Imagine the three-plus billion people half the entire human race on this planet that log in and depend on the social connectivity outlets for news, waking up in the morning to discover they can no longer access their Emails, Tweeter, Facebook, Instagram and all other social connectivity platforms the chaos that would be created by the vacuum is better not imagined.
Recall the panic created by the 2YK buzz that almost brought the whole world to stand still, this may look like a child’s play considering the irritations that would be created by pulling down, regulating or strangulating the connectivity created by the social media networks.
Before the advent of the Internet that gave rise to social media platforms, the State actors, Big businesses and Cooperate organisations control access, content and the production of ideas.
They, through the ownership of capital and various Laws infringed on the rights of the society to free flow of information and freedom of speech, expression and production of ideas.
When the Internet first made its debut on the scene as a global network the state actors, big businesses and cooperate organisations never anticipated the awesome power the new communication technologies could have on our global interactions.
With the increasing importance attributed to digital technologies, questions have arisen about where digital media fit in the dichotomy between alternative and mainstream media.
First blogs, Twitter and other similar platforms not necessarily created to be information media, increasingly are being used to spread news and information, potentially acting as alternative media as they allow ordinary citizens to bypass the gatekeepers of traditional, mainstream media and share the information and perspectives these citizens deem important.
The Internet provides an alternative space for mobilization through the cultivation of interpersonal networks, collective action towards social change, and making information much readily accessible. Internet platforms allow for the creation of new, alternative communities that can provide a voice for those normally marginalized by the mainstream media.
It also provided for an alternative form of programming, which allows both professionals and amateurs to subvert or evade commercial and political restraints on open access to information technologies.
Lastly, it also breeds a new way of creation and dissemination of knowledge that is different from the top-down manner. It seeks out and encourages the participation of multiple users, fostering forms of collaborative knowledge production.
This became a big challenge to owners of traditional media in two folds. Firstly, how to control the operations of the social media and secondly, how to deal with the dwindling revenue from advertising due to the democratization of access facilitated by the Internet.
To clip the wings of the new platforms they began by popularising the buzz word “fake news” and “hate speech” giving the “dog a bad name” in order to hang it.
Leaders of free world particularly the American Donald Tramp hardly conclude any press conference or political rally without blaming the press as fake news purveyors. He could be right, news whether from the mainstream or social media can not value free.
Other world despotic leaders who normally do not believe in free flow of information and free speech quickly took advantage of the new narratives to muzzle the social media platforms in their countries. Consequently, the social media platforms often always became the easy target for the imposition of governmental control by despots and authoritarian leadership.
The truth is news reporting has changed. It is no longer just reporting what the government did or did not. News reporting has become a collaborative affairs where general public now have a say, access and control over the content of news and production of ideas.
The old order of only the reporters of media houses having their ways has changed. The public now freely engage in the determination of what is news and also have opportunities to report the other side of the news usually unreported by government and cooperate media establishments. The definition of what is “fake and hateful” news or ideas should not be let to politicians to decide.
These are the real salient issues behind the clamour for redefining the usage of the social media not the “hate speech” and fake news being popularised.
Gone are days where the traditional media determines what the public see, hear or read. The monopoly over the content, access and the technology to transmit media contents has been eradicated by the emergence of the internet. Every citizen is now a reporter a media house as long as he has his mobile phone with him. And this what the authorities want to control.
That is why whenever there is slight friction in the society today, the first casualty is always the internet.
It must be noted the social media emerged essentially as a deviant alternative channels of communication because the lager society no longer trust information coming out of the traditional media.
As the society becomes more and more sophisticated they realised the opportunity the Internet offered to them to have their say in global and national discourse a situation hitherto denied the society by the billionaire capitalist owners of the press
The right to free speech, press, hold opinion, assemble enshrined in the declaration of human rights adopted by the most nation-state in their constitutions became an albatross, in dealing with the awesome power of the social media.
As governments of the world are now turning their attention to the activities of the social media various paradigms are being contemplated on how to regulate the Internet and the social media platforms.
In the Western and Eastern Europe countries where this concern is increasingly becoming a major narratives no consensus has so far emerged how to deal with phenomenon.
However Several countries have already passed social media regulations, amongst which are, Germany: On January 1, 2018, regulations went into effect that prompt social media companies to quickly remove “illegal content” within 24 hours of it being uploaded online. Illegal content has been defined as content that ranges from insults of public office to threats of violence. Violators of these regulations could face large fines, upward of €50 million.
In Australia, on April 3, 2019, following the Christchurch massacre, Australia passed laws that punish social media companies for violent posts. The posts must be removed expeditiously, or companies could face fines up to 10% of their annual profit.
In U.K.: On April 8, 2019, the U.K. government announced it would create laws that make the U.K. the safest place in the world to use the internet. These laws would require social media firms to protect users, and the firms would face heavy fines if they failed to do so in all these circumstances none of them proscribed death sentence.
The Nigerian Vice President in a statement by his spokesman, Laolu Akande, on Wednesday disclosed at the BBC Conference on Hate Speech held in Abuja, that “the social media was under multi-jurisdictional regulation, necessitating more collaboration among nations to regulate them.
The Vice President Osinbanjo, called for conventions and agreements between nations to regulate the social media and counter the phenomenon of hate speech.
He said we should be looking at some kinds of conventions; some kind of agreements between countries, between nations that help us to regulate the social media much more effectively,’’
He lamented that a lot of disinformation in the public space at present came from the social media, pointing out that the traditional press was obviously more responsible.
He said “The simple reason why they are more responsible is because there is consequence. It is easier to sue the traditional media. They are bound by local laws and it is much easier to hold them to account”.
He, however, expressed concern that it would be difficult to deal with consequence of infractions associated with the social media without infringing on freedom of information and press freedom.
“So, freedom of the press means my freedom to own a blog, my freedom to disseminate information.
“But the question is: How we regulate that without infringing on these fundamental freedoms?
“I think that at the end of the day it would come to some kind of a balance because, really, it would be impossible to regulate social media without substantially infringing on fundamental right, especially freedom of expression.
There is no way that you can leave that power in the hand of government or the hand of the legislature without your finding some level of overbearing activity on the path of the government or the legislature,” he said.
He also said there was need to interrogate some of the information going into the traditional media, which were also seen in the social media.
He urged the media to go beyond getting two sides of a story to carry out independent investigations to ascertain the facts of every issue before publishing their stories.
“I believe that if governments are proactive, if agencies are proactive, if parastatals are proactive in putting out information in the public space, the chances of fake news gaining ascendancy will be reduced.
“But somebody who wants to misinform, somebody who wants to create confusion, somebody who wants to bring the country down will still go ahead with this type of information, ”
This is how honourable and distinguish we think it should be.
The argument for the creation of laws that would protect the citizens against “fake news and hate speech” may be desirable but it must be done in such a way that it does not negate the provisions of the constitution on free speech or deliberately to muzzle free speech simply because some segment of the society are uncomfortable they would be exposed.
The bizarre social media bill before the Nigerian Senate, proscribing death penalty for “hate speech” is not only barbaric but embarrassing to our image as a nation.
Senator Sabi Abdullahi ought to have known his bill is not distinguished. We, therefore, urge the Senate not to give his bill any recognition to save the country from being laughed at by the civilized world.