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Social media bill scales 2nd reading, offenders risk 3-year jail term, N10m fine

A Bill prescribing a three-year jail term or N10million fine for social media offenders yesterday scaled second reading in the Senate.

It is entitled: “A Bill for an Act to make provisions for the protection from internet falsehood and manipulations and related matters, 2019.”

Senator Mohammed Sani Musa, representing Niger East, sponsored it.

In his lead debate, he said it has become imperative to curb the excesses of those using social media to cause disaffection and character assassination through fake news.

According to him, the Bill is not an attempt to stifle free speech but an opportunity to address the growing threats, which, if unchecked, can cause social unrest.

He said other countries are also trying to mitigate the risks associated with information transmission via the internet by monitoring abuses.

Musa said: “Motivated by geopolitical interests and identity politics, state and non-state actors use the internet to discredit the government, misinform people and turn one group against the other.

“The hoax about the demise of President Muhammadu Buhari in London and his purported replacement by one Jibril of Sudan, among others, are things that threaten the peace, security and harmony of our people.

“Inauthentic online accounts run by human trolls have been used to rapidly spread falsehood. For media outlets, publishing a story with false contents that attract users, benefits advertisers.”

According to the Niger East Senator, the Bill has 36 clauses and provides for the prevention of hawkers of falsehoods and manipulated contents using the internet.

He said that the penalty for defaulters goes up to N300,000 for individuals and up to N10million for corporate organisations and imprisonment of up to three years or both.

The Bill, he said, also contains guidelines for internet intermediaries and providers of mass media services as well as sanctions for offenders.

Senators Ibrahim Gobir, Ishaku Clifford Elisha Abbo, Abba Moro and Bala Ibn Na’Allah supported the Bill.

However, Senator Chimaroke Nnamani (Enugu East), “strongly” opposed the Bill.

Nnamani said: “I not only oppose this bill, but I also condemn it in its entirety. Based on our Constitution, there is Freedom of Information and Freedom of Speech. There is a Cyber Crimes Act that deals with this issue. Some laws deal with false information, libel, slander and so on.”

“Yes, fake news has done a lot in America and other countries, but they have not brought any law to deal with it. I therefore strongly oppose this bill.”

When the Bill was put to a voice vote by Senate President Ahmad Lawan, Senators approved it for second reading.

Lawan referred the Bill to the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters for further legislative work.

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