A Bill for Protection from Internet Falsehoods and Manipulation on Wednesday, 20 November, 2019, scaled second reading during plenary in the Senate.
The piece of legislation, also known as the ‘Social Media Bill’, according to its sponsor, Senator Mohammed Sani Musa, proposes a framework and system of regulation, control and conduct, the use of the internet and various social platforms in the transmission of information in Nigeria.
According to the lawmaker from Kaduna State, “the bill is not an attempt to stifle free speech or dissenting views; it is rather an opportunity to address a growing threat which, if left unchecked, can cause serious damage in our polity and disrupt peaceful coexistence.”
He stated that much as the internet has numerous benefits, it is also used for the purpose of manipulating information and spreading falsehoods.
The lawmaker noted that state and non-state actors engaged in geo-political interests and identity politics, use internet falsehood to discredit governments, misinform people and turn one group against another.
“Individuals and groups influenced by ideologies and deep-seated prejudices in different countries use internet falsehoods to surreptitiously promote their causes”, Senator Musa said.
He added that while the phenomenon of internet falsehood and manipulation is a serious global challenge, countries like Singapore have taken measures to curb the proliferation of fake news and disinformation with the passage into law of the Proliferation from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act 2019.
Speaking in support of the bill, Senators Abba Moro (PDP, Benue South) and Elisha Abbo (PDP, Adamawa North) described the introduction of the bill as timely, adding that the fallout of fake news can consume the country if not curbed.
A lawmaker, Chimaroke Nnamani, who spoke against the bill, was cut short by a point of order raised by Senator Ibn Na’Allah who quoted the provision of Section 39(1)(3) of the 1999 as amended to justify the introduction of the bill by the Senate.
Section 39(1) of the 1999 Constitution provides that “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information without interference.”
Ibn Na’allah’s point of order was sustained by the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan.
The bill, which was overwhelmingly supported by lawmakers after a voice vote put by Senate President, was referred to the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters for further legislative input.