Declaration of fake election results and news are gradually becoming the norm in the country especially when social media become the vehicle for such dissemination. FOLUSO OGUNMODEDE writes on lawyers’ quest for stiffer penalty for masterminds of fake news and declaration of election results on social media and their attendant implications ahead of 2019 elections
“Technology has now taken it to a new perilous level. We now have social media too, much more insidious.Technology has enabled not just the dissemination of false news but severely injurious information is involved,” one said.
“The declaration of results and fake news on the social media is being done with impunity in our country.We need to review some of the regulations to make stiffer rules for implementation to curb this act,’’ another said.
These were some of the views expressed by lawyers and major stakeholders at the weekend on dangers being posed by penchant by some individuals for fake news and the declaration of election results on social media and their implications for next year’s election. This, to them may spell doom for the nation’s democracy, hence the need to tackle it with stiffer penalty became inevitable.
However, the influx of fake news and the declaration of election results before it is officially made public by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) have taken a social toll on the country’s quest for due process and rule of law which are hallmarks of democratic norms.
Although its intendment perhaps may be to sway public opinion or divide people, the Federal Government is fighting tooth and nail to ensure it is tackled head on.
Some 15 months ago, the Federal Government came up with a legal framework to prohibit hate speech, it has not really come up with a law that will criminalize fake news and the declaration of election results on social media.
Apparently worried that fake news is gradually becoming the norm and the declaration of election result before it is officially released by INEC, major stakeholders including lawyers at the weekend pushed for stiffer penalty to curb the menace.
For instance, a former INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, said there was the need for the Federal Government to proffer stiffer laws against declaration of fake election results.
Jega, who made the call in Abuja at an international conference with “Democracy and Disinformation: How Fake News Threatens our Freedom and Democracy in Nigeria,” said that the issue of fake news had become a threat to Nigeria’s democracy and should be immediately curbed.
He said: “The declaration of results and fake news on the social media is being done with impunity in our country. We need to review some of the regulations to make stiffer rules for implementation to curb this act.’’
Jega was echoed by his successor, Prof. Mahmud Yakubu, who admitted that the commission was battling with the issue of fake news, saying that INEC had engaged in voter education to sensitize the electorate to its operations.
Also, the nation’s Chief Justice, Justice Walter Onnoghen (CJN) in far-away Canada, said, “Technology has now taken it to a new perilous level. We now have social media trials too, much more insidious.”
He went on: “Technology has enabled not just the dissemination of false news. Severely injurious information is involved. The degree to which evidence may be manipulated or falsified with audio visual media, is astounding and dangerous. Many a citizen may be condemned, even by cautious courts for his inability to afford what it takes to successfully challenge fabricated evidence. Successfully challenging that in the court of the public is much more herculean.”
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Chief Niyi Akintola, called for the enforcement of existing legislations which had criminalized fake news.
He said: “There are enough laws in our statute books to curb it. The western world has been able to curb the menace of social media through legislations and judicial pronouncements. But our judiciary is yet to rise up to the challenge.
“The general populace has also not been able to fully exploit their rights under the Constitution. As a matter of fact, in one of the international meetings I attended, we learnt that people in the western world were already smiling to the bank and making good money from libel, malicious publications and the rest. So, what we need to do is to enforce existing laws against the menace and it will be curbed.”
To Chief Mike Ahamba (SAN), there was the need to put up legislations to arrest the ugly trend. He added that anyone caught spreading fake news should be prosecuted to serve as a deterrent to others.
“It’s a technology driven affair and we need to find out how other countries, particularly developed ones are tackling the menace. I have been concerned right from time about this social media thing. I have always seen it as a source of problem in the world right from the time it started. My attitude to it is that people should not swallow what they read on social media hook, line and sinker. Each time I read anything on social media, I always wait for a confirmation of it from a reliable medium.
“If people who post fake news are apprehended they should be prosecuted. This will serve as a deterrent to others. It is also not out of place to put up a legislation to curb the menace. This has to be done so as to control access to the social media”, the silk said.
Another Senior Advocate, Mr. Seyi Sowemimo, asked government to come up with appropriate legislation to address the issue.
He said: “Curbing this menace has always been a tough thing to do even in developed countries. But I think we can borrow ideas from some of these countries on how they are tackling the problem. Certainly, there is a need to stop people from spreading fake news.
“I think some regulations need to be put in place to address the issue. This can be done through legislations. However, I don’t know whether we can have such legislations in place between now and when the general election will commence. I am not sure the lawmakers can rise up to such challenge with the prevailing situations. I think they are now more concern about their re-election into the two chambers of the National Assembly than anything else.”
Dr. Biodun Layonu (SAN) noted that the problem was a modern day phenomenon that should be tackled through general education of the citizenry.
Layonu said: “The issue of social media and its ramifications including hate speech and fake news is so entangled and intertwined with free speech and its control in a democratic society.
“Beyond the level of invoking the traditional laws that are in place, I want to suggest, if it is technologically possible, that there should be a general warning on every platforms on the social media that will impress on the people to be wary about the information available to them. I think it’s a matter of general education.
“People need to be circumspect about every news at their disposal whether on the social media or newspapers. It is not all of them that are true. Of course, social media is the most affected. All sorts of things are put there. I think there should be general education for the populace to be wary of some of these things. This is because it is a modern day phenomenon which is very difficult to control.
“The summary of all I am saying is that it is only general education that can help to deal with this menace and not so much legislations because there will be serious problems concerning what represents free speech, hate speech and fake news in a democratic society.”
An Abuja based lawyer and Communication expert, Foluade Ademidotun noted that the issue of fake news had become a threat to Nigeria’s democracy and should be immediately curbed as declaration of results and fake news on the social media was being done with impunity in the country.
Ademidotun said: “If this is not done, there is a tendency that political actors could take advantage of these gaps either to misinform, dis-inform, promote apathy or skew voting choices for the forthcoming elections.”
Another lawyer, Mazi Kingsley Udeaghan, said: “it is an existential threat to world peace. Unfortunately, there is no known universal antidote to the rapidly expanding monstrous firestorm. But nations around the world are responding to the challenge in line with their respective social realities. While some are using technology to counter the spread of fake news, others are using legislation to stem the tide of the poison, yet some others are engaging in massive enlightenment to confront the problem.
“Recently, Germany enforced law that forces social media companies, such as Twitter and Facebook, to promptly remove content from their websites deemed hate speech or fake news, or face fines of up to 50 million euros.
“In Czech Republic, a special task force unit has been established to fight fake news online. In Indonesia, cyber army unit has been established to fight the menace. U.S is considering a comprehensive framework to address the challenge.
“However, it is obvious that one technique is not sufficient to curb the challenge posed by social media, but a combination of many would be very useful.
“Several efforts in the past to regulate the use of social media in Nigeria have failed woefully because of the insincerity of the country’s lawmakers and the fear of gagging free speech. As it is now, Nigeria needs to look inward and sincerely develop a holistic approach to confront this existential threat. Collaboration with reputable online news publishers association like GOCOP and others is a good place to start from.
“Spiral official response to damaging fake news can do the magic of defusing it. Massive enlightenment of citizens on how to identify fake news online and its negative consequences should be considered, while the establishment of a special unit to track the sources of fake news on social media and alert the public is imperative.
“Special laws that accommodate inputs from all patriotic and reputable stakeholders should be enacted and effectively enforced by an independent and impartial body to checkmate the spread of all forms of disinformation.
“Above all, operations of regulatory bodies of the media should be strengthened to effectively enforce the media code of ethics in the country. If this threat is left unchecked in Nigeria before the forthcoming election, then the country should be preparing for its’ doomsday.”
Dr. Istifanus Zakka, a law lecturer said; “In Nigeria, there are several laws made by the lawmakers. However, where we always miss it is the point of implementation of such laws.
“In this particular case, it will constitute a serious threat to our democracy and our unity as a country, if the trend of the fake news is not curbed, especially during the next year’s election.
“In my own opinion, the Federal Government should collaborate with the various bodies responsible for the supervision of media responsible for news dissemination.
“There should be sensitization among managers of news. Also, the mainstream media that are under the control of state or individual owned media should apply courtesy and best international practice on carrying out their work. They should know that it is a social responsibility that should be done well without misleading the public.”
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