By Nwakaego Alajemba
The twin concepts of fake news and hate speech and how they could undermine national peace and communal cohesion was the fulcrum of a recent social media webinar in Jos, Plateau state.
Organised by the Plateau Social Media Awards (PSMA), the webinar held as part of the pre-award activities to advance advocacy towards a healthy social media space in Nigeria.
The internet offers a mix of opportunities to promote unity, peace and development, said speakers at the webinar. But the web also offers a new enablement to destroy much cherished peaceful co-existence through once inconceivable means and speed. In the age of the new media, fake news and hate speech are manufactured, processed and disseminated at dizzying speed once impossible with traditional media.
For many participants at the Jos forum, there are genuine concerns posed by misuse of social media around the possible threats to national security, diminishing of public confidence in the government, and even libelous defamation of someone’s reputation.
“For a plural society like ours, we must be weary of what use we put the social media largely, because the quantum of hate and divisive, disintegrative posts that populate our social media space is most objectionable, highly condemnable. Though the culprits are mainly our young men and women commonly referred to as keyboard warriors, the adults themselves are not spared of this guilt. Politicians, religious leaders and in some instances even CSOs are complicit,” said Director General of the National Orientation Agency (NOA), Dr. Garba Abari.
For Abari, the “social media is a reality that has come to stay. In fact, it’s what’s going to determine our journey into the future of social and economic development. Unfortunately in many parts of the world, if not perhaps the world over, the social media has been used as purveyor of fake news, hate speech and divisive innuendoes.”
But he assured that the NOA was leveraging the same tool to promote national unity. His words: “We are in the forefront of advocating for the deployment and use of the social media for development in all facets of life.”
For Dr Nentawe Yilwatda Goshwe, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC’s) Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) for Benue State, the fake news or wild spread of conspiracy theories around the 5th Generation (5G) mobile technology only proved the potency of social media as a platform that could be used for very destructive purposes. He said “hose who are in the business of creating phantom illusions and fake stories of an impending end to humanity through the 5G are simply exploiting the knowledge gap that exists in our society.”
In his presentation on ‘The Legal Perspective to Fake News and Hate Speech in the New Media, ’Chief Garba Pwul, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, advised on the need to adopt proactive legal approach to checkmating abuses of social media. He said: “rather than enact a totally new legislation on fake news and hate speech, our existing laws should be improved upon by ensuring that appropriate regulations regarding opening of Facebook, Twitter, Skype, etc. accounts are put in place.”