The rise in the spread of fake news in Nigeria has been worrisome. Several calls have been made by the federal government to curb this activity as journalists work tediously employing fact check tools to limit the spread.
A bill slated for first reading on November 5 seeks to join the fight against the menace. There are, however, worries that the bill will impede freedom of press and threaten the limitless use of social media.
Titilope Olayemi Fadare brings excerpts of an interview with the sponsor, Senator Mohammed Sani Musa (APC, Niger).
What informed the move to sponsor this bill?
This bill is for patriotic Nigerians who will want to see this country live in peace and look forward to that prosperity that we all desire to have as a country.
Nigeria is not only for government but for every Nigerian working towards moving this country to where it needs to be. You can see America and other advanced countries today, they have been for over hundreds of years.
They have their periods of turmoil and challenges like ours but they have been able to pass through. How did they do it? There were legislations, rule of law, people were adhering to laws and for a country like Nigeria today and with the advent of social media, there is every reason for a country to, as much as possible, focus its attention to see how this new media is tolerated.
I, as an individual, may decide to remain in my room or office and then draft something I know very well is false because I want to hit at someone. I will decide to draft and throw on social media. Waiting few seconds, it’s on there. Before you know it, it has been shared all over. I have a passion for IT and I know what it takes to disseminate information, it is like the speed of light.
Today, you can disseminate information of your president, taking a picture of the president and putting it in a wedding invitation card, giving false information of your president. The office is the highest seat in the land. It is sacrosanct. It is something we cannot see as anyhow information and you think that is just part of freedom of information or there is liberalisation of Social Media so you can do anything. As far as I am concerned, it is wrong.
There was a previous related bill in the 8th Assembly that was condemned and shut down due to objections that it limits press freedom and usage of social media. What is the intent of this bill?
Some journalists will look at it as if we are trying to bring a legislation that will gag the Social Media or right to free press. It is a legislation that will guide how we can tolerate our activities on the social media. False information has been disseminated so many times and they have caused chaos in different parts of the world. See what happened in Rwanda, the xenophobic attacks.
There are so many things that are positive with the Social Media like a young lady that is getting married and she wants the whole world to know her marriage is coming up, she will do it through the Social Media, it is acceptable. You can pass information as long as you are passing your information to the reading public, facts and not creating them.
In Rwanda, it was not through social media, it was a broadcast through the radio. The transmission is within a boundary and it created that kind of problem. Not a situation like ours where you send a simple message and it is read all over the world.
I felt we needed it in this country. If countries like Philippines, Singapore, Italy, Malaysia, Australia, France, Indonesia, Egypt are putting control to prevent the spread of false information, what stops us from doing it? There has never been a time where Nigeria has been very fragile in terms of its unity than this period.
It is not to stop people from going into the internet to do whatever they feel legitimately is okay to do but what we felt is wrong is for you to use the medium to document information that you know is false, just because you want to achieve your desirable interest.
What specifically are the penalties attached in this bill?
If anyone is caught in this kind of situation, you cough out between N150,000 to a maximum imprisonment of three years or both. And if it is a corporate organisation that refused to block that false information despite the fact that they have been alerted by authorities not to disseminate that information for public interest and they still go ahead to do it, refusing to do that blockage will be penalised for between N5 million to N10 million for those organisations.
For example, MTN, Glo, 9 mobile etc., which we use their platform in transmitting these information, if nothing is done, we fine them and you will see that it will be deterrence to others.
Are there any processes to prosecute offenders or seek redress?
If you commit an offence of this nature, and by virtue of what you have committed, the law enforcement agencies will take you to the court. There will be a court process that will prove that you have done something wrong. It will serve as deterrent to others, we should fix certain penalties that when you know you will cough out something, you won’t do it. It is not just anonymously that they will pick you. Also, you can appeal.
This bill, like any other, has the tendency to be abused. Are there any means to address such?
We want to do this very transparently in safeguarding all of us. I felt as a developing nation facing so many challenges that there is no better time than now to regulate this. If advanced countries and those not up to Nigeria are regulating, I don’t see why we should not do it. I know lot of people will abuse it but we also put some clauses to safeguard these abuses.