Hate Speech Bill: Between Censorship and Counter Narrative, By Mohammed Dahiru Lawal
POLITICS DIGEST – In 2015, Facebook started a program – Peer to Peer: Facebook Global Digital Challenge – that engages university students around the world in competitions where students create social media campaigns and offline strategies that will counter online hate, propaganda and narratives promoting extremism.
The program has successfully launched over 600 counter-speech campaigns from over 6,500 students in 75 countries and has reached an estimated 200 million audiences globally.
Rather than censorship, world communities who understand the value of free speech and the implication of absolute free speech are deploying innovative ways including the counter narrative approach to diminish hateful narratives online and its impact while protecting the rights of freedom of expression.
One may be quick to argue about how effective such measures have been. In 2016, a report was issued about counter speech on Twitter, co-authored by a group of scholars from the United States and Canada. The report which includes the first review of the “small body” of existing research about online counter speech, concluded that hateful and other “extremist” speeches were more effectively “undermined” by counter speech.
In her book, Hate Speech: Why We Should Resist it with Free Speech, Not Censorship, Nadine Strossen emphasized that counter speech is more powerful than one may think as it encourages reflection and a lasting change in beliefs in those who have made discriminatory remarks or posts.
If Nigerian policy makers reason enough, rather than proposing draconian laws against hate speech, they would first consider implementing strategic counter narrative tactics more, so the immediate gain can be two folds. Making community impact and giving youths opportunity to explore their potentials while making a career out of it.
For instance, it was estimated that about 25% of the Facebook P2P campaigns continue beyond the competition period and has gone on to receive grants, become incorporated as social enterprises and partner with Non-Governmental Organizations in creating lasting community impact.
One of the cutting edge idea that came out of the program was the development of a Plugin by Haigazian University, Lebanon, that will give recommendations whenever hate speech is detected, either by different words or terms to be used or by providing FB community guidelines or resources against hate speech. The plugin is being promoted by educators in universities and schools.
So why are we wasting valuable legislative time debating laws that in the long run would be used as weapons to destroy, rather than channeling the vice of online hate speech into a tool to forge?
In any case, Nigeria already has a Cyber Crimes Prohibition, Prevention, etc Act, 2015 which substantially takes care of hate speech and related offences. I hope therefore our legislators remember this.
M.D. Lawal is an intern with PRNigeria Center, Kano and can be reached on: [email protected]