THE SPEAKER of Nigeria’s House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, has stated that bad actors are banking on emerging technology and new media to manipulate people and spread misinformation.
Gbajabiamila made this statement in Abuja during a two-day national conference on information tagged “Information as a Strategic Tool for National Development”, organised by the House Committee on Information, National Orientation, Ethics and Values.
He acknowledged that technology and new media have democratised public debate to benefit citizens and nations, adding that only the purveyors of narrow interests, who seek to subvert the collective will of the society through misinformation, should be held responsible.
The speaker said deliberate measures under the law should be taken to mitigate the effects of misinformation that is bedevilling the nation from achieving a perfect union of the diverse cultures and religious bodies making up the country.
“Triumph over these challenges requires overcoming our differences in politics and religion, tribe and ethnicity, and building a national alliance against the forces that threaten us.
“Information management is central to success in this regard. We have to do better at making sure that citizens understand the nature of the problems we face and are kept informed of our wins and losses and the sacrifices made by those who do battle on our behalf.
Gbajabiamila also warned against taking action that would suppress free expression and robust public debate on social issues.
“Let us be aware that in trying to prevent the worst consequences of misinformation and hate speech, there is a danger of going too far in ways that smother the marketplace of ideas and deprive citizens of their free speech rights.
“That would be most unfortunate, and as leaders and government policymakers, we must avoid that outcome by all means.
He, however, stated that while fighting misinformation, there is a need to focus on building legal systems and protocols that support free expression and robust public debate.
“While doing that, we will hold to account those who in service of their narrow interests will seek to subvert our societies and harm our country using choreographed and mischievously curated misinformation.”