BACKGROUND OF THE 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.
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 overcriminalisation 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 educationist 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.
OBJECTIVE OF THE STUDY
The main focus of this study is to present a critical investigation of Hate Speech bill and its impact on social media infodemic. Specifically the study seek to
1. Ascertain the nature of hate speech.
2. Examine the factors that led to establishment of hate speech bill.
3. Determine if social media promotes the sharing of infodemic.
4. Investigate if the hate speech bill will curb social media infodemic.
HO1: Social media platforms does not promote infodemic.
HI1: Social media platforms do promote infodemic.
HO2: Hate Speech Bill will not have any significant impact on social media infodemic.
HI2: Hate Speech Bill will have any significant impact on social media infodemic.
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STUDY
Findings from the study will be significantly impactful for government, popular social media CEO’s, the general public and for academic purposes. To social media owners the study will enlighten them on the need to establish mechanism for verification of information shared by users. More so to the government, the study will enable them to initiate an agreement with social media owners used by their citizens and come up with regulatory and filtering function in order to curb misinformation shared by those platforms. Finally the study will contribute empirically to the body of knowledge and serve as a reference material for both student and scholars who wishes to conduct further studies in relate field.
SCOPE OF THE STUDY
The scope of this study borders on a critical investigation of Hate Speech bill and its impact on Social Media Infodemic. It will ascertain the nature nature of hate speech and what factors led to the initiation of hate speech bill. It will ascertain if the initiation of the hate speech bill will significantly limit the level of fake information shared on social media. The study is however delimited to Facebook Users in Ikeja, Lagos State.
LIMITATION OF THE STUDY
This research project, like all human endeavors, had some challenges that threatened to derail the study’s completion. One of the reasons is that the time allotted for this work was so limited that the researcher did not have enough time to complete the task thoroughly. During data collection, the researcher also had to put forth extra effort to understand the respondents’ interview schedules, several of whom fell into the incomprehensible age group. Also, there were finance and transportation constraints to deal with. Insufficient funds tend to impede the efficiency of the researcher in sourcing the relevant materials, literature, or information and in the process of data collection (internet, questionnaire, interview).
DEFINITION OF TERMS
Hate Speech: Public speech that expresses hate or encourages violence towards a person or group based on something such as race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation.
Hate Speech Bill: Hate speech bill is a proposed legislation under consideration by a legislature in order to regulate public speech that expresses hate or encourages violence towards a person or group based on something such as race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation shared on media platforms.
Social Media: Social media are interactive technologies that allow the creation or sharing/exchange of information, ideas, career interests, and other forms of expression via virtual communities and networks.
Infodemic: Infodemic is an excessive amount of inaccurate information about a problem that is typically unreliable, spreads rapidly, and makes a solution more difficult to achieve.