Public reactions to the planned introduction of the draft code of practice by the federal government to regulate social media in Nigeria have been spontaneous and divergent. Emma Okonji, in this report, captures the views of industry stakeholders
Last week, the Federal Government raised awareness and reactions among Nigerians to its plan to regulate social media when it revealed its intention to publicly present a draft code of practice to regulate social media.
The government, through the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), said it has developed a draft code of practice that would regulate the practice of interactive IT service operations, which includes online business. online on all social media platforms.
According to a Federal Government statement, “The National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), in line with President Muhammadu Buhari’s directive to develop a code of practice for interactive/intermediate IT service platforms Internet (online platforms), together with relevant regulatory agencies and stakeholders, is about to make a public presentation of the draft Code of Practice for Interactive IT Service Platforms / Internet Intermediaries for further review and comment.
Worried about the social media implications it will have, some Nigerians are of the view that the plan could stifle social media interactions in Nigeria if the government has an ulterior motive, while others are of the view that social media regulation will bring sanity. and order in the type of messages people post on social media.
The draft code of practice
The code of practice, according to NITDA, would seek to protect the basic human rights of Nigerians and non-Nigerians living in the country and set out guidelines for interacting in the digital ecosystem. This is in line with the best international practices that can be obtained in democratic countries such as the United States of America, the United Kingdom, the European Union and the United Nations.
The Code of Practice has been developed in collaboration with the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), along with input from interactive IT service platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram , Google, Tik Tok, among others. Other relevant stakeholders with specific knowledge were consulted, such as civil society organizations and expert groups.
Giving details of the draft code of practice, NITDA Director General Inuwa Kashifu Abdullahi said, “The new global reality is that activities carried out on these online platforms exert enormous influence on our society, our social interactions and our economic choices. . Therefore, the Code of Practice is an intervention to recalibrate the relationship of online platforms with Nigerians to maximize mutual benefits for our nation, while promoting a sustainable digital economy.
“Furthermore, the code of practice sets out procedures to protect the safety and well-being of Nigerians while interacting on these platforms. It aims to hold online platforms to account for illegal and harmful content on their platforms. Furthermore, it establishes a strong framework for collaborative efforts to protect Nigerians from harm online, such as hate speech, cyber-harassment, as well as disinformation and/or misinformation.
To ensure compliance with the code of practice, NITDA has called on all Interactive IT Services Platforms/Internet Intermediaries operating in Nigeria to take a closer look at the draft code of practice to ensure compliance.
Speaking on the legal implications of the planned regulation of social media in Nigeria, a telecommunications lawyer, Jiti Ogunye, told THISDAY that such regulation could be constitutional or unconstitutional, depending on what the regulation seeks to address.
According to him, “regulation can take place in a domestic, social, economic, political, formal or informal setting. Regulation is not negative in character or in nature. The media, all over the world, are regulated. For mainstream media, the practice has always been regulated around the world. They must be registered according to the laws of the country, and the activities and content are regulated to avoid defamation of character.
So he said if mainstream media can be regulated, then social media, which is an extension of mainstream media, should be regulated as well. He gave examples where in the United States, its former president, Donald Trump, had his Twitter account suspended due to posts that contradicted the rules and regulations governing Twitter operations in the United States.
He said self-regulation is constitutional if it is sufficient in all circumstances, but argued that self-regulation can be subjective, depending on the platform, since platforms differ in how they operate, but a highlighted the need for uniform regulation on certain social media platforms. .
Ogunye further said that there should be a distinction between regulating the content of the media platform itself and regulating the media platform as a business.
“If a media platform registered in Nigeria and operating in Nigeria and paying taxes in Nigeria decides to extend the media platform to the United States or the United Kingdom, the owners must also register the same media platform in the United States or the United Kingdom. The same goes for foreign media platforms already established in foreign countries that decide to operate in Nigeria. These foreign media platforms must register the business in Nigeria for it to operate freely. The reason for this is that they are in business to make money and as such must be registered and regulated. So there is nothing wrong with regulating the business aspect since it was created to generate revenue and people buy data to patronize the business,” Ogunye said.
Discussing the implications of any regulation having an ulterior motive, Ogunye said it would be unconstitutional if the federal government’s planned regulation of social media involved some form of cover-up, intended to stifle social media in Nigeria. He said if the government’s motive was a fallout from the altercation he had with Twitter last year which led to the suspension of Twitter’s operations in Nigeria, then it would be unconstitutional and could be challenged if the code of practice violated people’s right to freedom of expression. He said it would be inappropriate for the code of practice to operate as the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) sanctions the media at will and enforces certain rules that prohibit the media from carrying out their duties.
“If the motive for the code of practice is to deprive social media of its right to freedom of expression, then it will not be acceptable and Nigerians have a responsibility to discuss the draft code of practice and clarify what their Rights to freedom of speech should be, but if the government insists on the code of practice, against the wishes of Nigerians, then Nigerians have the right to challenge the government in court, have it reviewed and struck down. right to freedom of expression is a fundamental right in Nigeria and it is jealousy guarded by the court in Nigeria.
Telco’s point of view
The President of the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Gbenga Adebayo, while reacting to the planned public presentation of the draft code of practice, told THISDAY that although he has yet to see a copy of the draft code of practice, it would not be out of place for the government to regulate social media, given how most people behave on social media.
“I don’t know what kind of obligation the government can impose on the social media platform that will be able to guide the behavior of users of social media content. So the best way to control user behavior of content is regulation, but if the obligations are preemptive of subscriber behavior, then that will be a challenge,” Adebayo said.
Comparing social media operations in Nigeria with those in other parts of the world, Adebayo said that in the developed countries of the world, there are levels of digital identity, such that people could be traced through any social media platform they belong to, but explained that in Nigeria, digital identity is a challenge, therefore, regulation in Nigeria could help solve some problems online.
The Chairman of the National Association of Telecommunications Subscribers (NATCOMS), Chief Deolu Ogunbanjo, who has also supported social media regulation in Nigeria, said that the proposed regulation of social media by the federal government through a code of practice is a welcome development.
“Twitter has a regional office in Ghana, but it has more followers in Nigeria, but it does not have a regional office in Nigeria and its operations are unregulated in Nigeria, although it is seriously involved in generating money from Nigeria. It is therefore appropriate to regulate his operations in Nigeria because he is doing business in Nigeria and earning money in Nigeria,” Ogunbanjo said.
Since Twitter makes money from Nigeria, it is normal that Nigeria derives economic gains from Twitter also because the company resides in Nigeria, Ogunbanjo added.
Ogunbanjo however cautioned that the draft code of practice must allow for a certain level of freedom of expression as Twitter is a global platform with a global presence, whose operations should not be stifled in Nigeria. He however said that freedom of speech is guaranteed in the Nigerian Constitution, which people can use to defend themselves at any time.
With the various reactions to the planned public presentation of the draft code of practice for the regulation of social media platforms, the government must act with caution to enable freedom of expression on all social media platforms, while having a few more forms of control that will bring sanity to all social media platforms.