An assessment of the hate speech bill and the fight against misinformation on social media
1.1 BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY
Man has naturally expressed a desire to express himself in things concerning his general well-being and the development of the community in which he finds himself from the beginning of time. Although, as societies evolve, this innermost yearning has more frequently been faced with repressive tendencies in the shape of harsh laws, expulsion, physical torture, and so on meted out by the ruling class, man has remained fearless in his pursuit of free expression of views (Layefa and Johnson, 2016). According to Oloyede (2008), despite the peerless usefulness and unique indispensability of free speech and press freedom to the proper and progressive functioning of society, many repressive and fascist governments, as well as numerous nefarious groups and institutions, and diabolical individuals, continue to harass, maltreat, victimize, terrorize, imprison, and persecute the noble institutions. Indeed, despite the ominous dangling of the sword of repression, torture, and death, among other things, against free speech and free press, man continues unafraid in his pursuit of the same, much to the dismay of opponents of free speech.
Democracy is often regarded as the most popular form of governance on the planet. It is widely regarded as the government of the people, for the people, and by the people. According to Obasanjo and Mabgunje (1992), as cited in Ogah and Ogeyni (2014), democracy as an ideology is the governance philosophy that places a high value on citizens’ basic freedom or fundamental human rights, rule of law, the right to property, the free flow of information, and the right to choose between alternative political positions. Simply defined, democracy is a political system in which the people have sovereignty rather than a tiny clique or oligarchy, and where the rule of law, majority rule, and constitutionalism are essential guiding principles of governance. In this context, Ramaswamy (2007) proposed that democracy meant rule by the people as opposed to rule by one person or a group. He went on to argue that, unlike other systems such as monarchy, dictatorship, or oligarchy, where there is a separation between the ruler and the ruled, it is the people who are both rulers and rule.
Nigeria became a member of the League of Democratic Nations in 1999. One of the defining characteristics of a real democracy is freedom. The ability to be free is most evident in one’s ability to express oneself freely without fear of bodily or psychological repercussions (by the government or otherwise). The boundaries of freedom of expression have grown more pliable. This might be ascribed to globalization, which has physically eliminated all boundaries and is mostly driven by the internet. The internet has revolutionized freedom of expression, which was formerly restricted to the boundaries of television, radio, and print media, among other things. Today, we have social media, which allows individuals or groups to sit in the comfort of their bedrooms or offices and, with the click of a mouse or the tap of a screen, express themselves freely to millions of other users who are not bound by the physically defined borders and boundaries of countries or regions (Joel, 2013).
However, freedom of expression and press is the right to say anything one wants, subject to the repercussions of the law as the case may be; which laws in a constitutional democracy must be fair and fairly justiciable. Thus, liberty or freedom of expression and the press refers to two distinct concepts. These include imposing no previous constraint on publishing and press liberty; this implies putting no prior limit on what to publish or not publish. There should be no prior publication reprimand. Everyone has the freedom to express his or her feelings, facts, information, or publications to the public. To deny this right is to undermine freedom of expression and the press (Joel, 2013).
Nigerians were recently informed that the Senate was considering a highly contentious law. Senator Aliyu Sabin Abdullahi, head of the Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, is the primary proponent of the proposed bill, dubbed the Hate Speech Bill. According to its Senate sponsor, the Hate Speech Bill aims to eradicate hate speech and prevent harassment based on ethnicity, religion, or race, among other things. It imposes harsh punishments for offenses such as ethnic hate. It says that anybody who uses, publishes, presents, produces, plays, furnishes, distributes, and/or directs the performance of any written or visual material that is threatening, abusive, or insulting, or involves the use of threatening, abusive, or insulting language, commits an offense (Punch, 2018).
If that isn’t enough to scare you, the penalty for these offenses include a five-year prison sentence, a N10 million fine, or both. The prescription for the death sentence, if any type of hate speech results in the death of another person, tops it all off (Punch, 2018).
Hate speeches are utterances, written papers, advertorials, musicals, or any other kind of writing meant to criticize an individual, a group – religious, social, political, or business – gender, or race. In certain nations, hate speech can be prosecuted as sedition, incitement to violence, verbal abuse, and other offenses (Fasakin, Oyero, Oyesomi, and Okorie, 2017). According to Ezeibe (2015), hate speech is any statement, gesture, behaviour, writing, or exhibition that might encourage others to violent or prejudiced action. In essence, such remarks deprive others of their dignity.
In general, the definition of hate speech is broad, perhaps include comments that are disparaging to those in authority or minority groups, or degrading to people who are particularly conspicuous in society. During important periods, such as election campaigns, hate speech may be manipulated; accusations of supporting hate speech can be exchanged among political opponents or used by those in power to suppress dissent and criticism (Ezeibe, 2015).
The spreading of hate speech and filthy language is a recent trend in the country’s media misconduct. Indeed, the press fell into the trap of covering hate speech by directly citing from interviews, press releases, advertorials, and, in some cases, claimed internet sources. A case in point is the 2015 general elections, when popular Nigerian media outlets such as AIT, Channels, This Day, Vanguard, and The Nation, among others, were flooded with campaigns by various political parties displaying blatant abuse of the right to free expression, including hate speech and other types of foul language (Olowojolu 2016).
While conventional media continues to combat hate speech, the development of new media has widened the battleground in the hate speech story. Because of its decentralized, anonymous, and participatory nature, new media provides an excellent platform for quickly adapting and spreading diverse statements and harsh language. In Nigeria, the frequency of harsh speech and bad language on social media encroaching on political and national problems, as well as social contact, is growing concerning, particularly on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn. This is due to the fact that it contributes to disaffection among tribes, political classes, and religions, as well as among friends in society (Alakali, Faga and Mbursa, 2017).
While some argue that the desire to criminalize hate speech violates citizens’ rights to free expression protected by the Constitution, others argue that hate speech is not free speech and that criminalizing it would not impinge on citizens’ rights to free expression in any manner. Instead, criminalizing hate speech is more akin to making individuals accountable for freely stated opinions, promoting accountability in communication (Alakali, Faga and Mbursa, 2017). The purpose of this study is to investigate Nigerians’ perceptions of the Hate Speech Bill and its impact on freedom of expression in Nigeria, utilizing inhabitants of Akungba Akoko as a case study.
1.2 STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM
As Adisa (2017) pointed out, social media, unlike conventional media, is recognized to be held to rigors of truth, fact-checking, and fairness, among other things, because of its valued texture in a social fabric. Unfortunately, its salience to societal progress and tranquility has been harmed by profits and illegal perks. Traditional media, as well as social media, are assisting in the propagation of distorted and unsubstantiated speeches coordinated by politicians and friends (Kayambazinthu and Moyo, 2002). There is little question that the resurgence of self-government, as well as increased incidents of racial and religious strife, can all be traced back to the growing epidemic of hate speech and disinformation. These had undoubtedly ingrained certain attitudes and views among Nigerians in a polyglot culture. It is now a worry as to what hate speech and false news imply to Nigerians, as well as who is to blame for the development of hate speech and misinformation in the Nigerian environmental scene. The entire meaning, perception, and impact of hate speech and disinformation on Nigerians’ freedom of expression and association.
1.3 OBJECTIVE OF THE STUDY
The primary aim of this study is to assess the hate speech bill and the fight against misinformation on social media, thus, the following are the specific objectives;
- To ascertain the prevalence of misinformation in Nigeria.
- To determine whether social media has contributed to misinformation in Nigeria.
- To determine if the hate speech bill is strategic enough to curtail the rate of misinformation in Nigeria.
1.4 RESEARCH QUESTIONS
The following questions guide this study;
- What is the prevalence of social media misinformation in Nigeria.
- Does social media contribute to misinformation in Nigeria.
- Is the hate speech bill strategic enough to curtail the rate of social media misinformation in Nigeria.
1.5 SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STUDY
This study will be significant as it will bring to the fore the issue of hate speech and social media misinformation on the subject matter. It will allow for the government to take the necessary steps to curb this act by the media. It will also be an addition to other research works conducted on hate speech bill and provide material for other scholars to further this study.
1.6 SCOPE OF THE STUDY
This study will focus basically on the prevalence of misinformation in Nigeria, and will further determine whether social media has contributed to misinformation in Nigeria. And if the hate speech bill is strategic enough to curtail the rate of misinformation in Nigeria. Hence, the enrolled participant for this study will be obtained mass communication and political science students in University of Lagos.
1.7 LIMITATION OF THE STUDY
This study was limited toUniversity of Lagos. The findings of this study are only applicable to this selected location; however, generalizations can be made as it deals with social media.
1.8 DEFINITION OF TERMS
- HATE SPEECH:Simply refers to anyabusive or threatening speech or writing that expresses prejudice against a particular group, especially on the basis of race, religion, or sexual orientation.
- SOCIAL MEDIA:Websites and applications that enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking.