Nigeria's social media bill will obliterate online freedom of expression

29 November 2019

Internet

On November 20, the Protection from Internet Falsehoods and Manipulation of other Related Matters Bill 2019, known as the “social media bill,” sponsored by Senator Mohammed Sani Musa, sailed through a second reading.

The social media bill aims to curb online falsehoods and mis- and disinformation. However, the real intent is not regulation, but rather, the annihilation of online freedom of expression, criminalization of government criticism and legalization of internet shutdowns in Nigeria.

This bill aims to “[prevent] the transmission of false statements or declaration of facts in Nigeria,” according to Section 1a. It will ban the dissemination statements likely to be ”prejudicial” to Nigeria, including subjects like public health, public safety, ”public tranquility or public finances” and Nigeria's ”friendly relations with other countries.”

The bill will also “detect, control and safeguard against coordinated misuse of online accounts and bots,” according to Section 1c. In other words, everything is permissible to monitor and control in the proposed law — under the guise of fighting false information.

The social media bill is omniscient since it will be binding for every Nigerian citizen, regardless of residence or geographic location, as long as the ambiguous “false statement of fact” is transmitted within the country. Section 3a to b(i) of the social media bill states that:

A person must not do any act in or outside Nigeria in order to transmit in Nigeria a statement knowing or having reasons to believe that it is a false statements of fact; and the transmission of the statement in Nigeria is likely to be, prejudicial to the security of Nigeria or any part of Nigeria.

The nebulous “national security” excuse is used to justify the trumping of free expression. But it does not stop there, the Nigerian government is always right and cannot be criticized. According to Section 3b(vi), any statement that diminishes “public confidence in the performance of any duty or function of, in the exercise of any power of the government” is prohibited. Read the full article on Global Voices here.