Nick Clegg: Nigeria is Epicenter for Tech Dynamism in Africa

President, Global Affairs at Meta, Nick Clegg, who visited Nigeria last week, spoke about the multinational technology company’s forthcoming monetisation tools that will allow content creators in Nigeria, just like their peers in America, Australia, Canada and South Korea, to make money through advertisement and other features on Facebook and Instagram from June this year. He also spoke about the huge talents in the Nigeria technology ecosystem. Obinna Chima brings the excerpts:

You have been in Nigeria for some days now, what can you say about the country’s tech ecosystem and why are you in Nigeria?

Nigeria and Lagos in particular, is the epicenter for a lot of tech dynamism in the online community and the online economy in Africa. It is also a huge country with 250 million people in a continent which is really going to grow in significance as by the middle of the century. It is estimated that one in four of the workforce across the world will be African. It’s very young population as 70 per cent of the population is below the age of 30 years. I just discovered from countless Nigerian creators, content creators, whether it’s people designing online tools for education, for health, for humor, for cooking for fashion, that our platforms are being used by lots of very inspiring, funny and creative folks particularly here in Lagos, to build their brands and to earn their living. I was very pleased to be able to explain to the creators I met, many of them who got millions of followers, some 10 million, some 12 million, 15 million followers and some even more. These are people who’ve built amazing businesses that soon, in the next few months, they would be able to monetise their work more fully on Facebook and Instagram, which is something they’ve quite rightly been demanding for some time. But look, at the end of the day, we’re a platform, we’re not selling hardware.  We’ve augmented virtual reality, but we’re not principally a phone manufacturer. We’re not like a retailer like Amazon that sends sort of box to your front door. We are an online platform and we enable people not only to express themselves, but also to earn a living on online and of course, our advertising system is entirely oriented to small businesses. We’re a big company, but our business is small business and millions of small businesses, including many here in Nigeria, use our tools to run ads online to reach their customers in a way that in the old days, only big companies with big marketing budgets could do. And this is a very small business oriented economy. So, the final reason why I’m here is that we’ve spent many years investing in the underlying infrastructure to improve connectivity of Nigeria, both internally and with the rest of the world, and we’ve landed not far from here (Lagos), two landing points in Nigeria, for the two Africa subsea cables, which by a long way, are the most powerful subsea cable ever laid. It will have more than two times the capacity of all subsea cables put together. By the way, it will add to the resilience of connectivity in Nigeria. You would have seen the news on the disruptions to subsea cables in the Red Sea, off the coast of Ivory Coast. The way we’ve built our subsea cables to Africa is that it’s sunk by 50 per cent more under the seabed, so it’ll be less susceptible to that disruption, which I think will enhance connectivity. Of course, lots of people I spoke to, whether it was the President, Bola Tinubu; the minister whether it was the Governor of Lagos, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, wanted to also talk about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and how AI is going to affect the Nigerian economy and we are a major player globally in the emerging generative AI economy. But we’re unique in terms of supporting Nigerian creators, developers, researchers and businesses, because we uniquely, certainly amongst the big American platforms, we open source our AI technology, we give it away. We allow people to use it to run on their laptop or desktop for free. And that’s something we’re very proud of.

How will the monetisation for creators work and since you talked about the subsea cables, there is this talk that the capacity of the existing subsea cables is not being fully utilised with current capacity utilisation estimated at about 20 per cent. What is your take on that?

There are two questions and I will take them one by one. Firstly, in terms of global reach of creators, Nigerian creators already have global reach. I was speaking with Brother Shaggi, a Nigerian content creator and he said he was in Dubai recently and suddenly some Indian tourists were screaming his name and wanted to take photograph with him. He’s got huge presence in the United States, the United Kingdom, India and several other countries. So, he’s got that reach already. But what he doesn’t have, which he would soon have is the ability to run advertisements on streams, to run advertisements alongside reels and he doesn’t have the ability to use some of the other monetisation tools on Instagram, Instagram stars, Instagram gifts, that creators do elsewhere in the world and that’s what we would now make available to him. So, he has got the international reach. He is obviously a very successful creator. But what he’s not able to do at the moment is to turn that creative reach into advertisements and other monetisation plays that he can do on Instagram and Facebook. He’s having to basically monetise off the platform. I think he’s got the international reach. That won’t change. What he hasn’t and is missing sort of is the mile, if I could put it like that, it is the monetisation tools, which I very much hope will be available to him very soon. Certainly by June this year at the latest he would have that. On the second question, there’s just so many different components to this puzzle. You know, Nigeria is, in one sense, lucky that it’s got a lot of subsea cables. That’s not the case for other countries in Africa. Clearly it depends slightly country by country. We’ve got 19 landing points to Africa or around the circumference of the continent. There are some countries where it is by far the most significant landing whereas in Nigeria, of course, the two landing points are significant because of the extra capacity they bring. But Nigeria compared to other African countries has got quite a diversity of subsea cable provision already. Look, the issue there is the connectivity from the landing point, inland and between businesses and so on. 

The government as I learnt from my meetings with the President and the minister in Abuja, are trying to find different ways of leveraging external expertise and external capital to increase internal connectivity. That will happen over time and I think the combination and obviously the huge changes in the online world and eruption in synthetic content and generative AI content online will increase capacity. I suspect they will more than fulfill the capacity that is there currently with time. So, I see it more as a time lag if I can put it like that.

In specific terms, how would creators benefit from monetisation and how much more money will they be getting?

It depends on how successfully they are. We are providing people with tools they can use and it is up to them to use them intelligently and it is up to them to use them to maximum commercial effect.

But with some other platforms one can easily calculate it, just like what creators make from streaming and others?

Since we are launching in June, the specifics would be defined. We cannot calculate how much money you make because it depends on the audience and how good you are with it. Absolutely, by time we get to June and when it becomes available they would know. We would obviously work with the creators on all that. They’re super smart as I’ve just discovered, but we will explain to them how the tools work. They can see how other creators deploy them to good effects around the world. Clearly the advertisements and the reels’ adverts are the most powerful monetisation models. But it’s up to the creators to decide how to make best use of those tools. It’s probably best syncs with us and with them. Once again, I say June is the latest time, but I am pushing the team to try and get these available as quickly as possible. Who knows, it might be earlier than June, but certainly by June at the latest you will have it.

Let’s talk about Llama and Open Source and are you engaging communities in Nigeria as well on these tools?

Absolutely. I was just talking to some team here who’ve already used llama, incredibly, cleverly to start recording and developing and running training databases of oral languages which are formally written down to develop the capacity to run them using our AI tools. There was a lady there who’s using some of our AI-related databases to predict where health demand is going to spike and some of those tools also used to plan energy demand because we can we can provide databases on where people are clustered. I think Llama has been downloaded 30 million times so far around the world. It’s an incredibly versatile tool. As you know, it comes in two forms in pre-trained form and a fine-tuned form. We’re working on the next generation llama three which will be much more powerful, much more versatile and I hope will provide many more use cases for educators, researchers and developers.

What are you doing about content moderation in Africa?

Even if we quintuple the number of content moderators, you can’t only use human content moderators. We also rely heavily on automated systems because that is the nature of AI. It just gets better and better. If you look the global prevalence of hate speech on Facebook, it has declined hugely over the last two or three years by 50 to 60 per cent. Now, the prevalence of hate speech is about 0.01 per cent of total Facebook content and that’s principally because of advances in AI. But to your point, of course, we also need content moderators to deal with edge cases, to make adjudications on new escalations and so on and we believe that we meet the very highest standards across the industry of care and support for our content moderators. There is a legal process going on in Kenya, which of course I shouldn’t comment on because it’s subjudice. But I am optimistic and I very much hope that we will be able to continue to work effectively with the highly qualified content moderators in Africa and indeed elsewhere. Actually, generative AI will become an ever more effective tool in triaging content; so that the content that human content moderators see, is the is really the sub-category of a subcategory of content that really needs human adjudication and I’m optimistic that we are making real improvements.

Beyond content moderation and hate speech, how are you dealing with misinformation?

We employ the world’s largest network of independent fact checkers. There’s no other company on the planet that uses as many fact checkers as we do. All our fact checkers are independently verified by the International Fact Checking Network (IFCN). They vet whether a fact checker has the necessary independence and objectivity to be able to carry out the task. Fact checkers as you know are able to look at any content to decide for themselves what they think is a form of misinformation. We have again, an increasingly sophisticated automated system, which NQ’s content, particularly content that we think has signs of misinformation and which our systems believe might go viral. There’s no point us asking fact checkers to look at a piece of content that only three people are going to see. So, we try and orient the channel and funnel the content our fact checkers look at that so that they look at misinformation or potential misinformation which might be seen by large numbers of people and then they are independently able to adjudicate whether it’s false, or partly false or missing context and then depending on that categorisation, we then remove it. Of course we remove contents that are threat to people or poses a threat to people’s safety, but what we do with false information, which is shown by these independent fact checkers to be false is that we demote it, so that it is much lower on your feed. You have to scroll on your feed for a long time to find it and we put a filter on it so you need to double click to see it. And we very clearly say to users that this has been shown by an independent fact checker to be of questionable accuracy or veracity. The names of the fact checkers in Nigeria are Dubawa, Africa check and AFP. These are the three fact checkers in Nigeria which obviously is appropriate for the size of the market. Do they catch every single piece of item? Probably not. But it is by far one of the most sophisticated by any global platform to try and deal with misinformation. We are the only company that has built an independent oversight board, which is independent of us. We have invested over $700 million into a separate Trust which is made up of an independent panel of scholars, juries, Nobel Prize winners, former Heads of Governments, including from Africa, and they have the independent rights to look at contents that we have moderated and they can adjudicate on issues. In addition to that, we are the only company that every 12 weeks, along with our financial results, we publish to explain not only what human beings are seeing on Facebook, but also what contents we act against, even before anyone reports it to us. That is entirely audited by Ernst & Young. With the sheer volume of contents that operates online, you are never going to catch everything just like within every society you cannot eliminate all crimes. But I do think we have made huge strides in recent years to be more transparent about how effective we are and to have great accountability and scrutiny through these independent institutions and of course the use of fact checkers.

While speaking earlier, you talked about the positive sides of the Nigerian tech ecosystem. How do you think the government can harness these talents to help support the country’s advancement?

Obviously, connectivity is a big issue. At the end of the day, each sovereign government in each country needs to decide how they are they connected. I also think getting the right regulation is pretty important. We’ve made no secret of the fact that, for instance, the regulation or legislation, which was introduced a year or two ago, by the Advertising Regulatory Council is slightly ill-fitting in an online environment because it treats online adverts a bit like they’re sort of traditional analogue billboards. 

Advertisers have to basically have each ad pre-vetted, you have to pay a fee to an administration and administration only meets once a month. That’s simply not the way that ads work in the online world. They’re much higher speed, much lower friction, much more inexpensive, which is the whole point of online ads. We just don’t think regulation like that really serves and supports Nigeria’s small and medium sized businesses because they’re the ones who rely on our platform to reach their customers. So, if you have legislation, which is slightly from the analogue world being applied to the digital world, you get this unnecessary friction. That’s an example where I think government could maybe have a rethink about whether the regulation really makes sense and is properly supportive of Nigerian, small and medium sized businesses. So I think that’s an area where political decision makers can make a difference if they wanted to.

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