The reintroduction of the “Anti-Social Media Bill” under the guise of ‘Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulations Bill, 2019’ aka “Hate Speech Bill” has been described as an attempt by the lawmakers and government to clamp down on free speech if eventually passed into law.
The Cyber Security Experts Association of Nigeria (CSEAN), who stated this in a statement in Lagos, advised that instead of the Hate Speech Bill, the sponsors and supporters of the bill should make social media companies more accountable.
“It is crystal clear that the sponsors and supporters of this bill are threatened by the digital space and all the freedom it offers to the masses. Historically, Nigerian governments have exercised inordinate power over the media, particularly the so-called “independent media”, in a bid to stifle dissenting voices. We, therefore, call on the Senate to kill this repressive hate speech bill as a matter of urgency and enact laws that will encourage better digital inclusion,” CSEAN said in the statement signed by its President, Remi Afon.
The umbrella body of all cybersecurity experts in Nigeria, argued that Social Media has drastically changed this narrative of a few people having a voice and have empowered the masses by allowing freedom of expression, which can reach millions of people in seconds via a single click of ‘post’ on social media, allowing news that wouldn’t have seen the light of the day due to government clampdown to spread with light speed.
Although the open cyberspace comes with a lot of benefits, there have always been concerns around the misuse of the internet in spreading fake news, propagating hate speech, distribution of materials relating to terrorism, child abuse, cyberbullying, self-harm and suicide.
But, rather than propose a blanket law to silence and intimidate the Nigerian citizens, CSEAN suggested that the National Assembly should propose law to make social media executives personally liable for harmful content distributed on their platforms.
Social Media companies should be mandated to quickly take down offensive posts as soon as they are posted or reported. The government should legislate for a statutory duty of care, monitored by an independent regulator and funded through a levy on social media companies such as Facebook, Google, Twitter and Youtube. The regulator should be given enough power to impose substantial fines against companies that breach their duty of care and to hold individual executives personally liable,” it added.