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Hate Speech Takes Center Stage at 3rd North Central Zone Internet Governance Forum

The Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD) in conjunction with the Nigeria Internet Governance Forum with support from MacArthur Foundation held the North Central Zone Internet Governance Forum with the theme “Making the Internet a Safe Place” on 12th October, 2017 at Doko International Hotel, Minna Niger State. The objective of the Forum was to raise public awareness about the dangers of hate speech on the internet which has the potential to catalyze into violence. The forum which was attended by over 40 representing the executive and legislative arms of government, civil society, academia and media from all the six states of North Central Zone of Nigeria held against the background of the increasing spread of hate speech and disinformation in the Nigerian cyberspace.

Organized in three sessions, the Forum took presentations first on the governance of the internet in the country and how to deal with cyber security and a second session devoted on hate and dangerous speech, starting with a presentation on understanding of hate speech, followed by trends from the 2016 monitoring of hate speech by CITAD and finally an examination of gender based hate speech while the third session, titled open mike was devoted to discussing crossing cutting issues relating to hate speech and how they could be addressed nationally. The keynote address was delivered by Prof U. G. Danbatta, the Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) with title “Promoting Regulatory Framework for Safety and Security on the Internet”.

In his welcome remarks, the Executive Director of CITAD, Y.Z. Ya’u explained that IGF engages different stakeholders; government, private individuals, media, CSOs and any other person(s) who feel the internet is essential to their life. He identified the internet as the major source of information, knowledge and a platform for economic activities. As important as it is, the internet he said has its own negative sides hence, the need to create an enabling environment that will make it a safer platform for all. In particular, of recent, the cyberspace in Nigeria is undaunted with the hate speech and fake news. It was this that decided the choice of the theme of this year’s zonal IGF that was Making the Internet A Safe Place for Development. He said, the zonal IGF which is so far the only sub-national IGF globally and recognized by the global IGF secretariat as a special component of the national IGFs (NIGFs) hold yearly, rotating among the different zones of the country.

Speaking on the topic “The Nigeria IGF and the Journey from Mexico to Switzerland: Between Guadalajara, Mexico to Geneva, Switzerland: The Journey to Inclusive and Sustainable Growth”, Mrs. Mary Uduma, Chair of the Nigerian Internet Governance Forum provided a detailed report about the outcome of the last global IGF that held in Mexico and set the expectations for the next IGF that will hold in Geneva, Switzerland. Her paper also highlighted the relevance of the IGF in directing global internet governance and gave a concise overview of the IGF meetings from 2006 to 2016 both globally and nationally at the level of Nigeria as well as the proposed December meeting this year.

Malam Isah Garba, the Coordinator of the Hate Speech project at CITAD presented report of the 2016 hate speech monitoring by CITAD. The report showed among other things that over 90% of the hate speech items related to religion and ethnicity and about 92% in English language, implying that those who practice hate speech were educated Nigerians. His data also indicated that Facebook accounted for about 66% of the items captured.  Another speaker, Ms. Salma Abdulwhaeed examined gender-based hate speech which he said made it difficult for many women to make effective use of the internet

During the sessions participants observed that:

  1. There is high proliferation of hate on the platforms of our social media
  2. There is low sensitization by government agencies on the dangers of hate speech
  3. The agencies responsible for creating awareness on hate speech and its dangers and other issues of national interest especially the National Orientation Agency is underfunded and incapacitated to face the challenge
  4. There is low sensitization at community and family levels on the need for both religious and ethnic tolerance in the country
  5. Youth are allowed to spring to the use of internet without proper guidance either at school or family level on its positive usage.
  6. The internet is a major source of information, knowledge and a platform for economic activities but as important as it is, the internet has its own negative sides such of which is the use as medium of dissemination of hate speech.
  7. Low utilization of the internet, especially within government at state and local government levels
  8. Child pornography and gender-based sexual harassment are concerns on the internet that are make it difficult for some people to feel safe using it
  9. There is much being done in the area of developing framework to deal with cybercrime and other negative uses of the internet by especially the NCC, however there is little coordination among the different stakeholders

On Hate and Dangerous Speech, the Forum recommended that

  1. Religious and traditional leaders should fully be involved in the campaign against hate speech, hence should be targets of the sensitization programmes
  2. All stakeholders should be engage in sensitization programmes on the positive use of internet
  3. That women and children as vulnerable groups should be accorded special protection to insulate them from gender-based violence online, child pornography and human trafficking that are through the use of the internet.
  4. That youth who are the major users of the internet should be sensitized on proper use of internet.
  5. The Legislature is urged to develop and enact legislations that will help to curb hate and dangerous speech.
  6. To overcome the impacts of hate and dangerous speech, people should be sensitized to not engage in hate speech and not be provoked by it.
  7. CITAD and other CSOs working in the area of ICT should direct their efforts towards reinvigorating Youths Initiative of the NIGF as part of the global IGF with a view to developing strategies for youth empowerment through the internet to address rising tide of youth unemployment.
  8. Urge the National Orientation Agency (NOA) to take up the mandate of public sensitization to raise awareness about the dangers of hate speech
  9. Government cyber security initiatives should take on board the issue of hate speech without however, unnecessary intrusion and undermining the privacy of individuals and organizational users of the internet in their lawful conduct.

Among the key recommendations of the Forum with respect to internet access and regulation, participants urged that Government cyber security initiatives should take on board the issue of hate speech without however, unnecessary intrusion and undermining the privacy of individuals and organizational users of the internet in their lawful conduct. Participants also urged that women and children as vulnerable groups should be accorded special protection to insulate them from gender-based violence online, child pornography and human trafficking that are through the use of the internet. On attempt by government to regulate social media, forum felt that Government should not engage in unproductive efforts aimed at controlling the social media is since this is an open platform where people who commit crimes using the internet can easily be tracked and brought to books.

The meeting ended with a call that there is need to drive the processes of the IGF so that citizens input in shaping the policies that governs the internet are harvested and placed before relevant platforms for decision making on this.

 

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