Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed has said fake news and hate speech, if left unchecked, constitute the biggest threat to the 2019 general elections.
According to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), Mohammed spoke in Kaduna, north western Nigeria at the 47th Meeting of the National Council on Information, with the theme, Fighting Fake News and Hate Speech to Enhance National Unity”
State Commissioners of Information, Heads of federal information Parastatal, Agencies and other stakeholder are among those attending the meeting declared open by Kaduna Governor, Nasir el-Rufai.
Mohammed stressed that with the 2019 general elections just a little over 60 days away, no issue that was more relevant to the election than the issue of fake news and hate speech.
He said fake news had the capacity to alter the course of election, trigger legitimacy problem for the winner and the menace transcended political party lines, religion, ethnicity, and even nationality.
Mohammed alleged that the opposition was using fake news to discredit the President Muhammadu Buhari’s Administration and deploying it as propaganda rather than engaging in issue-based campaign.
He likened the development in the country to that of 2016 US Presidential elections and a recent violence in India where a dozen of people lost their lives.
“A recent study by researchers at the Ohio State University in the United States concluded that Russian interference and the fake news it promoted probably played a significant role in depressing Hilary Clinton’s support on the day of the country’s 2016 presidential elections.
“Among the fake news circulated ahead of the election were: that Clinton is in poor health due to a serious disease: Pope Francis endorsed candidate Trump, and Clinton approved weapons sales to Islamic Jihadists.
“Even the winner of that election, President Donald Trump, is still reeling from the impact of the alleged Russian intervention,” he said.
The minister added that: “In India, about a dozen people lost their lives earlier this year because of fake news or hoax messages.
“The victims were lynched after they were falsely accused of child abduction based on fake messages circulated via the social media platform, WhatsApp!
“Right here in Nigeria, you are all aware of a recent report by the BBC, that fake news circulating in the
social media is fueling the farmers-herders crisis in Nigeria.
“Disturbing pictures from other lands are circulated freely via Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter, purportedly being from the killings in Jos or Benue”.
Similarly, the minister said hate speech was a major catalyst of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, which left at least 800,000 people dead.
He noted that the government, understanding the danger of fake news and hate speech, had taken proactive steps including the launch of national campaign against the phenomenon in July.
“The efforts have brought the issue of fake news and hate speech to the front burner of national discourse, which I consider a positive development”.
He commended the media, some government agencies and civil society organisations which had organised workshops and conferences to sensitise the nation to the topical issue.
Mohammed also pointed out that the campaign against fake news and hate speech should not just be a responsibility of the Federal Government alone.
He urged the governors and the Administrators of the Local Government Authorities to complement the efforts of the federal government in fighting fake news and hate speech.
Speaking in same vein, el-Rufai said fake news and hate speech constituted national security threat and there was the urgent need for a concerted efforts to fight the phenomenon.
Represented by his Special Adviser on Media and Communication, Mr Muyiwa Adekeye, the governor said though Freedom of Speech is a significant and cherished right, it must not be a license to causing disunity and chaos.
He, therefore called for “vigorous law enforcement actions” against fake news and hate speech.