Nigeria is sitting on a keg of gun powder regarding the issue of fake news, Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed has warned.
Mohammed who appeared before the House of Representatives Committee on Information, National Orientation, Ethics and Values to defend the 2021 budget said that the country urgently need to immediately begin to regulate the social media space.
The Minister who was responding to questions from the lawmakers said the next war that will be fought in the country and across the globe may be fought through social media.
But the member representing Amuwo Odofin Federal Constituency of Lagos State, Hon. Emmanuel Egoh Oghene warned against any attempt to shut down the social media in the country, saying the action will be counter-productive and will lead the youths to believe that there was an attempt to truncate democracy in the country.
According to the Minister, the biggest challenge facing the country was the issue of fake news and misinformation, adding that the government identified this since 2017 and decided to launch a national campaign against fake news.
The Minister explained that the government was not seeking to shut down the social media space in the country because “the social media has come to stay”, but to have a social media policy that regulates the social media and check fake news and misinformation.
He said “the biggest challenge facing Nigeria today is fake news and misinformation. Based on that, we dedicated an entire National Council on Information meeting in His to that issue after which we launched a national campaign against fake news in July 2018.
“We said then that the next war will be fought without a shot being fired, but with the use of fake news. We didn’t stop there. We went on a tour of all media houses to solicit their support in the fight against fake news. We launched the campaign to regulate social media which was bitterly contested by the stakeholders.
“We kept saying that if we don’t regulate social media, it will destroy us. Social media and fake news will not destroy Nigeria. In 2017, there was a fake video of the herdsmen and farmers’ crisis. It was a video of what happened in Tanzania and was played in Nigeria as if it was true. In 2017, a very popular entertainer in Nigeria raised a false alarm that students of the College of Education, Gidan Ways, Kaduna state had been murdered.
“There was an almost reprisal only for him to find out that it was not true. In the same 2017, we found out that some of the videos being posted are things that happened in other parts of the world. When there was a problem between South African and Nigeria, they were posting videos of what happened in India and Tanzania to suggest that Nigerians were being roasted alive. That was what led to the reprisals in the malls.
“At every time, the government has continued to draw attention that this is a menace. Unfortunately, it is not happening in Nigeria alone. The University of Ohio conducted research and discovered that Hillary Clinton lost the Presidential election to Trump because of fake news which was promoted by Russia and they worked on three issues. First was that Trump had been endorsed by the Pope. The second was that when she was Secretary of States, she authorized the sale of arms and also that she was a very old person. These three things did a lot to sway the votes.
“We are sitting on a time bomb on this issue of fake news. Unfortunately, we have no national policy on social media and we need one. When we went to China, we could not get google, Facebook, and Instagram. You could not even use your email in China because they made sure it is censored and well regulated.
“In June this year, there was a riot in Ethiopia when a popular musician was killed. What the government did was to shut down social media for two days to bring that riot under control. Bear in Mind that Ethiopia hosts the AU and in office for Africa. But the truth is that the only way to do it was to shut down social media.
“We need technology and resources to dominate our social media. We need a social media policy to determine what can be seen and what cannot be seen.
“The recent #ENDSARS war was fought on social media. They mobilised using social media. The war today revolves around two things. Smartphones and data and these young men don’t even watch television or listen to the radio or read newspapers.
“You will be shocked that when you start arguing with your children, they will be quoting the social media. So, we need a social media policy in Nigeria and we need to empower the various agencies and we need technology to be able to regulate the social media”.
However, while warning against shutting down the social media space in the country, Hon. Oghene said it was wrong to always look at the negative sides of social media at all times without mentioning the good side
He said “talking about the recent looting of COVID-19 items, in some places they will be looting, but nobody will know. The government will not know and the police will not know. But because of social media, people will be posting as it is happening and the government will be able to go there and save lives.