The Federal Government says it has no intention of shutting down social media. It said its plan is to regulate social media to be responsible and refrain from being purveyor of fake news and hate speech.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, made the clarification on Saturday in Lagos when he inspected the headquarters of The Nation newspaper and TV Continental (TVC) that were attacked during the #EndSARS protest. The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports the minister was accompanied on the inspection by heads of parastatal agencies in his ministry.
Speaking at the premises of The Nation, the minister said the Muhammadu Buhari administration has high regards for freedom of the press.
He said his recent call for the regulation of the excesses of the social media should not be misconstrued for a total ban.
“We did not at any time say that we will shut down the social media “Social media has come to stay and it will be an antithesis to democracy to shut it down because it is the fastest way of disseminating information.
“However, we must regulate social media in a manner that it does not become a purveyor of fake news and hate speech.
‘We will not fold our arms to allow purveyors of fake news and hate speech to use the social media to destabilise the country,” he said. He said some of the owners of social media platforms, including Facebook and WhatsApp, were making attempts to regulate their use because of the danger of fake news. The minister said that government foresaw the danger of fake news and hate speech as far back as 2017.
“We saw as far back as 2017 that the next epidemic that will hit Nigeria and the entire world is fake news and misinformation.
“Based on that, we dedicated an entire National Council on Information meeting in Jos to the issue. “After this, we launched a national campaign on fake news on July 11, 2018, where we stressed that the next war will be fought without a shot being fired but with the use fake news.
“We did not stop there. We went on a tour of all media houses seeking their support against fake news,” he said. On the negative effects of fake news, the minister said the farmers-herdsmen clashes of 2017 was largely fuelled by fake videos and pictures that were circulated on social media platforms. The minister recalled also that in 2017, a popular entertainer raised the false alarm that five students of the College of Education in Gidan Waya in Kaduna State were murdered by herdsmen.
He said there was almost reprisal attack before it was discovered that this was fake news. NAN also recalls that the minister on Oct. 8 had solicited the support of the National Assembly in formulating a national policy on use of social media to control fake news and misinformation.
While defending the 2021 budget proposal of the Information sector of his ministry, the minister had said fake news and misinformation are serious and major challenges confronting the nation. He added that the social media is the platform of choice for those who propagate fake news, adding that there is an urgent need for a national policy to curb excesses and misuse.