Following the recent ban on Twitter for being a platform where separatists and dissidents flow freely with hate speeches and violence, the Federal Government is now insisting that Twitter must be fully registered and licensed to operate again in Nigeria.
The federal government is equally insisting that the company as well as all other social media platforms must observe all regulations laid down by its regulatory agencies. The Minister of Communication, Lai Mohammed also explained that most of the giant tech companies and social media platforms operating in Nigeria do not pay taxes. That means they would need to start paying tax after registration
As stated in section 54 of the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA), foreign companies that want to engage business in Nigeria must be duly registered and incorporated except the undertakings falls under the purview of Section 56 of the CAMA. This section exempts foreign companies from incorporation subject to the approval of the Secretary to the Government of Federation. Twitter and other social media platforms do not fall under this purview, therefore they need to be registered to be able to operate in the country. These companies have been found wanting in this regard, likewise, they do not have any physical offices in the country.
As a result of non-incorporation, the companies have been evading tax. Meanwhile, the company makes a lot of money regularly from the use of the platform by the Nigerian population. Over 1 million Nigerians are active on Twitter. It was reported that Twitter suffered huge financial losses running into billions after the ban. This is a pointer that the company makes a lot of money from Nigeria every day yet they do not pay tax. Payment of tax by these social media companies will remarkably increase the revenue of the country.
Regulating global social media platforms by the Nigerian government is a welcome measure to curb the excesses of these platforms. No doubt, social media offers a great positive impact. For instance, many businesses use social media to reach existing and prospective clients. Sadly there is also the ugly side of social media. It is due to these negative impacts that the government has made a case for the regulation of their operations.
The uncensored use of social media poses a threat to national cohesion, peace, and stability of any society. Posting hate speeches online is linked to a global increase in the rate of violence such as suicide, mass shootings, and ethnic cleansing.
Nigerians have been using social media to make unguarded public statements, false allegations, promote conspiracy theories, extremist views, and deliberately propagate misinformation to instill fear in the minds of citizens. Social media consistently influences how conflict and violence are perceived and their trajectories.
Critics have accused social media companies of taking little or no responsibility for fomenting division and violence in affected societies via the use of their technologies. Social media which should serve as a space for dialogue has become a tool for warfare. Failure to regulate social media would be like sitting on a time bomb.
It will be an antithesis to democracy to ban social media because it is one of the fastest ways of disseminating information. However, to prevent social media from becoming a purveyor of hate speech and fake news and to quell violence, their excesses must be regulated. In 2017, the government made some moves for the regulation of social media. It was reported that the government foresaw that hate speech and the fake news would be the next epidemic that would hit the nation and the global community. This led to the launch of a national campaign on fake news in July 2018.
In 2017, the farmers-herdsmen clashes were largely fuelled by the circulation of fake videos and pictures on social media platforms. A popular entertainer raised the false alarm on social media that five students of the College of Education in Gidan Waya, Kaduna State were murdered by herdsmen. The consequence of this fake news was a reprisal attack before it was later discovered that this was fake news. This set the precedence for clamour for the formulation of a national policy on the use of social media to control fake news.
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Also, the social media platform has been used to skew Nigeria’s history to promote ethnic violence and national crisis. The EndSARS protests were largely driven by digital campaigns. People were mobilized during this period using social media. The economy of the whole nation was brought to a standstill due to the protest. Today’s war is no longer fought largely with guns but through social media. This can destroy any country if no measures are taken.
Another negative impact of social media is its impact on the decisions and lifestyle of the Nigerian youth. Many young lives have been endangered through the unregulated use of the platforms.
Through social media, there has been crafting and testing out of strange and new lifestyles by the youth. The case of Cynthia Okogozu is a pointer to the dangers of social media. Cynthia became friends with Okwumi Echezona Nwabufor via Facebook and dated his cousin Ezike Ilechukwu Olisaeloka who was introduced to her through the same platform. Okwumi and his cousin offered to sell items to her at cheaper prices compared to the prices she got her goods from the United States. They invited her over to Lagos, picked her up from the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, and drove her to Cosmilla Hotel in Lakeview Estate, Festac Town. There she was drugged, beaten, robbed, raped, and finally strangled to death.
Youths are the predominant users of social media. The EndSARS protest was majorly dominated by the youth who were mobilized through social media platforms. Through social media, the youth have amplified fake news which has threatened the peace of the nation.
Also, the rate of cyberbullying and internet fraud in the country is alarming, a consequence of social media platforms. Many youths have become Yahoo boys and committed so many atrocities through social media.
Youth violence and exposure to the negative aspects of social media must be suppressed and prevented. This can be done through the implementation of workable policies such as the regulation of social media being planned by the Nigerian government.
Also, the negative effects of social media cannot be undermined. At the workplace, the use of social media has made many employees redundant and lose focus, thus, affecting the overall productivity of companies. Workers’ discussions of discriminatory or political remarks on social media accounts have harmed the reputation of so many companies.
Many employees are also known to have used the company’s internet data on YouTube, and to download personal videos. This will always have huge financial implications on the company’s purse.
The Nigeria government needs to be very firm on this new resolve. Regulation of social media is not a new policy in the world. In countries like China, Google, Facebook, Instagram, even e-mail are censored and regulated. Also, Germany can force any social media company to remove posts within a specified time frame. Therefore, regulation of these firms and consistency in enforcement of the policy is the most plausible solution at the moment.