from around the world to learn from. China, with about 1.4 billion people, does not allow an unbridled use of Social Media platforms like Facebook, Google or Whatsapp. Many countries have also enacted laws or leveraged on regulation to ensure responsible use of Social Media”.
“The need to act fast is made more urgent by the fact that the extremism being promoted by anti-state groups remains one of the biggest challenges to Nigeria’s national security. Let me quickly state that the veritable tools of choice for extremists to propagate their dangerous and subversive ideas include unrestrained propaganda, fake news and hate speech,” he added.