On Monday, June 13, 2022, the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) published the “Code of Practice for Interactive Computer Service Platforms/Internet Intermediaries”.
The draft which is a result of an active collaboration and consultation involving NITDA, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), the interactive computer Service Platforms active in Nigeria and other relevant stakeholders, was compiled in a bid to safeguard, regulate and protect users against online harm.
This is in line with NITDA’s obligations as enshrined in its 2007 act, which mandates it to facilitate the planning, research, development, standardization, supervision and regulation of information technology practices in the country.
Companies that will be Affected by the New Regulations:
As explained in the draft, the terms “Interactive Computer Service Platforms” and “internet Intermediaries” encapsulates:
- Social media oper
- online discussion forums
- streaming platforms
- electronic medium or site and other similar oriented intermediaries.
What the Draft Entails:
The conditions listed in the draft require the interactive computer service platforms/internet intermediaries to:
- Uphold the laws of the country and work diligently with its law enforcement agencies when asked to.
- Assess every content upon notice to ensure that it poses no threat of harm to users.
- Store each disabled content in accordance with the law.
- Acquaint themselves with the root causes and sources of disinformation and misinformation and the factors facilitating its spread and to work with indigenous organizations to provide effective response.
- Trace, expose, penalize, and close accounts and sources that amplify disinformation and misinformation.
- Provide a round-the-clock channel wherewith authorized government authorities and users can forward complaints and requests.
- Provide complainant with a unique code to track the progress of each complaint and to report these progresses (with evidence) in writing to the affected person(s), etc.
Large service platforms (social media platforms/operators whose users are more than one hundred thousand) are further expected to:
- Be incorporated in Nigeria with a physical contact address within the country.
- Appoint a liaison officer who shall serve as a bridge between the company and the government.
- Provide human supervision that shall review and improve automated tools, etc.
The Pros of Social Media in Nigeria:
Social media has enhanced interpersonal communication across the globe. Now, with a simple flick of one’s finger, one can create, share and access any kind of information they desire. There is no distance that these platforms cannot cover, as long as all the parties involved can access the internet.
According to data provided by Statista, 2021 saw an influx of 43 million social network users in Nigeria; with Whatsapp, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter taking the lead as the most popularly used social networks in the country.
These mediums have been used to make connections, communicate information and grow businesses within and outside the country.
The Cons of Social Media in Nigeria:
While some critics have censured these faults on users who misuse the platforms, others have their fingers pointed at the platforms/intermediaries who have failed to uphold their responsibility to society by allowing and promoting malicious contents on their domain.
During the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic, fake news regarding the state of the virus and its development was dispersed via social media. Fake cures, tips and reports flooded the country’s feed, consequently making it hard to distinguish between real/helpful information and made-up fabrications.
Cases of fraudulent activities conducted through social media have also skyrocketed, thereby tarnishing the country’s reputation and dwindling its chances of growth and development.
The recent tiktok incident which has caused a stir in Kenya is one case scenario that displays how the media sometimes fails to curb misleading and incendiary contents that could lead to mayhem.
Hence, Nigeria is not the only country bent on controlling social media activities within its jurisdiction.
Previous Social Media Regulations in Nigeria:
The recent draft wouldn’t be the first time the Nigerian government has tried to regulate social media activities in the country.
In 2019, an Anti-Social Media Bill originally termed “Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation Bill 2019“, sponsored by Senator Mohammed Sani Musa, was proposed by the Senate in a bid to criminalize the use of social media in driving false and harmful information.
It was opposed by angry citizens and human rights activists who took to the streets with a campaign tagged “Stop the Social Media Bill!”.
Within 24 hours of its inception, over 85,000 signatures were collected in an online petition to overhaul the bill. The bill only made it to the second reading but was never passed as a law.
A bigger blow came in June, 2021 when the Nigerian government, through the office of the Minister of Information and Culture, announced an outright indefinite suspension of Twitter operations in the country.
The ban caused quite a stir as it wasn’t the first time Twitter had wielded such measures in disciplining its users. Neither was the Nation’s Commander in Chief its first reputable victim.
In January of the same year, Former President Donald Trump of the United States of America had been banned for similar misuse of the platform; but the Nigerian Government had taken things a step further by disabling the activities of the social media company all across the country.
It wasn’t until over 6 months later, in the wake of January, 2022, that the ban on Twitter was lifted after the social media company agreed to establish itself as a legal entity within the country and pay an applicable tax to the government.
Other Countries Regulating Social Media Activities:
In October, 2020, the government of Lesotho crafted regulatory guidelines to define how social media platforms are to be used in the country.
Uganda, Burkina Faso and Zimbabwe are also listed as countries that have formulated strict guidelines and laws to keep the operations of interactive computer service platforms on a tight leash.
The Western world isn’t left out as the UK Online Safety Bill, proposed by the House of Commons in May 2021 is a leading example of one of such policies limiting the stretch of freedom enjoyed by social media platforms in the West.
As these new codes sink into the norm of Nigeria’s social media operations, we can only wait to find out what implications these policies will have on the platforms, their users and the entire nation as time goes by.