Hon Babajide Obanikoro who represents the Eti-Osa constituency of Lagos in the House of Representatives, says regulating the social media space in Nigeria is long overdue.
The ‘Protection from falsehoods and manipulation; and other related matters bill 2019’, popularly referred to as anti-social media bill, will punish purveyors of fake news or falsehood with steep fines and jail terms if it becomes law.
The bill, which has generated tons of reactions from social media users and celebrities alike, passed second reading on Wednesday, November 20, 2019, and is one more plenary and executive assent away from becoming an Act of Parliament.
A brainchild of Sen. Mohammed Sani Musa, the bill will also find its way to the House of Representatives at some point and Obanikoro says when that happens, expect him to vote ‘yes.’
The battle against fake news
“The social media bill is necessary”,
Obanikoro said, during an exclusive chat. “If you look at that bill, it’s not asking us not to speak our minds. It’s not telling us not to give information. It’s not telling us not to pass news. What it’s saying is that be accurate with your news; don’t put fake news out there. That is the nutshell of that bill. Let us be guided, is all the bill is asking for.
“What is journalism? Journalism is about hearing both sides of the story and passing out a neutral message so whoever is reading the message can decide for themselves who is right or wrong, or who is at the top or who is at the bottom.
“I’d give you an example. The xenophobic attacks in South Africa. People were bringing up pictures, videos that had nothing to do with the xenophobic attacks and that escalated the whole issue beyond the control of both governments.
“There is a particular video I can’t get out of my head till tomorrow. The incident probably happened in India or Pakistan. People were jumping from a storey building. Now, the way social media tagged it: ‘Oh, buildings of Nigerians being set ablaze and Nigerians are being forced to jump out of these buildings in South Africa. But that was not the case. If buildings were being set ablaze, there would not be set ablaze from the top”.
The lawmaker adds that using social media should come with some responsibility because of its implications for national peace and security.
“We need to regulate this social media space. It’s an opportunity and it’s a powerful tool because if you are using social media, you are deliberate about it. You know what you are doing. You know that this thing is not just going to get to one person, it will get to a lot of people. So, if you are going to put fake news on social media, you should be held responsible for that act because it can lead to anything that will be beyond your own control.
“We have to start somewhere. If people know that what I get on social media if I don’t cross-check before I forward, I will get into trouble that will reduce this era of insanity on social media. And those opposing the bill are those who do this thing of forwarding messages without cross-checking,” Obanikoro says.
Punishing the fake news industry
The bill prescribes a punishment of N300,000 for individuals and up to N10 million for corporate organizations and imprisonment of up to three years or both, for offenders
“It also issues guidelines for internet intermediaries and providers of mass media services and sanctions for offenders,” its sponsor, Musa, says.
The prevalence of fake news in Nigeria’s online space is also a source of concern for President Buhari and his information minister Lai Mohammed.