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Cyber terrorists responsible for spreading fake news and hate speech in Nigeria – Akaba 

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An online news journalist, Chris Godwin Akaba, has said cyber terrorists have gone technological and could be using the social media not just as a recruiting platform, but to spread fake news and hate speech in order to destabilise the country or pitch citizens against one another.

He said given the complex nature of the Cyberspace and the absence of a proper regulatory mechanism put in place to checkmate abuse, the country should look beyond the assumption that bloggers, online journalists and the political class are the only ones spreading fake news and hate speech.

Mr Akaba, who is the Editor-in-Chief of Daily Correspondents online, spoke while contributing to a debate on Hate Speech and Fake News at a two day workshop for online journalists and bloggers on Sensitive Conflicting Reporting held on September 20 and 21, 2018, in Abuja, organized by the International Press Centre (IPC) – Lagos, as part of the EU-Support to Democratic Governance in Nigeria (EU-SDGN) project.

Speaking on the possible link between cyber terrorism and the spread of fake news and hate speech in Nigeria, Akaba said recently, the Turkish government had to crack down on more than 200 accounts that they say were affiliated with terrorist activities, stressing that terrorists’ organisations like ISWA and its Boko Haram affiliates may have found the social media handy in spreading fake news and hate speech in the country as against the widely held belief that the political class are behind such trend in order to bring down the government of the day.

He said looking at the Turkish experience, terrorists may have been responsible for the wide spread of many of the gory images, photos and news being circulated on Facebook, especially as it relates to the farmers and herdsmen crisis in some parts of the country.

Akaba observed that the phenomenon of fake news became more rampant during the present political dispensation of the Muhammadu Buhari administration possibly because terrorists’ organisations like Boko Haram who suffered humiliating defeat in the hands of President Buhari shorty after assuming office in 2015, could possibly hate the current federal government and stop at nothing to spread hate speech and fake news in order to destabilise the government.

He said after the terrorists realised that they could not use Boko Haram to divide the country, even as he admitted that “Boko Haram had once shaken the very foundation of Nigeria but for the understanding and high degree of tolerance exhibited by inherents of different religions in the country,” the terrorists realising that they didn’t succeed in their mission to disintegrate Nigeria, could have now capitalised on the farmers-herdsmen conflict, hiding behind the scene to promote and circulate messages capable of igniting war in the country.

Hear him: “I believe what I am about to say now should further trigger more academic discourse, particularly among the media and the academia in the country, who, in recent times, have identified the various purveyors of hate speech and fake news in Nigeria, but left out one important aspect. I have a sound and professional background in peace studies and conflict resolution, and in the course of my research works or engagement with books, I have been able to identify that terrorist organisations can use the social media to spread hate speech and fake news faster than most people think. We have different types of terrorists. We have the global international terrorists, domestic terrorists, political terrorists, revolutionary terrorists, eco-terrorist, biological, chemical and nuclear terrorists, as well as cyber terrorists.

“Although some online journalists, bloggers and politicians have been fingered in the spread of fake news and hate speech currently tearing the country apart, I would like to add too, that cyber terrorists could be responsible. We are aware that recently, the Turkish government cracked down on more than 200 accounts that they say were affiliated with terrorist activities.

“Don’t forget too that here in Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari dealt a severe blow on the Boko Haram terrorists when he first assumed office in 2015. And if there’s any government they will hate, it is this government, so one will not be surprised that they could be responsible for all these hate speech and fake news currently being circulated in the social media, especially in the age of technology, to discredit the government, because if you observed, the phenomenon is more rampant during this dispensation.

“We know that the prime motive of Boko Haram is to cause religious war in the country among Muslims and Christians, but when they realised that they have failed because Nigerians quickly realized their game plan and denounced them, we know that they will not rest until the country is turned upside down. Therefore, I suspect that most of the gory images and videos, including fake news and commentaries regarding the farmers-herdsmen clash in the country could be the handiwork of cyber terrorists, who are just monitoring what is going on in the country and catching on the gullibility of Nigerians to spread their hate.

“As we must have been alerted already by security agencies, Boko Haram and other terrorist organisations now use the social media to recruit new members, and so is the possibility that most of the Fake news and hate speech currently circulating on social media in the country, and of course, being spread by some ignorant and quack online bloggers, could be the handiwork of cyber terrorists. Terrorists, who are the number one enemy of modern day Nigeria will stop at nothing to destroy the country, and therefore the federal government and security agencies should also beem their search lights on cyber terrorists if we must effectively tackle fake news and hate speech,” Mr Akaba said.

He, also advised online media owners to always verify their stories and source before publishing them so as not to add to the problem.

He further called for the registration and censorship of online media houses in the country through the creation of an online censhorship board, saddled with the responsibility of constantly informing Nigerians on which online newspapers are genuine and credible and which ones are fake.

Mr Akaba also called on online media owners to create an Ombudsman unit, which should constantly monitor peoples comments on their blogs or sites by removing comments that convey hate speech.

Meanwhile, explaining the objectives of the Workshop held on September 20 and 21, 2018, in Abuja, the Director of IPC, Mr. Lanre Arogundade, said that with the 2019 general elections approaching, it became necessary to inundate participants on the rules of engagement with regards to elections reporting and conflicts therein.

The Director who was represented by Stella Nwofia, programme coordinator at IPC, referred participants, drawn mainly from North-East, North-Central, South-East and South-South regions of Nigeria, to section four (4) of the Nigerian Media Code of Election Report (revised edition 2018) where ‘Hate Speech’ was singled out as a menace in online reporting and elections conflicts.

He identified the training as necessary because the online environment now occupies a very central place in the media.

According to the Executive Director (ED), online media has become the converging point for all the traditional and conventional media such as radio, television and the Print.

Mr. Arogundade, said, although Nigeria has a large population of internet users, and as a result there is a rapid increase in the number of journalists offering to practise online to reach this ‘Internet or online population’, however, the activities of the practitioners should help checkmate the menace of hate speech and conflicts in the country.

“What all this means is that we simply cannot ignore what goes on Online in the name of journalism especially against the background of growing perception that online media and social media platforms are the major harbingers of hate speech and stokers of inciting flames”, the Director said.

He continued: “In general, it is feared that in the realm of politics, violent conflict during elections could occur if online journalism practitioners and bloggers refuse to embrace conflict sensitive principles. The emerging consensus therefore is that online journalists and bloggers need to strive to do better so they could be part of efforts that seek to remove hate narratives from political communication as a way of making the electoral environment healthier.

“In the above regard, it is expected that this training will help participants to understand and imbibe the principles of fairness, diversity and objectivity in reporting the electoral process and the elections”.

He said that the Centre expects the online media practitioners to use their platforms for fair, balanced report, language sensitive and conflict sensitive reporting of the elections.

Also, leading a session on ‘Social Media & Elections: Giving Practical Effect to Conflict Sensitive Reporting Online’, the Editor-In-Chief, Premium Times, Abuja, Mr. Musikilu Mojeed, advocated for fair and balanced news reporting by the practitioners.

He also cautioned against hate speech and conflict-inducing headlines. “Therefore, the need to be cautious has risen, especially when we cast headlines; as conflict can be triggered by ambiguity in communication intended by the journalist involved.

Mr Mojeed, added: “Thus, when issues arise in the society, journalists can provide parties with the information that convoke wise decisions in managing and resolving conflicts. Always remember that your ‘business’ thrives only when Nigeria is peaceful,”

He went further to enumerate how online journalists can make a difference in the profession.

The Editor-in-Chief of Premium Times, further urged the participants to “Be proactive and careful with translation (intended meaning or language) and be explicit about reporting constraints. Also, interview people affected by conflict and don’t use offensive, graphic images, videos, etc.

Other speakers at the event are Dr. Ruqayyah Yusuf Aliyu of the Department of Information and Media Studies, Bayero University, Kano State and Dr. Y.Z. Ya’u,
the Executive Director, CITAD, Kano, who facilitated discussions on ‘Contemporary Conflicts in Nigeria and Possible Impact on Media Coverage of 2019 General Elections’.

They warned that online journalists in particular must not fail to uphold peace through reporting, especially those that fuel conflicts like Boko Haram, Political-thugs, IPOB, etc.

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