Nigerians are just waking up to the reality of how powerful the social media can be, without regulation. In 2015 when Senator Bala ibn NaAllah introduced a bill to prohibit the social media from carrying or publishing falsehood, otherwise known as fake news, it only went as far as second reading before being dumped after public pressure.
In 2019, after it became clearer how dangerous the social media space could be to otherwise good people and even the nation as an entity, in the hands of criminals and mischief makers, another Senator, Muhammed Sani Musa, reintroduced a similar bill titled: “Protection From Internet Falsehood and Manupulations Bill 2019,” that was generally dubbed by activists as Anti-Social Media Bill.
Like the one introduced four years earlier by Senator NaAllah, the “anti-social media bill” also suffered similar fate after some civil society organisations backed by international rights groups made sure that it did not see the light of day.
With these two failed attempts to formally regulate the social media in the country, the coast became clear for mischief makers from the opposition, ethnic jungoists, religious bigots and secsessionists to actively lunch internet war on the federal government, as well as on a section of the country.
Hate speech became the order of the day. So much that otherwise fugitives and some criminal gang leaders became heros overnight, courtesy of the social media and the covert backing they got from highly placed Nigerians, including some states Governors as disclosed by Igboho in an interview.
Thursday’s suspension of President Buhari’s Tweeter account on account of his tweet in a form of warning to troublemakers in the Southeast where some “unknown gunmen” have been unleashing mayhem on citizens, especially non-natives, killing them and destroying their properties, only confirms the fears of the generality of Nigerians that the social media needs to be regulated, after all.
The timely response of the federal government through the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, that activities of Tweeter in Nigeria has been suspended indefinitely is a welcome development. At least it will give the social media platform, time to reassess its biased political intervention in the affairs of foreign countries.
The lack of regulation on the operations of the social media has been the greatest headache to even advanced democracies. In the United States where Tweeter is domiciled, for example, 72 percent of adult Americans surveyed want congress to effect some kind of regulation on them to reduce their excesses.
In fact, the 2020 survey by Pew Reaserch Center revealed that majority of Americans say that the social media companies have too much power and influence in politics and would support some form of regulation.
There is no denying the fact that the social media has great advantages especially to those who otherwise had no voice because of lack of platform, to which Tweeter, Facebook, Instagram and the rest of them provide for free and instant. Yet, the social media is also accessed by criminals and political mischiefnakers whose mere two-line post may easily and indeed have been causing violent crisis with devastating consequence.
It has happened in the US just recently when the Capitol Hill came under seige following an inciting social media post by former President Donald Trump. Here in Nigeria, “unknown gunmen” in the Southeast have also been getting encouragement from the numerous inciting Tweets by their foreign-based leader to rebel against constituted authority and even forced an entire region to observe stay-home action and those who refused to obey were killed. How did Tweeter missed these open development beats me.
I think it is high time the National Assembly takes seriously the need to regulate the social media in this country. It is in the interest of all.
*Iyawa is a former Nigerian ambassador to Mexico