Today, more than ever, social media allows for liberty among individuals, young and old. Through social media, sharing views and topics of interest has become easier and more seamless.
Social media also allows for commercial activities, helps people build connections with long-lost peers and friends, establish meaningful connections and find great jobs.
As technology is evolving by the day and providing means we only previously imagined, we could say social media is fun, empowering, and rewarding,
However, this does not go without saying that a good tool like this has also been greatly abused. As much as social media helps with communication, business transactions, corporate duties and many more, things like cyberbullying, false news and information, explicit content, fraud and more, are rife on social media platforms.
In a bid to curtail these negative uses of our dear social media, Nigeria has let on the latest move to regulate social media. This is coming a few months after the 7-month ban on Twitter was lifted.
Last week Monday, the official Government body that develops and regulates Information Technology in Nigeria, National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) issued a press release, announcing that it had developed a draft Code of Practice for Interactive Computer Service Platforms/Internet Intermediaries a.k.a. social media platforms, blogs and sites with over 100,000 users.
13th June 2022
National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) Issues a Code of Practice for Interactive Computer Service Platforms/Internet Intermediaries and Conditions for Operating in Nigeria
— NITDA Nigeria (@NITDANigeria) June 13, 2022
It stated: “The new global reality is that the activities conducted on these online platforms wield enormous influence over our society, social interaction, and economic choices.
“Hence, the Code of Practice is an intervention to recalibrate the relationship of Online Platforms with Nigerians in order to maximize mutual benefits for our nation while promoting a sustainable digital economy.”
“Additionally, the Code of Practice sets out procedures to safeguard the security and welfare of Nigerians while interacting on these platforms. It aims to demand accountability from online platforms regarding unlawful and harmful content on their platforms.
“Furthermore, it establishes a robust framework for collaborative efforts to protect Nigerians against online harm, such as hate speech, cyber-bullying, as well as disinformation and/or misinformation,” the Agency added.
According to NITDA, the draft was developed in collaboration with the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC), with input from platforms like Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Google, and TikTok.
The Code is supposedly aimed at “protecting the fundamental human rights of Nigerians and non-Nigerians living in the country, as well as defining guidelines for interacting on the digital ecosystem”.
Here’s what the Code states
NITDA instructs that all Interactive Computer Service Platforms with more than 100,000 users would be required to fulfil certain conditions in order to operate in the country.
While this includes US-based social media platforms, it also includes indigenous sites like Nairaland, blogs like Linda Ikeji, and newsletter platforms like Substack with over 100,000 users.
These platforms would have to register as legal entities with the country’s Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), pay taxes, appoint country representatives, and more notably, “provide information to the Nigerian government on harmful accounts, troll groups, and deleting all information that violates Nigerian law”.
The draft Code is divided into 5 parts, with the first 2 parts laying down the responsibilities of the Interactive Computer Service Platforms, while Part IV—titled “Prohibitions”—lays down orders for the removal of material prohibited by Nigerian law.
According to the draft, “Prohibited Material” includes anything that threatens public interest, order, security, peace and morality—content which must be taken down within 24 hours.
Now let’s look at the pros and cons in the case of the implementation of this Code of Practice.
From the proposed Code of Practice, the good part is that it tries to hold social media platforms accountable for all the information and mechanisms promoted on their platform.
For example, Items 4 and 5 of Part I seek to protect Nigerians from promoting revenge porn and child sexual abuse materials (CSAM), while Item 1 of Part II promotes equal distribution of information for Nigerian users.
This means these platforms won’t allow the promotion of some content that may be harmful to the general public. There might also be a decline in the rate of cyberbullying and spread of false information.
The bad and ugly
Speaking of the cons of regulation of social media in Nigeria, there are few provisions within the draft Code that are in accordance with NITDA’s aim of “protecting the fundamental human rights of Nigerians”.
There are, however, red flags in the draft Code, which unfortunately outweigh the good. The main highlight is how much information it wants to control.
In the draft, the classes of information highlighted are: misinformation, disinformation, harmful content, unlawful content, and prohibited materials.
While unlawful content already has legal backing, the nature of misinformation and harmful content are left to discretion.
Most of its sections state that content posted on social media sites will be subject to Nigerian laws as well as “morality”, and many Nigerians are concerned that this gives the government power to ban any and all content.
As it stands, fingers are crossed on the implementation of this Code of Practice to regulate social media in Nigeria.
Based on a 2021 study which sought to understand the perception of everyday Nigerian social media users towards government regulation of social media, findings indicated that despite respondents’ knowledge of the possible harm associated with the use of an unregulated social media, majority of them (54%) kick against the idea of social media regulation, while a substantial (46%) support the move on the provision that it is not politicized.
From these, for better cooperation by the public, transparency and openness on the part of the government are recommended.