One of the issues that have been in contention for a period in the media is the issue of controlling the social media. A social media bill has already been sponsored by Senator Muhammad Sani Musa [APC, Niger East]; already passed its second reading.
According to supporters of the social media bill such as Ibrahim Garba in an article posted on the Daily trust news site “we can’t deny that the use of social media is doing more damage than good to us in the country and it is long overdue to regulate what is called the “the greatest misinformation machine in history”. It may be contestable Garba’s assumption that the social media has done more evil than good in the country; the spread of the misinformation needs to be addressed.
Anti social-media laws supporters however argue what exactly fake news is; for example who gets to decide whether it is fake or not? A clear example is the case of the Lekki shooting of protesters by the army. The army headquarters already labeled the videos as fake news arguing that soldiers were not at the scene of the shooting.
The Lagos battalion command has however come out to say indeed soldiers were at the scene of the shooting while some government official has even gone forward to claim only empty shells were fired at protesters. Also, how exactly does one implicate social media for fake news? Even before the advent of social media fake news was regularly peddled and relished.
How sure are we that our politicians will not start using it to witch hunt one another and even helpless citizens? And are they trying to pass the social media bill to hush Nigerians up? These are questions that continue to linger on and needs to be addressed. However, I believe trying to pass a law to control the social media at this time would be a reckless endeavor for the government because currently the trust level of the citizens towards the government is at its lowest.
In a survey contained in the 20th Edelman Trust Barometer survey report, presented virtually by Jordan Pittenberry , Chief Executive of Edelman Africa, on the Nigerian government remains the least trusted with Nigerians, having no confidence in the ability of current leaders to address the countries challenges meanwhile trust in NGO’s and the media increased according to the supplementary data for Nigeria released.
In light of the criticism faced by the government internally and internationally as a result of its handling of the #EndSars protest coupled with the low trust levels for the government any attempt to pass the bill will be met with a myriad of civil unrest and further protests. There is still need to do something about the amount of fake news, disinformation, and cyber-bullying pervading the social media to prevent as someone predicted the possibility of a civil war starting because of a fake video.
A way out for the government is to embark on rigorous media education. Media education is the process of teaching students to interpret, evaluate and think critically about media systems and the content they produce. It involves careful analysis of media ownership, commercial internet, news coverage, bias and representation. This includes but not limited to examining social media platforms [such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram , Snapchat etc], Internet memes, mobile apps, selfies, television programming, film, news, print, advertising, online advertising, viral video content, public communication, public relations and all forms of popular communication.
This enables people to gain understanding of the communication media used in their society and the way they operate and acquire skills using this media to communicate with others. The government can also continue to set up social media accounts to promptly respond to questions citizens may have. As well as follow conversations on all social media sites and immediately provide evidence to counter and disprove any kind of fake news.
It is paramount the government puts on hold the attempt to pass the bill into law until when the times are better to prevent as I put it earlier a myriad of civil disturbances and protests because after all the voice of the people is the voice of God.