Why We Should Resist Regulation Of Social Media


“It is clear from the foregoing that the desperation to ‘regulate’ the social media by the Tinubu administration and its bigwigs is informed, more by personal animus and the quest to get even with traducers, real or imagined, than with altruism or the national interest”.


The omnipresence of the social media is a validation of Marshall McLuhan’s prophecy. The professor and media guru had predicted in the 1960s that the media would become so pervasive and intrusive that it would shrink the world into a “global village”.

Not only has his prophecy come to pass, and in our time, the social media now dominate the communications landscape. Unlike the traditional media – radio, television, newspapers and magazines – the content of social media are largely generated by all comers. Content is no longer refined or modulated. No longer do Editors keep the gates and determine what gets published or broadcast. There are no Reporters who discriminate on what to cover and what to report. There are no Sub-Editors who fit copy into space, who check stories for accuracy, taste, libel/slander and ensure compliance with House Rules/Styles. The content generators or creators in the social media are not professionally trained. Thus, they are not imbued with journalistic cannons. Neither are they invested with the rudiments of reporting or writing. Nor do they defer to such high-minded considerations as social responsibility or the national interest.

Compounding these failings, there are no Ombudsmen to chastise members for not adhering to requirements such as fairness or balance. There are no umbrella organizations to bring members who breach journalistic codes to heel or sanction those who stray. There are no associations, fraternities and guilds that insist on high standards or give out prizes or awards for journalistic excellence. There are no Commissions to sanction practitioners who overreach themselves or show obvious bias or even worse, pander to partisanship.

The content generators in the social media are thus on a roller coaster. They have a field day creating jaundiced materials and half-baked articles which they inflict on their gullible consumers or patrons. Sensation becomes the order of the day. In a society with fault lines of ethnicity and religion, compounded by endemic poverty and a high illiteracy rate, passions can easily be inflamed.

Even developed societies have come to rue the excesses of the social media. During a recent public hearing on Big Tech and the Online Child Sexual Exploitation Crisis, a ranking U.S. Senator, Lindsay Graham, alleged that the Chief Executive Officers of social media companies such as Meta, TikTok, Discord, X etc. had blood on their hands for allowing harmful content which led to a number of suicides and deaths. Non consensual sexually explicit deep fakes of Taylor Swift, the musician, were recently uploaded on X. In the nineteen hours they were on X, they amassed 27million views and 260,000 likes. They were taken down following widespread outrage. With the advent of Artificial Intelligence (AI), worse manipulations are anticipated, hence the determination of Western countries to put guardrails in advance of its prevalence.

There is also a growing concern, if not obsession, with the social media in Nigeria. Unfortunately, ours seems informed, not by the high-minded and altruistic determination to put their operations and practitioners aright or on the high road but merely to scuttle, or if possible, to truncate them out of what seems pure malice and the quest for regime protection.

During the confirmation hearings of the Senate for Ministerial nominees last year, Chief Dele Alake, former Special Adviser to President Tinubu on Media and Publicity, who was widely assumed, would be assigned the Information and Culture portfolio, was strident in arguing that he would regulate the activities of the social media. His argument was that if laws governed the conduct of other facets of society why should social media be exempted? The country was taken aback given his pedigree as the Editor of a defunct national newspaper.

At the recent public presentation of a book entitled: “Nigerian Public Discourse: The Interplay of Empirical Evidence and Hyperbole” written by former Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, the Chief of Staff to President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, argued that: “The social media has become a societal menace and must be regulated. As many people do not understand that once the send button is hit, there is a potential to reach millions of people around the world which is capable of causing a great danger not just in the society but even unintended consequences to the individuals that are receiving information which may include security of life”.

Though Mr. Gbajabiamila was said to represent President Tinubu at the book presentation, he had recently been at the receiving end of allegations leveled against him in the social media. A memo, in which he reportedly informed Betta Edu, the suspended Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation that her request for N3billion from COVID-19 funds had been approved by the President, was leaked and it went viral on social media. To protest his innocence over the leaked memo, Mr. Gbajabiamila had written the Director General of the Department of State Security, Yusuf Magaji Bichi. In the letter dated 9 January 2024, titled: “Request for Investigation of False Allegations and Sustained Campaign of Calumny Against my Person by Unknown Elements”, Mr. Gbajabiamila had written: “Over the past six months, unknown individuals or groups have made a sustained effort using social media to spread unfounded allegations of corruption, malfeasance and abuse of office against my person”.

It is clear from the foregoing that the desperation to “regulate” the social media by the Tinubu administration and its bigwigs is informed, more by personal animus and the quest to get even with traducers, real or imagined, than with altruism or the national interest.

Assuming the fare enlivening the social media, concerning these mandarins of the Tinubu administration, were not indicting or accusatory, and assuming they were showered instead with blandishments or encomiums, would they have clarionly canvassed the regulation of the social media?

This explains why Nigerians must not only be wary but resist any attempts to regulate the social media by the Tinubu administration. A regulation of the social media as contemplated by it will abridge the right of Nigerians to freely express themselves, receive information and impart it. How do we claim we are a democracy when people cannot freely express themselves or canvass positions in an untrammeled and a robust manner?

The case against the regulation of social media on Tinubu’s watch is reinforced and fortified by the administration’s opaqueness and lack of openness on critical issues. Additionally, nearly nothing of substance is known and with certainty about the President’s bona fides by ordinary folks. Compounding this is the undue secretiveness and cageyness of the government. The President’s recent private visit to France, which is still shrouded in mystery and which offends the country’s laws, is a case in point.
Furthermore, a crude “regulation” of the social media promises to shrink opportunities for millions of struggling and hardworking Nigerians. Apart from the fact that not less than 120 million Nigerians use the internet daily, e-commerce has given substantial boost and mileage to small and big businesses in Nigeria. It has been proven, in concrete terms that e-commerce companies have leveraged social media such as X, Instagram, You Tube, WhatsApp and Facebook to market their products and services and to reach wider audiences within and outside the country. Our music and films are making waves due to their access to the social media. In the aftermath of the misguided and vengeful ban on Twitter (now X), by former President Muhammadu Buhari, Nigerians lost N6billion in the first three days of the ban. It is best left to the imagination the colossal sums lost in the full stretch of the ban from 5th June 2021 to 13th January 2022.
This is not to add the fact that government organizations and corporate entities reach stakeholders, quickly and cheaply, on the social media than on other traditional platforms. If the government were savvy, it would have realized that in these straitened times, it needs the social media. They will enable aggrieved Nigerians to ventilate themselves on them, following which the government can address these grievances rather getting them bottled up and eventually spewing them in the form of violence.
The traditional media, which duty, among others, is to hold government to account, are constrained. Their production and operations are outrageously costly as to simply asphyxiate them and render them ineffective. They cannot, therefore, be solely relied upon to discharge their sacred duties.

We must resist any attempt(s) by the Tinubu administration to “regulate” the social media. This is because its quest to do so is informed by the desire to protect the government from public scrutiny and to massage the frail and bloated.

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