Posted by Emmanuel Onwubiko | 31 January 2015 | 3,372 times

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I am writing this as one of the most fervent social media enthusiasts and, in fact, I sometimes identify myself as a Facebookist (whatever that means). This is because I spend an average of three hours daily browsing through the Facebook platform, even as my page is most often used for political and human rights debates about Nigeria and the Back Race.

Although by age I am a big brother of the founder of the Facebook, Mr Mark Zuckerberg. But for mother luck, I would have been classified as a member of the analogue club, because Facebook was launched by this young Internet entrepreneur from his Harvard School dormitory room on February 4, 2004. My first encounter with the Internet was long after my high school in 1987. So you can see that I struggled to join the club of social media enthusiasts. And ever since I have no regrets, except for the wrong use to which most of these social media platforms have been put into by religious zealots and political thugs with half baked education or functional mis-education.

Mark Zuckerberg, according to Wikipedia, was born on May 14, 1984. But by the time he began classes in Harvard, he had already achieved a reputation as a “programming prodigy.” It is clear to you now that Zuckerberg is quite a young boy, but he has achieved fame and fortune. In Igbo land, it is said that a child that has washed his hands well will dine with elders.

After establishing my basic qualification and showing you my practical Certificate, so you don't complain that I doctored it, let me proceed to say that I agree with a lot of scholarly conclusions to the effect that the social media has proven itself to be the greatest bastion of free speech on the Internet.

In a website identified as www.dawn.com, a certain scholar wrote: “Governments have usually refrained to interfere in this domain, and until now the arena is marked with a great sense of openness. People express their political and social views publicly and in a rather frank manner. But this fondness for freedom of expression has led to emergence of a disturbing trend, over the years as the line between freedom of speech and hate speech has become blurred.”

“Users online are posting, uploading photos and videos and commenting, without considering how it vilifies other groups or persons,” noted the website.

In the context of our conversations, it is regrettable that the popular social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, among others, have become potent weapons for near diabolical attacks targeted at political opponents, as Nigeria prepares to hold one of the most contentious general elections in over five decades or, indeed, since after Nigeria gained her so-called flag independence from the British overlords in 1960. The 2015 general elections have been turned into a theatre of hate speeches and campaigns coloured in a form that defies logic and common sense. Various politically motivated hate speeches about various candidates – especially the two leading presidential candidates of All Progressives Congress and Peoples Democratic Party – have been bandied. I am sure if experts should collate analyses of contents of the social media this year, Nigeria will rank tops because, arguably, more than 40 million young Nigerians who have since graduated and have no means of livelihood have found solace in the various social media platforms and are busy churning out divergent messages. The use of Hate Speeches in Nigeria, preparatory to the coming general elections, has become notorious to an extent that you would think and feel that sooner, rather than later, Nigeria may witness genocidal killings similar to what occurred in Rwanda some years back, between the Hutus and Tutsis.

What then is hate speech? To find out, I will stay with the website author I earlier mentioned. He has this to say: “Hate speech is communication that denigrates a particular person or a group on the basis of race, colour, ethnicity, gender, disability, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, or other characteristic. It can be in the form of any speech, gesture or conduct; writing, or display and, usually, marks incitement, violence or prejudice against an individual or a group.”

 The Recommendation of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe issued in 1997 covers the internationally accepted definition of the term. Accordingly, the term, Hate Speech, shall be understood as covering “all forms of expression which spread, incite, promote or justify racial hatred; xenophobia, anti-Semitism or other forms of hatred based on intolerance. As a result, it generates stigmas, stereotypes, prejudices and discriminatory practices against those who are constructed as being different.”

He reasoned: “International Law and national legal frameworks both prohibit such speech. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) states that any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.”

The United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), Article 4 also provides for states to declare an offence punishable by law: “All dissemination of ideas based on racial superiority or hatred, incitement to racial discrimination, acts of violence or incitement to such acts against any race or group of persons of another colour or ethnic origin.”

According to this scholarly site, the laws of individual countries most often regulate Internet content. Some countries have imposed codes of conduct on Internet service providers (ISPs), and some service providers have willingly agreed to create their own. Traditionally, content on the Internet was provided by the person or group that created a website, and user contribution was limited. Social media is more dynamic as users provide most of the content and therefore they share its responsibility along with the service provider or the host of the website.

“Most countries have sufficient laws to prohibit hate speech on the Internet and social media but governments rarely intervene except for matters that concern them politically. Hate speech, especially racism on the social media is an often ignored phenomenon. However, the problem is not the law but its implementation.”

The website piece also shows that social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter are open and public fora where users can shoot and upload videos, freely express their views on politics, race, religion and sexuality.

“They can also create pages and groups to join for or against a cause. Hate speech is a very distinguished feature amongst many of these forums. Anyone can create a group that opens up hate against certain religions, sexual preferences, disabilities and racial/ethnic groups. The standards set by these sites and their response to hate speech make for some interesting observations. Content regulation standards are often vague, and vary. It is usually outsourced to low-paid employees of third (party) companies.” Facebook and Twitter have different approaches to content regulation. Twitter, self-described as “the free speech wing of the free speech party,” has largely resisted any restrictions on content by either governments or citizen groups.

In the specific piece under reference, titled Countering Hate Speech on Social Media, the website stated rightly that “content with marks of hate speech will always exist and social media has made it more interactive, which augments chances of direct conflict. There is need to review hate speech legislation. It should be a living, dynamic document that leaves room for refinement and modification over time.”

The human rights group I head, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), has also called on the Nigerian government to consider supporting the calls by some groups for the enactment of a clear-cut legislation stopping hate speeches. It is much more edifying to legislate against use of hate speeches on social media than waste valuable time debating on whether Nigeria should outlaw websites that promote pornographies.

We agree with the administrators of www.dawn.com that the law should also have specific definitions in place for social media, such as regulating abusive and threatening language, or if that language is used to stir hatred against a specific group of people.

The same website writer also quickly observed that this approach of legislating against hate speech will have its limitations, because of the problems with its implementation. The writer stated: “The law may not always be a panacea to hate; neither do I advocate government censorship. In fact, it’s very hard to create a legal prohibition or prescription against the free-flow of information on social media.”

My fear about advocating for an effective legislation against certain contents on the social media is the remote possibility that certain overzealous government officials may take this opportunity to trample on the constitutional human rights that prescribes freedom of speech.

Dan F. Hahn, who edited the scholarly book titled Political Communication: Rhetoric, Government, and Citizens made the following observations, and I share in some of his anxieties:

“Secrecy, surveillance, and lies are the weapons of those who want to exercise arbitrary and unbridled power - the kind of power those who wrote our constitution were attempting to eliminate. Consequently, it is no surprise that there are no constitutional justifications for any of the three.”

He continued: “Their negative effects on our societal dialogue – endangering the free marketplace of ideas, impairing democratic decision-making, interfering with the right to cast an informed vote; letting the government determine the relationship between itself and citizens, holding citizens and their rights in contempt, keeping citizens ignorant, ‘chilling’ our willingness to engage in the activities of citizenship, and destroying our trust in the government – should suggest that their dangers may outweigh their advantages.”

His words: “I’m not sure what you will conclude, of course. But I have come to agree with the former attorney-general of the United States, Ramsey Clark, who said: “If we really want to have democratic institutions … we had better start working awfully hard toward the abolition of secrecy in government.” As a first step, we could follow Justice Hugo Black’s admonition to “not be afraid to be free.”

Finally, I support any legitimate, transparent and open process and mechanism of legislation that will eventually culminate in the making of an effective law against the use of hate speeches on social media. But the provisions must not contradict the constitutional provisions as enshrined in chapter four of the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 (as amended). Anyone who has taken the courage to watch some of the devilish recordings of the dreaded armed Islamic terrorists in North-East Nigeria, which they have posted on the social media of YouTube, will agree with any suggestion that a law be enacted to stop such evil messages from spreading, especially in a fragile society like Nigeria where most people, even with some level of education, have primordial attachments to some religious and ethnically poisonous ideologies.

RIGHTSVIEW appears on Saturdays, in addition to special appearances. The Columnist, popular activist Emmanuel Onwubiko, is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA). Today’s column is adapted from Onwubiko’s speech at a roundtable dialogue by the Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah Center for Faith and Leadership Research (Kukah Centre) on strategies for avoiding the use of hate speech, especially with regard to the 2015 elections.

Source: News Express

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