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Why I support the Senate on “Anti-Social Media” Bill, By Jaafar Jaafar

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Why I support the Senate on “Anti-Social Media” Bill, By Jaafar Jaafar

NEWISSUES, Abuja

The attached screenshot is from the British police – our role model. Despite the presence of “free speech” in the country, they caution social media users that offensive comments would be investigated. But in Nigeria, if a police chief says something similar to this, it will be viewed as a move against “free speech”.

In the UK, and I think all developed countries, if you want to write a petition, you have to swear to an affidavit in court that what you write is true. Upon investigation, if found to be untrue, you will then be charged with perjury – for lying under oath. This appears to be the fear of some people whose trade is merely character assassination.

In Nigeria a petition is synonymous with fiction. All manner of news sites, bloggers and micro bloggers are thriving on spreading falsehood, urban legend, conspiracy theories and other inciting contents.

I read the draft bill to “Prohibit Frivolous Petitions and Other Matters Connected Therewith,” proposed by Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah inside out but the truth of the matter I didn’t see a cause for this wild emotionalism. I’m not a fan of Senator Na’Allah, but as an advocate of gatekeeping in both traditional and new media platforms, I fully subscribe to the message, and dumped the Humpty Dumpty messenger.

We are in dire need sensitization. My pain is to see otherwise enlightened people misinterpreting the bill, joining the frenzy without critically asking themselves why they joined the frenzy.

The traditional media itself is gradually rolling into new media platforms. Owing to the power of mass media message, communication scholars came up with the “hypodermic needle theory” to explain effect. We are today in the age of media convergence, where you can read newspapers, listen to radio and watch the television on ONE gadget!

Hypodermic Needle Theory or Bullet Theory, implies that mass media has “a direct, immediate and powerful effect on its audiences”. To explain how negative effects of mass media message could be curtailed, Kurt Lewin’s gatekeeping theory comes handy. In the prime years of the radio popularization around 40s and 50s, mass media message was seen as a very powerful influence on moulding opinion and behavioral change. If in those days mass media message was seen as a “very powerful influence”, what about today when you have the whole world (smart phone) on your fingertip? From Shekau’s violence-depicting footages, to Nnamdi Kanu’s inciting audio and video clips, to Asari Dokubo’s clips threatening fire and brimstone against the “Gambaris”, down to Femi Fani-Kayode’s daily verbiage against the “Fulani”, Nigeria is at war with itself – due, largely, to the self-rule of social media channels.

Today Nnamdi Kanu’s messages, mainly transmitted on social media, pierce through the hearts of the people of the South East with ease – just like a bullet or hypodermic needle does to a human body.

Gatekeeping starts from the reporting point – something alien to new media citizen journalists. A reporter may file a report, but the editor may drop it perhaps because the content is libellous, slanderous or inciting. But on social media, due to ample latitude provided, we all lack this sense.

I maintained a painful silence in the past few days, boiling in inner consternation. But I must say my mind and make it clear that I am FULLY in support of any move that will sanitize public discourse on social media. You cannot hide in a maze of social media to post all manner of libellous comments without substantiation.

If you think you are NOT posting libellous or inciting materials, I see no cause for ranting or demonstrating against the Senate’s decision.

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