NCC: Why govt must prevent misuse of social media

The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has said that the government must at all times ensure responsible usage of social media to forestall communications that could cause social disharmony. The Executive Commissioner, Stakeholder Management (ECSM) of NCC, Adeleke Adewolu, who stated this, added that it would be irresponsible for any government to allow unbridled use of social media to cause chaos and imperil lives and property. On the role of the Commission as the industry regulator in tackling illegal and harmful content on social media platforms, Adeleke said NCC had to opt for “a middle ground that promotes the safe use of digital service platforms without necessarily stifling the exercise of the citizen’s right to free expression as guaranteed in the Nigerian constitution.”

Speaking at a panel session at the 2021 Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association, he explained that on technology platforms, censorship manifests in three scenarios, namely, restriction of person-to-person communications; restriction of Internet access generally; or restriction of access to specific content, which governments find objectionable. In particular, Adewolu declared that the third scenario is globally recognised as the ideal situation because one of the core responsibilities of government (as enshrined in Chapter 2 of the Nigerian Constitution) is to safeguard the lives and property of citizens. This, he said, was pursuant to constitutional provisions such as those in Section 39(3) of the Nigerian 1999 Constitution, as amended, which approves “any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society to prevent the disclosure of information received in confidence, maintaining the authority and independence of courts or regulating telephony, wireless broadcasting, television or the exhibition of cinematograph films.” According to the NCC Commissioner, social media platforms allow instant communications without regard for impact or consequences. He insisted that self-reg-ulation is possible, but “as we have experienced over and over again, an ill-considered post on social media can easily incite unrest and crises.” He bemoaned the fact that leading social media platforms have demonstrated a rather unfortunate reluctance to moderate the use of their platforms for subversion and harm.

“So, we cannot trust them to self-regulate,” he emphasised. According to him, selfregulation has not been very effective, and interestingly, “the largest platforms are global platforms and many of them are protected by their home governments.” For instance, “Sc.230 of US Communications Act provides immunity to firms like Facebook and Google from responsibility for content disseminated on their media, although they still apply fair usage and community rules which enable them to self-regulate. “However, as we saw with the case of former US President Donald Trump – people are often able to disseminate negative content for a while before they are cut off. Mr. Trump had over 87 million followers he engaged directly with,” the ECSM stated.

He cited another recent example when CNN reported that Facebook deliberately failed to curb posts inciting violence in Ethiopia despite the fact that its staff flagged such posts, and that Ethiopia is listed as a high-priority zone, which has been fighting a civil war for the past year. As Adewolu recalled, the UN Secretary-General recently called for the regulation of social media platforms, and even the CEO of Facebook has made similar calls in the past. “So, we cannot wholly depend on self-regulation. And whilst we cannot prevent citizens from freely expressing themselves on these platforms, it would be irresponsible for any government to allow unbridled use of these mediated communications to cause chaos and imperil lives and property. “Government must act to protect social cohesion and national security,” he counselled.

On regulations in the telecoms sector, Adewolu disclosed that the Commission is currently adjusting its regulatory instruments and management tools to ensure regulations are fit for future imperatives of a robust telecoms sector. “In specific terms, we are taking action in the following areas: We are adjusting regulatory instruments and management tools to ensure regulations are fit for the future. “An example is our on-going review of the Telephone Subscriber Registration Regulations to strengthen the framework for digital identity, and the review of the Spectrum Trading Guidelines to ensure more efficient use of spectrum.” Also, the Executive Commissioner said NCC is laying institutional foundations to enable co-operation with other regulatory institutions and international organisations such as the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).




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