We explain what the social media bill is about and why it's generating so much anger in the social media space.
Nigerians on social media have been clamouring against a bill that will regulate the online space in the country should it become law.
What is this bill about and why are young people on social media up in arms against its passage? In the following paragraphs, Pulse will answer your questions in as simple a manner as always.
Don’t get it twisted
For purposes of clarity, it's important to state that there are actually two bills out there agitating the minds of social media users in Nigeria at the moment.
There is the ‘Hate Speech Bill’ and the ‘Social Media Bill’. Both bills are not one and the same, even though they have been conflated in discourses on the internet.
The hate speech bill, otherwise called the ‘Prohibition of Hate Speech Bill’ is being championed by Sen. Sabi Abdullahi (APC, Deputy Chief Whip), while the social media bill, otherwise called the ‘Internet Falsehood and Manipulation Bill’ is the brainchild of Sen. Mohammed Sani Musa.
There are allegations that the bills have been plagiarized from similar pieces of legislation in Singapore and elsewhere, but we'll pass for now.
This explainer dwells on the bill sponsored by Musa (APC, Niger East) and no more.
The social media bill passed the second reading on the floor of the senate on Wednesday, November 20, 2019; which means it’s well on its way to becoming law, seeing as it is only one more reading and assent by the executive, away.
What will this bill achieve if it becomes law?
Musa says his bill will not gag social media users should it become law as is being propagated. He also says his piece of legislation only seeks to check the spread of fake news and falsehood.
He cites the ‘Jubril from Sudan’ saga and tale as one reason why he’s doing this.
According to Musa: “One of the disadvantages of the internet is the spread of falsehood and manipulation of unsuspecting users.
“Today, motivated by geopolitical interest and identity politics, state and non- state actors use the internet to discredit government, misinform people and turn one group against the other.
“The hoax about the demise of President Muhammadu Buhari in London and his purported replacement by one Jubril of Sudan, among others, are things that threaten the peace, security and harmony of our people.”
Musa also lamented that troll or bot accounts have been used to rapidly spread falsehood across Nigeria in a manner that now threatens national security.
If the bill becomes an Act, anyone found guilty will pay a fine of N300,000 and corporate bodies who willfully promote and dispense fake news or falsehood deemed to threaten national security, will pay a fine of N10 million.
“Penalty for defaulters goes up to N300,000 for individuals and up to N10 million for corporate organisations and imprisonment of up to three years or both.
“It also issues guidelines for internet intermediaries and providers of mass media services and sanctions for offenders,” the lawmaker says.
The bill has 36 clauses which we shall carefully explore when the legislation becomes public and is readily available.
Which senators spoke against the bill and which senators are in support?
Senators Ibrahim Gobir, Abba Moro and Elisha Abbo vehemently supported the bill during plenary this week.
Senator Chimaroke Nnamani (Enugu East) was the only senator who opposed the bill on the floor of parliament when it came up for debate.
According to Nnamani, the bill is completely unnecessary because some of its provisions have been taken care of in the Cyber Crime Act signed into law by former President Goodluck Jonathan.
“I not only oppose this bill, I condemn it in its entirety. Based on our constitution, there is freedom of information and freedom of speech.
“There is a Cyber Crime Act that deals with this issue. There are also laws that deal with false information, libel, slander and so on.
“Yes, fake news has done a lot in America and other countries but they have not brought any law to deal with it. I, therefore, oppose this bill,” Nnamani said.
After listening to both sides of the argument, Senate President Ahmad Lawan, put the debate to a voice vote. Majority of the senators went with Musa.
Lawan would then refer the bill to the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Human Rights which will conduct a public hearing with stakeholders and report back after four weeks.
How are Nigerians taking this?
Not very well, as you’d imagine.
Twitter users have published the names and contact details of all 109 senators and legislators are being bombarded with phone calls and email messages from constituents on why the bill shouldn’t be allowed to see the light of day.
Nigeria’s celebrities, influencers and civil society groups have also taken to all social media platforms to rail against lawmakers who are supporting the bill and denounce the piece of legislation as a throwback to the military era.