The Minister of Communications, Mr Adebayo Shittu, has called on Nigerians to engage in responsible political debates devoid of hate speech in the interest of peace and development.
Shittu made the appeal at a two-day National Social Media Retreat with the theme: “Social Media for Good Governance’’, organised by the Ministry of Communications.
He emphasised that domestic use of social media platforms to promote divisive messages and ideas must be checked.
He, however, said that the Federal Government would not limit Nigerians’ access to social media solely on the basis that it might be used to express views critical of government or the socio-political system.
According to him, protecting critical expression on the internet is the standard by which governments are now measured to be genuinely democratic.
“Nigerians should, therefore, feel free to discuss government policies and engage in responsible political debates, report corruption and exercise their rights to expression of opinion and dissent,’’ Shittu said.
He expressed Federal Government’s commitment to ensuring solid friendly and secure policies that would aid the use of technology-based platforms of interaction in the social media.
The minister, however, warned that such liberty should not be used to undermine the peace and security of the country.
“There is no doubt that the inventors of social media platforms have good intentions such as making communications easier, faster, secure and untainted.
“This technological breakthrough has contributed immensely to rapid development in various climes.
“Our domestic use of social media platforms to promote divisive, tribal, parochial, fabricated and sentimental information and messages in the country, however, needs to be checked.
He further urged operators to guard against distractions from the goals of the social media.
“This dangerous trend which is also being perpetrated by some bloggers and online journalists requires urgent attention to promote development, peace and the well being of our nation.
“Operators of social media platforms must guard against the distractions the social media generates and focus on their respective key deliverables.
“This much freedom of expression and opinion can be a double-edge sword: a tool that triggers change; shaping political discourse and extremism, fake news and hate speech,’’ Shittu said.
He said that the ministry was collaborating with relevant stakeholders on how to use social media to do things differently.
“We will adopt social media in the way in which we do e-service and try to shape policies accordingly for good governance,’’ the minister said.
Mr Bunmi Adebayo, Special Assistant (News Media) to Gov. Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun, said that the social media had become too critical to be ignored or undermined.
Adebayo noted that the improper use of social media could constitute nuisance to the government and society.
According to him, mudslinging, hate speech, cyber bullying, rants and unbridled ventilation of anger are common features in these platforms.
“It is, therefore, very necessary to moderate these counter-effects to promote positive, development-driven and responsible social media usage platforms,’’ Adebayo said.
He suggested that user names on social media platforms should be matched with their phone Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) cards for identification and to check irresponsible use of platforms.