In order to curb the excesses of social media operators and the spread of fake news, stakeholders have called on the Federal Government to come up with legislation and penalties.
They spoke in separate interviews in Lagos on Tuesday on the trending of fake news in the social media, especially during the recent #EndSARS protests in some parts of the country.
Commenting, Mr Timothy Olawale, the Director-General, Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA), said that curbing misinformation and fake news would require the government to come up with legislation and penalties against fake news.
Olawale said that such legislation should be instituted without infringing on the rights of citizens to freedom of speech as guaranteed by the Constitution and other legislation.
He said: “In the Nigerian context, it is important that government continues to be proactive in engaging the citizens at all levels.
“Gaps in honest and transparent communication will naturally be filled by mischievous people in the social media.
“It should be stated that free press is one of the hallmarks of all democracies.
“Thus, while the government cannot stop the social media as done in some countries with dictatorial rulers, it can control fake news and misinformation and reduce the negative effects through legislation that stipulates penalties for fake news peelers.”
The director-general also said that a campaign should be launched to enlighten the citizens on the effects of fake news on social media.
“Social media has come to stay, and globally, the social media platform has become a major influencer of world events, positively and negatively.
“The fundamental issue is that the government must do all it can to gain or regain the trust of the citizens, or else, fake news on social media will continue to thrive.”
Also, a civil society organisation, Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), Lagos State chapter, said social media had played a major role in serving as an agenda-setter for the government at all levels.
Its Chairman, Mr Ehi Omokhuale, said that social media have demerits, which include free-flow of false and unverified information.
“Almost all the pictures and videos of EndSARS Lekki shootings used by domestic and international media were sourced directly or indirectly from the social media.
“The public will resort to speculations, where truth and trust in government had become a challenge.
“This will trickle down to innocent and illiterate minds, such minds resort to sharing information that may begin to damage the credibility of the government.
“Government should erase its huge credibility and trust deficit by being consistently truthful.
“During the protests, the government should have learnt to address little issues before such issues become large.
“The youth constitute about 65 per cent of the country’s total population, most of whom are unemployed, unengaged, frustrated and angry.
“So, the government should not have delayed for so long before responding to youths’ demands.
“It must never take the patience of Nigerian youths for granted,” Omokhuale said.
Also, Tunde Giwa-Daramola, the Commodore of the Nigeria Navy Sailing Club in Ojo, Lagos, said the government needs to come up with regular programmes that would enlighten the people on the negative effect of fake news.
According to Giwa-Daramola, the advent of social media has given birth to pseudo-journalists and content providers who pushed information outside without verifying.
“Media is the cesspool of the Internet. Since its advent, everyone has become pseudo journalist, editor, producer and content creator.
“We have children born into democracy that took the freedom we fought for as nothing.
“It’s one thing to have freedom, it’s another thing handling it properly without infringing on other citizens right,” he said.
Giwa-Daramola urged the National Orientation Agency (NOA) to up its game by sensitising the youth and the old one through various means on the evil of circulating fake news.
“This is where NOA comes in, but they have not lived up to expectations in the sensitisation of youths through seminars, and public enlightenment campaigns of schools on the good and evil of social media,” he said.
In his remarks, Mr Olusesan Olukoya, Project Coordinator of the Centre for Rural Development and Community Transformation (CERUDECT), said that the government and institutions need to get information to people on time.
Olukoya said: “To curtail the circulation of fake news, the government needs to get information across to people on time, they should make people to understand the issues at hand, tell it as it is.
“Institutions should release firsthand information to the populace, teach people to detect which is fake from the truth and individuals should not listen, believe or disseminate fake news as well.”
Contributing, an IT expert, Mr Joseph Bankole, said the government and various institutions had failed in their bid to regulate social media.
“We will continue to have the issue of fake news until the government and institutions such as schools, religious bodies and the civil society work as one.
“All these various bodies are only after what will favour them or promote what they are doing, whether it is right or wrong,” he said.
Bankole, however, urged Nigerians to refrain from circulating information that could jeopardise the unity and peace of the country.