A Bill seeking measured punishment for falsehood propagated through Social Media platforms has started its journey through the floor of the Nigeria Senate.
If passed, the Bill, tagged ‘Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulations Bill 2019’, will back punishment for individuals or bodies using Social Media platforms to spread falsehood or manipulate Nigerians.
The Bill, which has already passed through its First Reading, was sponsored by Senator Sani Musa representing Niger East Senatorial zone and recommends penalties ranging from a fine of N150,000 to N10 million, plus jail terms, for individual and corporate offenders.
The Bill seeks to ensure that corporate organisations take up the responsibility of blocking false information, failure of which will attract a fine of between N5 million and N10 million, after a prior warning by the regulatory agency.
This step comes just a few days after the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, announced plans by the Federal Government to regulate social media usage.
Speaking on the floor of the Senate, Senator Sani Musa noted that false information being disseminated has caused chaos in different parts of the world. “If countries like the Philippines, Singapore, Italy, Malaysia, Australia, France, Indonesia, Egypt are putting control (measures in place) to prevent the spread of false information, what stops us from doing it?” he queried.
At a media briefing after the Plenary Session, Sen. Musa explained that the move was aimed at guiding social media users and not to gag the media.
Referencing how well the legal process had worked in other climes, he pointed: “Nigeria is not only for the government but for every Nigerian and we must all work towards moving this country to where it needs to be. You can see America and other advanced countries today; they have been together for hundreds of years. They had their period of turmoil and challenges like ours, but they have been able to pass through. How did they do it? There is a rule of law because people are obeying the laws. For a country like Nigeria today and with the advent of social media, there is every reason for a country to as much as possible focus its attention on how this new media is tolerated.”
He is optimistic that the Bill will make it impossible for an individual to sit in his room, compose and post false information just to antagonize someone else.
According to him, journalists should disabuse their minds of the thought that the Bill is anti-press freedom: “I have a passion for IT and I know what it takes to disseminate your information, it is like the speed of light. Some journalists will look at this legislation as if we are trying to bring a law that will gag social media or the right to free press. It is legislation that will guide how we can tolerate our activities on social media.’’