While hate speech is not exclusively a Nigerian problem, the dynamics of how it affects the country cannot be overemphasized. In the last few years, and with the continued flourishing of social media, it has become easier to spread information through to an unprecedented number of people. With this new ability has come the ability to also spread hate speech and fake news – the double-edged sword of misinformation.
From deliberate hate speech to misinformation, tribalism, and ethnicity, online hate speech has taken more than its fair share of victims in Nigeria over the last few years. In a nation fraught with the awareness of social media and its usage, it is a sad reality to say not so many understand how social media hate speech can instigate violence and cause real harm.
What has been done?
The government, through the Senate, considered two harsh bills relating to freedom of expression online, including one which proposes the death penalty for hate speech. In a landmark bill; The proposed National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speech bill, and the Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation and other Related Offences was to give authorities arbitrary powers not only to limit the access of the citizenry to social media but to also shut down the internet in extreme cases.
Critics felt the bill was an infringement on human rights, and some sections seem to not clearly draw the line between criticism and hate speech. Some others felt it was a way to quieten the voice of dissent. Against the many backdrops, the bill didn’t see the light of day.
Knowing that with the non-passage of these bills due to their flawed language, there is no legislation as yet against hate speech, what can be done in the interim?
Awareness and education
Not every user of social media is aware of how their action and inaction can further aid hate speech. Simple things like checking the sources before retweeting or sharing can go a long way. Freedom of expression is important; however, if that expression puts others in harm’s way, it must be checked.
One key area where hate speech emanates from in the country is from the sensitive reporting on the current insecurity. Some media outlets take a ‘us vs. them’ stance, which further engenders hate speech. Inclusive reporting and multicultural awareness can help curb this menace.
Regulating social media legislatively
Yes, social media is one of the last few safe places where people can bare whatever is on their minds. However, if what is on their mind is hate, then we cannot afford to turn a blind eye to that. The government must work to bring about a framework to regulate social media, not to rid it of opinions but to fish out proponents of hate speech.
It is a long fight, it is not that we are at war with one another – we are only warring against hate.
– Adeleke Babatunde