On Monday, 2nd November, 2020, the governors of the northern states of Nigeria, in their meeting held in Kaduna, called for the censorship of social media. This demand came up as a result of the violence, destruction and looting that accompanied the #ENDSARS protest. The governors expressed their displeasure with the way the peaceful protest became violent and how the social media contributed to that. They expressed their fear at the freehand given to people to spread news on social media. They saw social media as an uncontrollable platform, which gives room for malicious agents to spread fake news and cause mayhem. For this, they requested that social media should be censored.
Of course you can imagine the reaction that welcomed this development. Nobody wanted to be curtailed; everyone wanted to be free to go in and out of social media. People reminded the Northern Governors Forum that they should concentrate more on the high level of insecurity in the north and not bother about social media. No one bothered to verify the reason behind the call for censorship; all they cared about is their freedom to use whatever platform they so desired.
Well, we all know that the internet is one place where things can hardly be brought under control. It is easy to upload things into the internet but it is hard to decide the direction it would take. Like the governors said, a lot of fake news is circulated on the internet and most of them are harmful. There have been reports of people being lynched as a result of fake news circulated in the internet. We have also heard of people committing suicide because of same issue. The recent violence that shook Nigeria owes a lot to social media fake news. All these make it valid for the governors to ask for the monitoring and censoring of social media.
But, if you ask me, I will say that the governors did not touch the major problem our societies face. I am not talking about the insecurity and food scarcity this time, but about the scarcity, or rather starvation, of information. Our major problem in the country is that we do not have access to genuine information. People are starved of the right information and so the wrong ones take hold and manipulate them. I will explain this.
People are what they take in – be it food, water, alcohol, information, ideas, opinions, and so on. What you are fed is what you manifest. If you are fed with hate, you manifest hate. If you are fed with love, you show love around. If you have lies fed into you, whatever you do and say will be embedded in lies. So, when the right information gets to you on time, there is every possibility that you will question fake news when they come because they will sound absurd. But when there is scarcity of information, a vacuum is created for fake ones to come in and multiply. This is actually the bane of Nigeria – there is a large vacuum created by lack of proper information.
One thing I have never really understood is why our top government officials hoard information. I mean, there are departments and agencies that are supposed to teach us about government policies and how they can impact our lives positively. What then are they doing if they won’t come out to enlighten people concerning the intentions of the government? How come the government is not open to the citizens? How do they expect people to know the differences between the fake and the genuine information?
All I am trying to say here is that censoring the social media will not prevent the spread of fake news. In fact, it will resurrect a worse demon – radio without battery. When there is no social media for people to verify information, it will be harder to debunk false ones. What Nigerians need right now is transparency of the government and access to detailed news. If something is happening that will benefit every Nigerian, let the dispersal of information reach every nook and cranny of the country. If the government is planning to set up a policy or take an action that will impact directly or indirectly on the citizens, they deserve to know that. Let the government officials do their jobs first before looking for whom to hold responsible for the uncontrolled spread of fake news.