NIGERIA’S federal government plans to solicit the support of the National Assembly in formulating a national policy on the use of social media in what it describes as a war of the spread of fake mews and misinformation.
Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s information minister, who appeared before the House of Representatives Committee on Information and National Orientation, said that fake news and misinformation are serious and major challenges confronting the nation. Responding to questions from the committee on how fake news and misinformation were used to aggravate the #EndSARS protest and what government can do to forestall re-occurrence, he said action was needed.
According to Alhaji Mohammed, social media is the platform of choice for those who propagate fake news, adding that there is an urgent need for a national policy to curb excesses and misuse. He also underscored the need for deployment of resources to acquire relevant technology that would enable the government to dominate and control the nation’s social media platforms.
Alhaji Mohammed said: “If you go to China, you cannot get Google, Facebook or Instagram but you can only use your email because they have made sure that it is regulated. In June this year, there was a riot in Ethiopia when a popular musician was killed and what Ethiopia did to curtail the crisis that followed was to shut down the social media for two days, even when Ethiopia hosts the African Union.
“We need a social media policy that will regulate what should be said and posted and what should not. We also need technology and resources to dominate our social media space.”
He added that the government foresaw the danger of fake news and hate speech as far back as 2017, pointing out that the farmers-herdsmen clashes of 2017 was largely fuelled by fake videos and pictures that were circulated on social media platforms. Alhaji Mohammed also recalled that in 2017, a popular entertainer raised the false alarm that students of the College of Education in Gidan Waya in Kaduna State were murdered and there was almost a reprisal attack before it was discovered that this was fake news.
“When the problem of xenophobia arose in South Africa, they were posting videos of what happened in India and Tanzania as if it was Nigerians that were being roasted alive. That led to reprisals where malls purportedly belonging to South Africa were attacked.” Alhaji Mohammed added.
He pointed out that the #EndSARS protest was mobilised with the aid of social media while fake news and misinformation were used to fuel the peaceful protest to precipitate chaos. Hon Olusegun Odebunmi, the chairperson of the committee, corroborated the minister that fake videos were used to fuel the peaceful protest and create chaos.
Hon Odebunmi added: “During this protest, particularly at Lekki Toll Gate, I saw a video where a soldier was on a machine gun, firing on as if it was a war zone. The video was presented to the world that the machine gun was facing the peaceful protesters at Lekki but it was later that I knew that it was photoshop.”