Analogue Solution for Digital Situation

Lai Mohammed

Anthony Kila suggests that the renewed effort to regulate the social media by the Federal Government can only lead to alienation of the youths instead of a culture of dialogue and inclusion

Dear Alhaji Lai Mohammed,

Today’s epistle is addressed to you by virtue of your role as a man of communication, a party leader, a main figure of the current administration and as Minister for Information and Culture. Well Mr. Minister for Information I have some information for you: your recent role as the Chief Campaigner for the regulation of the social media in Nigeria is a bad move.

I say it for the records knowing fully well that you might not heed this unsolicited advice but then and later down the line you will not be able to say that you were not told also so that posterity will not say nobody spoke. The consequences of the desire to regulate the social media space beyond what it is at the moment is easy to see for all discerning minds. It is a move that will further alienate and risk making criminals of majority of our population: The youth; yes, those ones unlucky enough to be stuck in a country where their universities are closed because the government and their lecturers cannot agree that wasting youthful years is an abomination. Shame on the government and shame on we the teachers, all of us.

Alhaji, I am worried about the company of friends and counsellors you keep, anyone of them with the clarity of mind, the courage of voice and your interest at heart should have by now gotten into several heated arguments with you over your role in the pushing for this regulation. It takes very little to see that your role in pushing for this regulation will drastically damage your reputation and even legacy amongst Nigerians at home and abroad as well as in the international community. It is difficult to tell which is worse, their silence or complicity if they are mute or with you or your own stubbornness if they are against it and have warned you against a mistake you are turning into an unforced error. It is enough to remind you here that the attempt to pass this bill generated over 90,000 signatures against it in 24 hours just last year.

The quest to regulate our social media space is at best a product of the desire to curb fake news. The renewed urgency for such desire seems to be as a result of the influence of information during the #Endsars protest. Herein lies the tissues of mistakes.

You are treating an old problem like a new one and you are tempted to apply an inefficient, outdated and unpopular solution to treat it. You are choosing to complicate, dictate and alienate rather than simplify, dialogue and include.

The problem of fake news is as old as humanity itself, they remembered to prohibit it in the Bible and in the Quran, before them, Yoruba philosophers took their time to warn us that a liar is a potential thief. Rumours, misunderstanding, assumptions, speculations and outright lies are spread in bars and salons, mind you they are also rife in churches and mosques. There are more than enough laws for slander, libel and all other forms of defamation and misinformation. All you need is to remind people of the old rule: Thou shall not lie.

I have observed that many of those thinking like you tend to make the case of regulating the social media space based on the postulation that the distribution of fake news via social media makes it peculiar or worse and hence deserves special treatment that will come from a new law. Well, there is no other way to put it but to say you are all wrong. Yes, fake news is bad for all, it can be life threating, it can create chaos and financial distress for many but the way to deal with it is not by bringing a new law. By the way, the mere fact that your reference is China for matters of freedom of expression and communication is rather worrisome.

In dealing with the social media space and the digital affairs in general, the first crucial thing to come to terms with is to understand the limit of restrictions, boundaries and other forms of limitations. The cyber space by its nature is global, flexible, atomised, interactive and with unpredictable reach and consequences but that is its beauty and seeing that as a problem rather than potential is an analogue mindset.

Rather than spend precious time on making laws to regulate, please direct your energy into improving access to the internet in our schools, homes and businesses. Take time to inform government offices and agencies to digitalise their process and reduce their response and delivery time.

To curb fake news, no new law is needed all you need is to educate, enforce and expose.

Your office needs to educate the public and government on the dangers of spreading fake news, you can and should lead the education on the etiquette of sharing information they receive on their phones etc. Let people know it is wrong and can be dangerous to share information from unsure sources. Let us educate people to always ask for who, when and where is information coming from. In fact, let us educate people to know saying “copied as received” is crass.

The existing laws are good enough; work with your colleagues at the bar and on the bench to take seriously and to expedite cases of defamation and misinformation. Enforcement of these laws should be done openly, speedily, convincingly and within the legal tenets of the land.

Rather trying to gag, it is enough and more efficient to expose those that fabricate and distribute false news. A good exercise would be to ask all to denounce and expose anyone that send false news and the let existing law of “Thou shall not lie” be used against liars. All liars must be prosecuted though, be it government or private liars.

Prof Kila, Centre Director at CIAPS Lagos can be reached at @anthonykila