Great Thoughts on Digital Freedom of Expression, Criminalization of Hate Speech and Fake News in the Face of Nigeria’s Twitter Ban

Great Thoughts on Digital Freedom of Expression, Criminalization of Hate Speech and Fake News in the Face of Nigeria’s Twitter Ban

The day Adam and Eve formed a union. It was the day the world has been created with the various strategies and tactics for initiating, building and maintaining relationships. In the times of Adam and Eve, sophisticated strategies and tactics were not in existence like what the world is witnessing today through technological evolution and revolution.

From the global north to the global south, emerging technologies in the context of social relationships have changed the ways people think, act and react to issues of personal and national importance. The love and hate messages that were spread through indigenous communication channels, with the limited reach and effects, are now being disseminated within seconds and with the high impacts on people, businesses and countries.

In the last decade, Nigeria and other countries in the world have been in dilemma of using and controlling emerging social networking sites, especially those that have been perceived as inimical to peace and unity.

ESP Gains

Nigerians and businesses have deployed and still using SNSs such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, WhatsApp among others. Economically, these sites are assisting businesses and individuals to navigate transaction terrain which was difficult before the creation of the sites. Buying and selling was not easy to do before the 20th century.

Making love and maintaining relationships with family members, relatives and colleagues at workplaces and social gatherings in different locations across the world was the exclusive right of those who can afford to travel to the locations using air, rail and road transport services. The political issues and needs which were basically discussed at town hall or community meetings in the past can now be trashed out within minutes and hours using social media platforms.

On these platforms, people can easily congregate, raise points, discuss them and accept or reject points that are inimical to the growth of everyone. Indeed, social media are giving voice to many irrespective of their age, gender, income and educational status. In the past, traditional media held the power of who should be giving space to express himself. When the power is given, the speaker still doesn’t have exclusive right of making everything he said count because the media still have framing, priming and agenda setting power.

Exhibit 1: Economic Impact of Shutting Down Social Media in a Day [US Dollars]

Source: Netblocks, 2021; Infoprations Analysis, 2021

ESP Losses

Some of the possible losses have been discussed indirectly under the ESP gains. As much as Nigerians want their economic, social and political ecosystems to be simpler and more beneficial using the SNS, they must be ready to accept and form alliances towards eliminating issues with the tendency of destroying personal and national life. From the economic perspective, over the years we have seen how some people and groups deployed the sites to defraud people and businesses.

We have also been awash with information that some people initiated and sustained fake relationships on the platforms, which led to the death of female partners in most cases. We do not also need to be in the United Kingdom, the United States of America or hiring astronomers to know that some people are using the sites to create fake job opportunities, attracting unsuspected job seekers to their den and eventually terminated their life.

As argued earlier, social networking sites, especially Twitter and Facebook have democratized the ways we express our feelings about government activities and political leaders. They have indeed given us the space which was exclusively owned by the traditional media before 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2019 general elections.

In spite of this, the platforms themselves are neither inherently democratic nor nondemocratic, but represent a tool political actors can use for a variety of goals, including, paradoxically, illiberal goals. From the politicians to their social media induced followers, the principles of majoritarian democracy and protection of minority rights are not being followed strictly.

For instance, President Muhammadu Buhari’s tweet on the level of insecurity in the country with the specific reference to how some people and groups are destroying facilities and killing Nigerians in the south-eastern region was deleted by Twitter, citing violation of its policy. The Presidency reacted by banning the operation of the microblogging site in the country.

Freedom of Expression, Criminalization of Hate Speech and Fake News

Instead of seeking information about how the site is aiding fake news and hate speech spread, Nigerians and other nationals have been on why the Nigerian government banned the site. This clearly shows that the World and Nigeria want freedom of expression in the digital space and not really ready for the criminalization of hate speech and fake news on the platform.

“…to defend the territorial integrity of the nation in the meatspace, the cyberspace must be a fair game. it must be seen as a threat, depending on the veracity of the misinformation. It has to be dealt with and managed,” Professor Ndubuisi Ekekwe said in one of his pieces on regulating cyberspace in Nigeria.

From the academic perspective, the argument has been that “state regulation of hate speech presents an opportunity for fostering order, advancing national cohesion, reducing hate speech and promoting inclusive governance for all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion and economic status.”

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