Lai Mohammed, the Minister of Information and Culture has stated that there is an urgency to regulate social media in order to checkmate fake news. The Minister told the House Committee on Information, National Ethics, and Values at the defense of the 2021 proposed budget of his ministry that fake news and misinformation poses a great challenge to Nigeria’s existence. He said that the National Council on Information had dedicated its meeting in July to the singular matter.
The minister referred to the #EndSARS protest as an example, stating that it started out on social media. He stated: ‘They mobilized using the social media. The war today revolves around two things. Smartphones and data and these young men don’t even watch television or listen to the radio or read newspapers. We are sitting on a time bomb on this issue of fake news.’
‘Unfortunately, we have no national policy on social media, and we need one. When we went to China, we could not get Google, Facebook and Instagram. You could not even use your email in China because they made sure it is censored and well regulated.’
The minister expressed that the FG’s intention was not to shut down the social media because it had come to stay but there should be a social media policy to help regulate and check fake news and misinformation.
He further stated that if social media was not regulated, it would destroy the country. He cited an incident in 2017 where a fake video of the herdsmen and farmers’ crisis, which was a video of an event in Tanzania that was circulated in Nigeria to heighten the hatred and the clashes in the country.
Mohammed told the legislators ‘In 2017, a very popular entertainer in Nigeria raised the false alarm that students of the College of Education, Gidan Waya in Kaduna State had been murdered. There was an almost reprisal only for him to find out that it was not true.’
‘In the same 2017, we found out that some of the videos being posted are things that happened in other parts of the world. When there was a problem between South Africa and Nigeria, they were posting videos of what happened in India and Tanzania to suggest that Nigerians were being roasted alive. That was what led to the reprisals in the malls.’
He expressed that fake news was a worldwide phenomenon.
‘The University of Ohio conducted research and discovered that Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election to Trump because of fake news which was promoted by Russia and they worked on three issues. First was that Trump had been endorsed by the Pope. The second was that when she was secretary of state, she authorized the sale of arms and also that she was a very old person. These three things did a lot to sway the votes,’ he said.
However, Hon. Emmanuel Oghene, a member of the committee, warned against the move by the government to shut down the social media. He stated that the action will be counter-productive and youths will assume that attempts are being made to truncate democracy.
He further stated that it was wrong to persistently concentrate on the negative sides of the social media without noting the good side.
‘Talking about the recent looting of COVID-19 items, in some places they will be looting, but nobody will know. The government will not know and the police will not know. But because of social media, people will be posting as it is happening and the government will be able to go there and save lives.’
‘There was a time when some boys were digging the road and because of social media, this information came out and the situation was arrested. If there are no social media, that will not happen.’
Hon. Odebunmi Olusegun, the Chairman of the committee, contradicted Lai Mohammed’s example of China, stating that China is a communist country, and Nigeria is a democratic country.
Hon. Odebunmi Olusegun, the Chairman of the committee, said the federal government should find out technology to regulate social media.
‘I don’t want the media to misquote us. Social media has come to stay. What the government should do is to look for technology that will work together with what is in the space. We are not asking the government to stop social media. The most important thing is that government should go and look for the technology to regulate so that you can equally be working within the space,’ he said.
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