On Saturday, September, 9, 2023, Kano state Commissioner of Police, Mr. Mohammed Usaini Gumel delivered a lecture entitled: “THE PERILS OF SOCIAL MEDIA, CONSEQUENCES OF DEFAMATION AND SPREADING FALSEHOOD,” at a Forum for Social Media Ethics, Community Awareness for Positive Change for the teeming Youths of Gumel Emirate Facebook Connect Initiative 2023
Below is the full text of the lecture:
No one is in doubt on the belief that Social Media has transformed the society from the traditional way of ya communication and brought about revolutionized approach to media use. It has opened up fresh hopes from which the people raise their (dis)agreements, share their feelings and perceptions, and, in some cases, unmask falsehoods. Social media platforms such as the Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, and the likes, have allowed people to create, share and exchange information, ideas and more importantly pictures and videos over various networks and platforms at their disposal. However, the gap is yet to be filled because a significant number of youths that interact on social media platforms, know little or nothing about the legal framework that guide the upright use and the consequences of its misuse.
This paper is therefore aimed at highlighting the role of the social media in the contemporary world with focus on the harmful effect of cybercrimes that are committed daily by the gullible youths through the instrumentality of social media, which could have unfortunate consequences. The presentation will also shed light on the legal provision for checkmating the social media-related crimes in the Nigerian society.
It is convincing facts that some of the news and views spread so rapidly through the social media platforms keep causing turbulence and social disharmony among citizens. Although the social media have advantages with recognizable multiple merits, the perils however, need not only to be more highlighted but also be tackled with prudence. We are all aware that the ability of the social media products consumers are still immature in this century to effectively coordinate the massive information sent to them in text messages, Facebook posts and tweets, etc.
This is because they keep utilizing them without verifying the authenticity of the contents that could, in some cases, be harmful to them or the society. There are numerous instances where the social media has created social turbulence, and resulting in social unrest and sudden rise of online crimes that pose grave threats to the contemporary developing society.
There are records of cases of online harassment of eminent citizens and political personalities through the various modes of social media by the actors exemplifying the behaviour and social sickness of a society.
This sort of online pestering comprises of threat, religious-based abusive statements, hate speeches, blackmail and sometimes upload of morphed pictures etc. Those acting this way should always remember that not all victims overlook the damaging effects, and harmful consequences of those actions on their individual and collective fundamental freedoms.
In the light of this, my presentation is focusing on two significant issues surrounding the social media. Firstly, the problem of online abuses, what social media handler should be wary of and the legal provision enacted to checkmate the trend.
The takeaway here is for the participants to be aware of the consequences of cybercrimes and that, the perpetrators of online abuses must remember that an attack through social media now-a-days won’t remain unheard and any deliberate misadventures through the social media, will be dealt with severely under the cybercrimes prohibition act 2015, criminal code law and other related laws.
THE TRANSFORMATION OF TRADITIONAL MEDIA.
Since the rise of internet freedom in the early 1990s, the population of active internet users in Nigeria has grown to 122.5 million as at January 2023, and global figure of 5.16 billion, according to DataReportal.
Over the period, the social media has become a fact of life for the civil society worldwide, and involving many actors, groups, political parties, government, extremists, terrorists and separatists’ organizations. The crucial issue is that despite its considerable benefits how does the ubiquity of social media affect the peaceful coexistence of a nation.
The distressing situation is that government has no or limited control to restrain social media sites except complete shutdown of the internet or ban a particular platform in case of violation.
As a result, the social media has regularly been employed by adversaries of the state as well as non-state actors who, in most cases, create misinformation, fictitious narratives, hate propaganda, inciting fear, false alarm, infuse mutual distrust, etc. These started to impact the various facet of human life and day to day functioning of societies, which further destabilized national integration and security of a country.
It is also a recognizable fact that information sharing through the social media is imperative. It accomplishes digital citizenship, which undeniably opens fresh avenues for sharing and spreading information, knowledge and services to more and more people in a short span of time and at nominal cost.
The dawn of social media is transforming the way in which people connect with each other and the manner in which information is shared and distributed. It is different from the traditional media such as print, radio and television.
It is worthwhile to mention the assertion made by Andreas Kaplan and Michael Haenlein (2010), who in “user of the world” about the social media, opined that “it is a faction of internet-based application that are erect on the intellectual and technological foundation of Web 2.0, that allow the creation and exchange of user generated content”. Today, there are numerous social networking websites over the internet like Facebook, WhatsApp, You tube, Twitter, Instagram etc, which have been playing a dominating and decisive role to influence public opinion.
Social media platforms
Participants, ladies and Gentlemen, the most appreciable thing of the social media is that, the new generation has a variety of preferences to choose what they want to read, like or most importantly, contribute.
The list of social media tools could probably run on for paragraphs, and today’s technology changes so rapidly that many industries, including corporations and news media, can barely keep up. In the traditional world, newspapers, corporations, governments, or other types of leading organizations simply had to give out information and people would consume it by reading or looking at it. But this seemingly tried-and-true method is transforming. In other words, the present generation is just not relying on traditional media to get latest information and news. Today’s audiences expect to be able to choose what they read, and mostly believe that they should be able to contribute content as well as opinion.
This magnanimous shift sometimes called the social media revolution is not the death of journalism. It is some form of citizens’ ownership of information gathering and sharing (CITIZENS JOURNALISM); it is the birth of a democratic movement that emphasizes some of journalism’s key factors: transparency, honesty, and giving a voice to the person who doesn’t have one.
The major reason of the sudden rise of social media is that the mainstream media i.e. newspapers and electronic media have currently been facing a kind of credibility crisis because they have been suffering with ‘profiteering syndrome’ i.e. how to make money in the digital age. The said crisis is man-made and natural due to the sidelining of the journalistic ethos in the race of profit-making media houses.
The main advantage of social media is that anybody can run his own news: And this is the peril of the social media. Admittedly, there are some factors that are contributing to the social disharmony through the social media. But the present generation is educated enough to differentiate between factual news and false propaganda as expected.
Tackling Social Media related Crimes: “What Social Media Handlers Should Understand”
The social media is used as a means for communication and interaction among people across the globe, but the cyber criminals are using it as a medium to commit offences related to privacy, bullying, defamation and misrepresentation of identity or cheating by impersonation, obscenity, sending offensive messages, and some time against state i.e. promoting anti-national activities, spread hate, and so on and so forth. Many people have fallen prey to these offences due to lack of awareness and overuse of these social networking websites. The fear of lagging behind in this technology race has led to the increase in the statistics of these crimes.
According to Pavan Duggal, Cyber Lawyer and Advocate with Supreme Court of India, for every 500 instances of cyber-crimes that take place in India, only 50 are reported and out of that 50, only one is registered on First Information Report (FIR) or criminal case. Giving an insight into the reasons for low reporting, Nand Kumar Sarvade, a former Director, Cyber Security and Compliance at NASSCOM, argued that very often, people are not aware whether an incident is a cyber-crime or not; there is also lack of awareness on where to lodge a complaint, and another issue is whether the police will understand the complainant’s grievances or not.
It can be stated that, one of the most important issues concerning cyberspace today is that of cyber-crime through the social media. Cyber-crime can be explained as “any criminal violation or an unlawful act taking place on the computer or any electronic gadgets”.
CYBER-CRIME AND ITS CATEGORIES. Cyber-crimes refer to all the activities done with criminal intent in cyberspace. Cyber-crime through social media is basically divided into 3 major categories:
1. Cyber-crimes against persons,
2. Property and
Cyber-crimes committed against persons include various crimes like cyber-stalking, cyber-bullying, cyber-defamation, cyber-forgery and frauds, infringement of privacy, and identity theft. The second categories of cyber-crimes are those against all forms of property.
These crimes include unauthorized computer trespassing through cyber-space, computer vandalism, transmission of harmful programs, and unauthorized possession of computerized information viz. hacking and cracking. These are amongst the gravest cyber-crimes known till date. The third categories of cyber-crimes relate to cyber-crimes against Government. Cyber terrorism is one distinct kind of crime in this category. It marks itself into the so-called crime of terrorism when an individual “cracks” into a government or military maintained website.
CYBERCRIMES, DEFAMATION AND LEGAL PROVISION THAT CHECKMATE THEM IN NIGERIA
The Cybercrime (Prohibition, Prevention Act 2015) tackles cybercrime in Nigeria. Under Section 24 of said Act:
‘Any person who knowingly or intentionally sends a message or other matter by means of computer systems or network that –
(a) is grossly offensive, pornographic or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character or causes any such message or matter to be so sent; or
(b) he knows to be false, for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, ill will or needless anxiety to another or causes such a message to be sent: commits an offence under this Act and shall be liable on conviction to a fine of not more than N7,000,000.00 or imprisonment for a term of not more than 3 years or to both such fine and imprisonment.
(2) Any person who knowingly or intentionally transmits or causes the transmission of any communication through a computer system or network
(a) to bully, threaten or harass another person, where such communication places another person in fear of death, violence or bodily harm or to another person;…… commits an offence under this Act and shall be liable on conviction-
(i) in the case of paragraphs (a) and (b) of this subsection to imprisonment for a term of 10 years and/or a minimum fine of N25,000,000.00;
It can be inferred from this section that the law has tried to catch up with the continuously growing wrong use of the social media in an effort to regulate its usage within the nation.
What Does Defamation Entail?
Generally, defamation is the act of injuring a person’s character, fame or reputation by false and malicious statements through print or social media.
The Criminal Code in Section 373 defines a defamatory matter as a matter likely to injure the reputation of any person by exposing him to hatred, contempt, or ridicule, or likely to damage any person in his profession or trade by an injury to his reputation.
Punishments for defamation under criminal code
Section 375 of the criminal code states that “any person who publishes any defamatory matter knowing it to be false is liable to imprisonment for two years”.
Any person who publishes any defamatory matter is guilty of misdemeanor and is liable to imprisonment for one year.
Finally, the social media has become coordinating tools for the contemporary digitally-equipped societies. The social media revolution has brought a new kind of social order by strengthening social network. But on the other side, it has diminished the strength of inter-personal relations. The social media tools provide web-based practices and services that foster engagement.
This shows how the integration of technology makes the life smooth of people. This colossal churn-out in the virtual world had unquestionably specified the growing supremacy of this web-based social media and its brunt on the masses, particularly the new generation which has a direct or indirect impact on it. In a similar vein, also draws imprecise conclusions in the form of various rumours, which consistently strikes to cause different forms of bullying, flash mobs, and riots through the social media.
The problem is further aggravated due to disproportionate growth ratio of cyber laws in relation to curb the peril in the social media. The only promising step is to make people aware of their rights and duties to report cyber-crimes that happen through social media when it occurs and recognizing that it is their duty towards the society.
No doubt, the provisions of criminal code and cybercrime prohibition and prevention act 2015 seem to be sufficient to deal with almost all types of criminal activities done through social media. However, all that it now needs is a robust awareness programmes and regular amendments of the laws to go in tandem with the current realities. The same will go with the enforcement of the laws by the appropriate authorities at the ground level. Also, suitably modifying the laws at regular intervals so as to make it more effective and powerful to combat new cyber-crimes committed through social media, will be necessary. The judiciary should also play an important role in order to make the application of laws more stringent to check cyber-crime.
Thank you for listening
MUHAMMED USAINI GUMEL (FIPMA,psc.) is the Kano state Commissioner of Police