An Assessment Of The Hate Speech Bill And The Fight Against Misinformation On Social Media

Project and Seminar Material for Mass Communication

An Assessment Of The Hate Speech Bill And The Fight Against Misinformation On Social Media


Abstract


From primordial epoch, man has instinctively displayed a desire to express himself in matters that concern his general welfare and the development of the society he finds himself. In this study, our focus was on an assessment of the hate speech bill and the fight against misinformation on social media , Lagos State as case study. The study is was specifically focused on examining the level of Hate Speech Bill awareness among Social media users in Ikoyi, Lagos State, determine the notion they have about the Hate Speech Bill and determining their views on the relationship between the Hate Speech Bill and freedom of speech.

The study adopted the survey research design and randomly enrolled participants in the study. A total of 399 responses were validated from the enrolled participants where all respondent are Social media users in Ikoyi, Lagos State. Base on the revelation of the data analysed, it can be concluded that majority of the respondents are not favourably disposed to the passage of the Hate Speech Bill into law. They believe it would jeopardize freedom of expression in the country. This simply means that the bill is anti-people.


Chapter One


Introduction

1.1 Background of Study

Social media platforms facilitate the sharing of information and enhance connectivity and civic engagement. At the same time, however, they are vulnerable to abuse by malicious actors who use the channels to spread misinformation and hateful and divisive content. Regulatory reforms must seek to align the utility of social media platforms with the welfare of citizens, while safeguarding the right to free speech. The use of social media for peddling fake news and hate speech is not a new phenomenon. Social media platforms may have democratised the internet, but the same technology can create conflicts as it enables the proliferation of erroneous information at an unprecedented pace. Of all the content on these platforms, those that are extremist, fake and populist are found to often garner high “interaction” numbers. The misuse of these platforms can have economic, psychological, and political impacts, both online and offline, and can lead to discrimination and even violence. Behind the veil of protecting free speech, tech companies in India remain oblivious to such potential misuse. Episodes of information dumping peaked during elections, socio-political movements, or to manipulate financial markets. Facebook, for one, can be a highly powerful tool, with over 290 million users in India, the highest in the world. In recent times, however, various governments have begun scrutinising the platform for what they allege to be its lackadaisical approach to hate speech. In April 2020, Facebook flagged 50 million posts with warning labels; it argued that once a post is flagged, 95 percent of end-users do not access it. Facebook, for example, took down 40 million misleading posts in March 2020 alone, and another 50 million the following month. Such disinformation compromises society’s information-sharing ecosystem. In the United States in early January 2021, platforms like Twitter provided a peek into their ability to counter disinformation, directing end-users to reliable sources, and suspending the account of former president Donald Trump, “due to the risk of further incitement of violence.

Many countries have initiated inquiries into the role played by these platforms in spreading extremist, hateful or fake content. Germany, Singapore, and France can now levy significant fines against platforms that fail to restrict illegal content after due process of notice and flagging. Nigeria, in a bid to control the spread of information, has decided to pass the hate speech bill. Hate speeches are utterances, typed documents, advertorials, musicals, or any form of literature that is used to attack an individual or a group – religious, social, political, business, gender, or race. In some countries, hate speech can fall under the law of sedition, incitement to violence, verbal abuse and the likes. Essentially, such speeches rob others of their dignity. In general, descriptions of hate speech tend to be broad, sometimes even extending to embody words that are insulting to those in power or minority groups, or demeaning to individuals who are particularly visible in society. At critical times, such as during election campaigns, hate speech may be prone to manipulation; accusations of promoting hate speech may be traded among political opponents or used by those in power to curb dissent and criticism, which breeds infodemic. Infodemic thrives on fake news dissemination through surplus or deficit information models. Under the surplus model, if enough users share the same information, it validates itself by a sheer numerical advantage, including when the gatekeepers of information (like journalists or politicians) validate it. A deficit information model suffers from a shortage of correct information, showcasing a lack of successful transmission between government, media, experts, and citizens. Information fails to trickle down and is manipulated en-route. Its impact is enhanced due to lack of access to correct information, the limited prominence of fact-checking media, its overwhelming nature, or the user’s inability to comprehend its consequences. It also garners authenticity and virality through self-authentication and stylistic elements (like graphic content, alarmism, and imitation of authority). This theferor gave rise to the intiation of the Hate Speech Bill by several governments as a means to limit the sharing of misleading information on social media platforms for the public audience.


1.2 Statement of the Problem

Recently, Nigerians were faced with the news of a very controversial bill being considered by the Senate. The proposed law, publicly known as the Hate Speech Bill, is sponsored by Senator AliyuSabi Abdullahi, chairman of the Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs. The Hate Speech Bill, according to its sponsor in the Senate, seeks to eliminate hate speech and discourage harassment on the grounds of ethnicity, religion, or race, among others. It prescribes stiff penalties for offences such as ethnic hatred. Any person who uses, publishes, presents, produces, plays, provides, distributes and/or directs the performance of any material, written and/or visual, which is threatening, abusive, or insulting or involves the use of threatening, abusive, or insulting words, commits an offence, it states. Although this approach has the potential to create a “chilling effect”, the over criminalisation of online speech remains vaguely worded, and lacks consistent interpretation of the existing framework across courts. They also lead to the filing of minor cases that only overburden the country’s courts and fail to act as redressal. To address the proliferation of hate speech on social media, some scholars are of the opinion that criminal law should not be the first resort, but the last. The promotion of non-regulatory tools, i.e., counter speech, fact-checking, and digital educationis the imperative. While some other researchers claim that the intention of classifying hate speech as a criminal act infringes on the rights of citizens to freedom of expression as guaranteed in the Constitution, others hold the view that hate speech is not free speech and its criminalization would not, in any way, infringe on citizens’ right to freedom of expression, rather it would curb the social media infodemic. Therefore, it is upon this premise that the study seeks to examine the present a critical investigation into the Hate Speech bill and its impact on the social media infodemic..


1.3 Objective of Study

This study aims to achieve the following objectives:

  1. To examine the level of Hate Speech Bill awareness among residents of Ikoyi
  2. To determine the notion they have about the Hate Speech Bill
  3. To determine their views on the relationship between the Hate Speech Bill and misinformation on social media

1.4 Research Questions

  1. What is the level of Hate Speech Bill awareness among residents of Ikoyi?
  2. What is the notion they have about the Hate Speech Bill?
  3. What are their views on the relationship between the Hate Speech Bill and misinformation on social media?

1.5 Significance of Study

This research is essential because it ensures that, in the interests of Nigerians, the National Assembly should postpone the concept of passing the Hate Speech Bill and that the government should look for other legitimate ways to penalize people who use foul language against others. Also, some of the elements of the Hate Speech Bill should be addressed by revising defamation and sedition legislation.

This study will contribute to the current literature in this field and will also serve as a resource for academics, researchers, and students who may want to do future research on this or a comparable topic.


1.6 Scope of Study

This study focuses on assessing the public perception of the hate speech bill and its effect on misinformation on social media in Nigeria. This study will also assess if hate speech bill will have a negative effect on misinformation on social media in Nigeria. This study will further look into the prevalence of Hate speech in Nigeria. Social media users in Ikoyi, Lagos State shall serve as enrolled participants for this study.


1.7 Limitation of Study

Finance, inadequate materials and time constraint were the challenges the researchers encountered during the course of the study.


1.8 Definition of Terms

Hate Speech:

Hate speech involves epithets and slurs, statements that promote malicious stereotypes, and speech intended to incite hatred or violence against a group. Hate speech can also include nonverbal depictions and symbols.

Freedom of Speech:

Freedom of speech is a principle that supports the freedom of an individual or a community to articulate their opinions and ideas without fear of retaliation, censorship, or legal sanction.


1.9 Organizations of the Study

The chapter one consist of the introductory part of the study which includes the study background, the statement of the research problem, the study objective and scope of the study.

The second chapter is a critical review of other literatures relevant to the study and its objectives including the theoretical framework for the study. While the third chapter is methods of data collection, sampling and data analysis used in conducting the study. The fourth chapter centres around the research findings including an analysis of how it relates to previous findings. The fifth chapter consists of the summary of findings, conclusion and recommendations base on the study objectives.


Chapter Five


Summary, Conclusions and Recommendations:

5.1 Introduction

This chapter summarizes the findings on an assessment of the hate speech bill and the fight against misinformation on social media, Lagos State as case study. The chapter consists of summary of the study, conclusions, and recommendations.


5.2 Summary of the Study

In this study, our focus was on an assessment of the hate speech bill and the fight against misinformation on social media, Lagos State as case study. The study is was specifically focused on examining the level of Hate Speech Bill awareness among residents of Ikoyi, Lagos State, determine the notion they have about the Hate Speech Bill and determining their views on the relationship between the Hate Speech Bill and freedom of speech.

The study adopted the survey research design and randomly enrolled participants in the study. A total of 399 responses were validated from the enrolled participants where all respondent are Social media users in Ikoyi, Lagos State.


5.3 Conclusions

With respect to the analysis and the findings of this study, the following conclusions emerged;

Base on the revelation of the data analysed, it can be concluded that majority of the respondents are not favourably disposed to the passage of the Hate Speech Bill into law. They believe it would jeopardize freedom of expression in the country. This simply means that the bill is anti-people.


5.4 Recommendation

This study recommends the following:

  1. That the National Assembly should shelve the idea of passing the Hate Speech Bill in the interest of Nigerians
  2. That the government should look for other legitimate means to punish those who indulge in the use of foul language against others.
  3. That the laws of defamation and sedition should be reviewed to take care of some of the provisions of the Hate speech Bill

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