Protection from Falsehood or Censorship?
The Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation Bill 2019, otherwise known as the Social Media Bill, has a provision that will empower the Nigerian government to unilaterally order the shutdown of the internet if passed into law.
Despite the criticism it attracted when it was first introduced to the upper legislative chamber of the National Assembly, the bill, being pushed by Senator Muhammad Sani Musa (APC-Niger East), on Wednesday, November 20, 2019, passed the second reading with the support of majority of the lawmakers.
The bill if passed into law, police could arrest people whose posts are thought to threaten national security, sway elections or “diminish public confidence” in the government, according to the draft text.
The legislative move comes less than two months after Singapore enacted a similar measure, prompting worries the government could use its newfound power to quash dissent ahead of elections.
People who post content the Asian country considers malicious and damaging to national interests could be sentenced to a decade in prison.
After the law passed this spring, Google said it could also hamper digital innovation.
WHAT IS THE SOCIAL MEDIA BILL ALL ABOUT?
There’s a footnote in the document that reads as follows:
“This Act is to prevent Falsehoods and Manipulations in Internet transmission and correspondences in Nigeria. To suppress falsehoods and manipulations and counter the effects of such communication and transmissions and to sanction offenders with a view to encouraging and enhancing transparency by Social Media Platforms using the internet correspondences.”
Among the bill’s aims and objectives are the following words:
“To prevent the transmission of false statements/declaration of facts in Nigeria and to enable measures to be taken to counter the effects of such transmission; to suppress the financing, promotion and other support of online locations that repeatedly transmit false statements/declaration of facts in Nigeria.”
In simpler language, this is a bill that seeks to check the spread of falsehood, fake news and regulate the social media space as we know it, in defense of national security.
SOME CLAUSES AND PUNISHMENT FOR OFFENDERS.
1. Transmission of false statement of facts
(1) A person must not do any act in or outside Nigeria in order to transmit in Nigeria a statement knowing or having reason to believe that :-
(a) the transmission of the statements in Nigeria is likely to :-
(i) be prejudicial to the security of Nigeria or any part of Nigeria;
(ii) Be prejudicial to public health, public safety, public tranquility or public finances;
(iii) Be prejudicial to the friendly relations of Nigeria with other countries;
(iv) influence the outcome of an election to any office in a general election or a referendum;
(v) incite feelings of enmity, hatred directed to a person or ill‑will between different groups of persons; or
(vi) diminish public confidence in the performance of any duty or function of, or in the exercise of any power by the government.
This clause applies where :-
(a) a person that is an internet intermediary fails to comply with a Part 4 Regulation or Remedial Order; (b) the subject material is being transmitted in Nigeria on an online location; and
(2) Subject to subClause (3), a person who contravenes subClause (1) shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction :- (a) in the case of an individual, to a fine not exceeding N300,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 years or to both; or
(b) in any other case, to a fine not exceeding N10 Million.
(b) Where an inauthentic online account or a bot is used :-
(a) to transmit in Nigeria the statements mentioned in subClause (1); and
(b) for the purpose of accelerating such transmission, the person is guilty of an offence under that subClause, shall be liable on conviction –
(c) in the case of an individual, to a fine not exceeding N300,000 or to imprisonment for a term not
exceeding 3 years or to both.
2. Your internet service provider could also be in trouble
(1) A person must not, whether in or outside Nigeria, make or alter a bot with the intention of :-
(a) transmitting, by means of the bot, a false statements of fact in Nigeria;
or (b) this clause applies where :-
(a) a person that is an internet intermediary fails to comply with a Part 4 Regulation or Remedial Order;
(b) the subject material is being transmitted in Nigeria on an online location; and
(c) the Law Enforcement Department is satisfied that one or more end‑users in Nigeria have used or are using the services of an internet access service provider to access that online location.
(2) Law Enforcement Department may direct the NCC to order the internet access service provider to take reasonable steps to disable access by end‑users in Nigeria to the online location called in this Clause an access blocking order), and the NCC must give the internet access service provider an access blocking order.
(3) An internet access service provider that does not comply with an access blocking order shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding N1 million for each day during any part of which that order is not fully complied with, up to a total of N10 million.
(2) A person who contravenes subClause (1) shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction :-
(a) in the case of an individual, to a fine not exceeding N200,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 years or to both; or
(b) in any other case, to a fine not exceeding N5 million.
The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) in its Monthly Internet Subscribers Data for April posted on its website that Internet users in Nigeria has increased marginally to 119,506,430 million in April 2019. Any of these users could be affected if this bill is enacted.
This article was written by Gloria Favour.