BY AMOS DUNIA, ABUJA – The Federal Government on Thursday said that for the avoidance of doubt, while it welcomes a robust debate on its determination to regulate “Hate speech and Fake news,” it however declared that criticisms in certain quarters will not stop it from going ahead with efforts to sanitize the social media space.

Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who stated the position of the government when he briefed members of the Guild of Cooperate Online Publishers (GOCOP), in Abuja, said it is the right thing to do in the circumstances.

Mohammed noted that Nigeria is not alone in doing this, adding that countries around the world are as concerned as the federal government and they are equally doing something about the social media.

According to him; “The list is long: Germany, UK, Singapore, China, South Korea, Uganda,

Tanzania, Kenya, Zambia, etc.”

The Federal Government spokesman noted that in recent days, the campaign over “Hate Speech and Fake News” has assumed a heightened dimension, especially after the government announced, on October 29, 2019, its plan to sanitize the social media.

He said the debate has indeed been intense that was generated by the government’s announcement which he said is a welcome development, adding that the announcement has pushed the issue of the social media to the front burner thus the Federal Government can only benefit from such debate.

Mohammed further said; “We have been monitoring the debate. Some analysts and commentators have supported our plan, while others have opposed it.

“An interesting part of the debate has been that even those who oppose the regulation have acknowledged the dangers inherent in the irresponsible use of the social media, especially by anarchists and non-patriots.

“We thank everyone who has spoken out, and we hope the debate will continue.”

The Information minister said that the government has noticed that most of those who are opposed to the planned regulation of the social media have based their argument on two main points, saying; “That the nation already has enough laws to deal with those who are using the social media to purvey fake news and hate speech and,

“That the planned regulation is aimed at stifling free speech and muzzling the media, especially those critical of the Administration

“In the first instance, we have not told anyone how we plan to go about the regulation. This is because this will not be a unilateral process. It will involve all stakeholders coming together to chart the path forward.

“Let me announce here that we have just kick-started the process. We have dispatched letters inviting representatives of the media, civil society, technology and security experts, online publishers, bloggers, relevant agencies of government, etc, for this purpose.”

Mohammed said that in the second instance, there are many options open to the government in regulating the social media.

In his words; “Apart from enacting new laws, we can also leverage on technology, working with the big techies like Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram to check the spread of fake news and hate speech. “It is therefore premature for anyone to say ‘Oh, there are enough laws already to deal with social media deviants’. In essence, the committee we plan to set up will determine the best option for us to use.”

The minister said that the fear of stifling free speech or muzzling the media is totally unfounded, stressing that the government has no such plan.

He further said; “ As we speak, people are on the social media criticizing the Administration. We have no problem with that, because it is part of democracy. People are using the traditional media to criticize the Administration. Why not? This is a democracy and there should be plurality of opinions. But our concern has to do with the abuse of the social media by those who are bent on spreading fake news and hate speech, and the dangers inherent in that for our national peace and unity.

“We have no hidden agenda. As I have said many times, no responsible government will sit by and allow fake news and hate speech to dominate its media space, because of the capacity of this menace to exploit our national fault lines to set us against each other and trigger a national conflagration.”

The Information minister solicited the of members of GOCOP as visible and influential players on the social media, for the National Campaign for Fake News and Hate Speech which the government launched last year.

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