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Should Nigerians be excited about an Elon Musk-owned Twitter? [Pulse Editor's Opinion]

The growing concern with a Musk's takeover is, how much freedom is too much?

Elon Musk, Twitter Boss

With the incoming Twitter boss, Elon Musk, emphasizing his freedom of speech agenda, Nigerians should grow concern on the possible impact of more freedom on the socio-political space.

The stifle of speech in the Nigerian society has made Twitter a messiah to the average Nigerian youth; and this perception has further placed the platform on rocky relationship soil with the Nigerian government. So much that President Muhammadu Buhari banned the platform for seven months after they took down his tweet; which was widely absorbed as 'offensive' by Nigerian Tweeps.

The front row billionaire has been open about his preference that Twitter do less to restrict speech that many could perceive as hateful, abusive or dangerous. In a time where the platform is deeply appreciated by its Nigerian audience for taking a solid stand with the EndSARS protest, many anticipate Elon's vision.

But in more narrow (and arguably more accurate) perspective, the dangers Nigerian Tweeps will be exposed to under excessive freedom of speech are in heavy measures. Nigerian Twitter as it is has already been infiltrated with fake news, political opposition strategies and propaganda, cyber bullies and trolls, deep fakes, etc.

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The initial benefits of free speech have become reasons to leave the platform. The growing concern with Elon Musk's take-over is how much freedom is too much?

  1. Increased spread of Fake news and Political Propaganda: Having already a loose hold on speech, Tweeter in Nigeria is exposed to fake news and political propaganda, as many tweeps often fall victim of misinformation. As a platform that has has quick and wide reach, many news agencies have incorporated it as a major distribution channel. For instance, Sahara Reporters has gained much of its audience from consistently tweeting news headlines that evoke emotional responses from citizens. According to a publication by BluePrint, "the way and manner Sahara Reporters is constantly waging wars against those in authority and vilifying them shows that it is the purveyor of fake news and propaganda." Hence, there is clearer perspective and understanding when one comes to know that a major opposition leader of the Buhari-led government, Omoyele Sowore, founded the news agency in 2006.
  2. Resumed spread of anti-COVID-19 vaccine philosophies: Elon's open speech gates will not help the fight of COVID-19. Nigeria still has a large number of citizens, who are not sold to the idea of vaccination against coronavirus. Out of over 200 million people, only 13.3 million have been fully vaccinated. In Jack Dorsey-owned Twitter, anti-vaxxers who pushed fake news about COVID-19 had their posts deleted; a measure in preventing mass misinformation about the deadly virus. Last year, Pastor Chris Okotie told his congregation that those who take the vaccine are in some kind of agreement with Satan. This information was vastly publicised on Twitter as news and opinions. Elon Musk advocates for the spread of these unresearched philosophies and religious criticisms of the vaccine; Hence, making people vulnerable to the scientifically proven dangers of coronavirus.
  3. Increased feuds among persons in the entertainment industry: Celebrity stans and bloggers have built camps on Twitter, to constantly drive traffic numbers and stir tweet-wars among public figures and their fan bases by 'manufacturing gist'. For instance, a Wizkid stan recently photoshopped Black Sherif's story, dissing Davido. This incidence drove up insight numbers and boosted conversations about the personalities involved for the time. An Elon-owned Twitter will create more avenues for deep fakes such as this, and even one that shakes the political space, like the photoshopping of Tinubu's cap on Peter Obi's head.

In our demand for libertes, we must honestly weigh our ability to ethically utilise the freedom given. One way to better our future prospects in conducting ourselves ethically with access to free media, is to kick-start mass sensitization on media literacy and media ethics. Only then can Nigeria truly benefit from Elon Musk's freer speech agenda.

*Pulse Editor's Opinion is the viewpoint of an Editor at Pulse. It does not represent the opinion of the Organisation Pulse.

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