The federal government yesterday said it had no plan to shut down the internet or social media but would work with stakeholders to regulate it.
Minister of Information and Culture Alhaji Lai-Mohammed who reiterated the federal government position on regulating social media during a press briefing in Abuja decried that social media was used to spread fake news and disinformation that catalysed the resent violence that was witnessed across the country.
Mohammed during the press briefing titled ‘’The EndSARS Protest and its Aftermath’’ bemoaned that the protest that was once peaceful against police brutality degenerated into violence despite an immediate response to the demands by the government.
He said keen watchers of the developments failed to notice the role played by the social media in the EndSARS protest.
He noted that the social media was used to guide arsonists and looters to certain properties, both public and private.
‘’Pictures of persons, including some celebrities, who were supposedly killed at the Lekki Toll Gate by soldiers, were circulated widely, only for those persons to refute such claims or for the discerning to disprove such posts. As we have said many times, no responsible government will stand by and allow such abuse of social media to continue.
“The fake news/disinformation purveyors have latched on to our concerns to allege that the federal government is planning to shut down social media. No, we have no plans to shut down social media.
What we have always advocated, and what we will do, is to regulate social media. Nigeria is not alone in this regard.
‘’The issue of social media regulation is an ongoing debate not just in Nigeria but around the world, including in the United States, which is the flag flyer of constitutional democracy. Even the owners of the various social media platforms, including Facebook, are increasingly joining the call for content regulation,” he said.
Mohammed also noted that some respected opinion leaders played to the gallery on the issue of social media regulation by making inciting and incendiary statements, while some other individuals and groups have been threatening fire and brimstone over the issue of social media regulation.
On social media massacre, at Lekki toll gate, the minister although the government awaits the Judicial Panel in Lagos to unravel what transpired at the Lekki Toll Gate, he observed that based on testimonies available in the public space, the world may have just witnessed, for the very first time ever, a massacre without bodies!
According to the minister, some observers have tagged the story as ‘social media massacre’.
He added that ‘’the testimony of Brig. Gen, Ahmed Ibrahim Taiwo of the Nigerian Army before the Panel was compelling, and I am sure many of you have listened to or watched it. The highlights, for those who may not have watched the testimony, are: Soldiers were deployed all over Lagos, including Lekki Toll Gate, after the other security agencies were overwhelmed on 20 October 2020 upon the request of the state government.’’
He said before deployment the soldiers were briefed on the ‘Rules of Engagement’ which they adhered to all through.
On CNN’s report of killings at the Lekki Toll Gate, he said like everyone else, he ‘watched the CNN report.
“I must tell you that it reinforces the disinformation that is going round and it is blatantly irresponsible and a poor piece of journalistic work by a reputable international news organisation,’’ the minister said.
According to him, CNN engaged in sensationalism and did a great disservice to itself and journalism.
In the first instance, he said CNN, which touted its report as an exclusive investigative report, sadly relied on the same videos that have been circulating on social media, without verification.
He said this is ‘’very serious and CNN should be sanctioned for that.’’
Speaking further, he said CNN merely said the videos were ‘’obtained by CNN’’ and without saying wherefrom and whether or not it authenticated them.
He continued: ‘’Were CNN reporters and cameramen at the Lekki Toll Gate that evening? If the answer is no, on what basis were they reporting? Relying on second or third-hand information and presenting it as ‘’CNN Investigation’’?
‘’Why didn’t the CNN balance its story by showing the compelling testimony of Brig.-Gen. Taiwo before the Judicial Panel in Lagos? Is this one-sided reporting what is expected from an international media organisation or any serious news organisation?
‘’If CNN had done its investigation properly, it would have known how fake news and disinformation were trending during the EndSARS crisis. The BBC even did a report on this, and we recommend that report to CNN.
‘’Talking about the BBC, a reporter with the BBC’s Pidgin Service, Damilola Banjo, was at Lekki Toll Gate protest ground that night. She was quoted as saying soldiers were indeed at the Toll Gate but they shot ‘’sporadically into the air’’ and not at the protesters. CNN that was not at the scene reported otherwise,’’ the minister added.
In airing its so-called investigative report, he said ‘’CNN conveniently forgot that on 23 October 2020 it tweeted, from its verified Twitter handle, that the military killed 38 people when it opened fire on peaceful protesters on Tuesday, 20 October, 2020.