Hate speech and the role social media in a period of elections

By Danlami Nmodu, mni

Introduction

Let me begin this with an assertion that Hate Speech is a major challenge we are contending with now globally and domestically. Just last week, a report quoted the United Nations, Secretary General Antonio Guterres raising concerns about what he described as an “alarming increase” in bigotry globally. He made this known at the 2018 International Holocaust Remembrance Day. He also denounced growing anti-Semitism, which here called had left us with “unprecedented, calculated cruelty and horror”.
He pointed to “intolerance entering mainstream politics – targeting minorities, Muslims,migrants and refugees, and exploiting the anger and anxiety of a changing world”.The Secretary-General advised,“Now more than ever, let us unite in the fight for universal values and build a world of equality for all”..

If you think the UN Chief is too far away from you, well, let’s come back home. Also last week, while addressing Deputy Commissioners of Police Nigeria’s Acting Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar Adamu,mni expressed concern over the growing “hate speeches and misinformation” ahead of the elections. He therefore unveiled measureswhichhedirectedDCPtoimplementtoensuresecurityduringelections.
Let me also cite another widely reported example from Zamfara State.While reading hisriot act to Area Commanders, DPOs, the Commissioner of Police, CP Ibrahim Zana,mniwho has now been promoted as AIG urged them to watch out for hate speech and political thuggery among others

Given the aforementioned background, it is clear to all now that hate speech is a global and domestic challenge.It is a clear and present danger.And given Nigeria’s march toward selections, the domestic environment is being charged through all manner of hate speech as CITAD disclosed recently: We will come back to the CITAD shortly.
Hate speech occurs at different levels.For instance politicians addressing supporters could
make inflammatory statements.You could also find hate speech on radio and television as commentators air their views.But worry over hate speech has become a matter of concern given the use of social media to propagate or amplify them. Let us get one fact clear.When you peruse most social media platforms, it is not only the youth that are involved, even adults help in spreading such fake news which is most often laced with hate and dangerous intentions

Understanding Hate Speech and Social Media Susan Benesch, who is the director of the Dangerous Speech Project, once affirmed that“There is no consensus definition for hate speech. For that reason—and also because any definition of hate speech is highly context-dependent—there’s no consistent or reliable way of identifying it online.”
Also, Evan Feeney, who is the Media, Democracy and Economic Justice Campaign Director for Colour of Change, a civil rights advocacy group argued that hate speech “often looks like attacks on people for their perceived race, colour, religion, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation.” Feeney argues further it hate speech entails: “Anything that attacks someone for these immutable characteristics — calls for violence against them, efforts to intimidate or harass, or sharing names that perpetuate harmful tropes”
Benesch along with others in another paper also argued that dangerous speech could bevieweda “Any form of expression (e.g. speech, text, or images) that can increase the risk that its audiencewill condone or commit violence against members of another group”

I like to draw attention to this: Benesch has also identified five variables for determining the how dangerous a given hate speech could be: They include:
1. The degree of the speaker’s influence over an audience
2. The grievances or fears of the audience that can be cultivated by the speaker
3. Whether or not the speech act is understood as a call to violence
4. The social and historical context (such as previous episodes of violence)
5. Whether the means distributing the speech is also influential (such as when a media
outlet is the sole broadcaster of information in that area)
Let’s put it in proper context.In My view, hate speech refers to deliberate use of words to spite, hurt or disparage another person or group. Hate speech becomes particularly combustible in societies like Nigeria with multi-cultural set up.

On Social Media
White (2012;9) sees social media as “forms of electronic communication through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages and other content. Social media provides a way for people to connect to other people using theinternet and a host of services.Information can be exchanged ,collected ,aggregated, and disseminated in a split second.
It is interesting to note that despite the rising concern about social media already, the author said “ social media is in its infancy and continues to grow and develop.”Social media according to Wikipedia refers to the use of “interactivecomputer-mediatedtechnologies that facilitate the creation and sharing ofinformation, ideas, career interestsand other forms of expression via virtual communities and networks.”
They are interactive, facilitate networkingusers can share messages, videos andcomments. To operate actively ,users have to create profiles(Wikipedia)Within the context of this presentation, social media refers to the various platforms forcommunication and interaction.It is not limited to the traditional computer but what is nowcommonly known as communication devices.
TheremanysocialmediaplatformsbutthemostprominentonesareFacebook,Twitter,Linkedin,Whatsapp,Instagram,Youtubeetc
Why Social media matters:
It is a tool for mobilization: Because of the speed with which it delivers, social media can beused for good or evil. President Donald Trump used it well for political mobilization and isstill using it. In 2015 President Muhammadu Buhari’s campaign had massive social mediaactivity and his supporters are still using it. The PDP candidateAtiku Abubakar and otheropposition candidates are also very active on social media, mobilizing the people. .Religioussocial and entertainment moguls use it. Criminals and outcasts including terrorists have, we have seen in our recent history, also use it.We must remain alert and monitor what kind ofmessage they are sending out.
What to do when you identify hate speech:
Don’t ignore itThere is no particular way to identify hate speech. You all can feel it when it is used.Itcomes in negative words or use of symbols and graphics which denigrate or disparage.Themost rampant it seems is the use of negative words offline,which easily find their way tosocial media.Be careful what you say.All it takes is for someone to record it and post it onsocial media.
Once such words and symbols are identified, some experts say you should try and engagethe speaker or the purveyor; that is persuade them to desist where possible online.Butsome operate anonymously, so it is always better to report. Fortunately, most of thepopularsocialmediaplatformshaveiconsforyouto report.
What some smart people do is to also create a hashtag,eg (#ArewaMedia) or add manysocial influencers to atweet and draw attention to such hate speech or dangerousspeech.That way you draw the attention of the managers of social media platforms once it isable to attract many reactions.They may take action depending on their in-house rules or just simply report the matter online.
The battle against hate speech in Nigeria
Forthosewhomaynotknow,thereisacivilsocietyorganization,TheCentreforInformation Technology and Development (CITAD). It is based in Kano.CITAD has MallamYZ Yau as its executive director or its overall boss..It has been doing some remarkable workon tracking hate speech in Nigeria.In fact, it has what is officially called CITAD Coordinator,Hate Speech Project in person of Malam Hamza Ibrahim.Some of the most recent report onhate speech was given by the CSO. Reporting CITAD’s finding, the Coordinator saidrecently “between October 1 and November 30, (2018) four hundred and forty three (443) hate speeches were tracked on Facebook, Twitter, Websites of conventional and onlinenewspapers and the hate speeches comprised religious-based, ethnic based, election-related,farmers-herdsmenbased, Biafraagitationandthehostofothers”(
Furthermore, the organization noted that “in October 2018, two hundred and fifty two(252)hate speeches were captured, out of the number, one hundred and forty five (145) wereethnic based, fifty six (56) religious based, twenty eight(28) election-related, seventeen(17)Biafra related, three(3) farmers-herdsmen (3) , two(2) gender based and one (1) access toresources related one.”
There is an interesting observation in the report which said “CITAD had also noted withconcern that the volume of hate speech in hard copy newspapers was minimal and thattheirwebsitesgavefertilegroundforexchangeofhatespeechesamong their readers stressing that condoning illegal practice especially in the media washighlydangerousnotonlytoelectionsbuttonationalunity,peaceanddevelopment”
Truth the told: Hate speech is still being recorded despite government and CSOsbest efforts. A more recent report by CITAD quoted officials of both PDP and APC of making inflammatory remarks.The clear lesson to draw from the recent reports is that that the liberalization of mediaspace which the internet provides has made the social media a veritable platform for hatespeech. The dangers posed by hate speech and fake news have propelled the companiesbehind such platforms to begin to take measures to tackle the problem.It is an on goingbattle.Recently for instance, the European Union commended Facebook for cracking down on hate speech. YouTube, Snapchat and others have signed up to EU rules on matter. Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, YouTube, Google+,Instagram, Snapchat and others have all signed up to measures aimed at checkmating hate speech.
Facebook has also moved towards tackling challenges arising from Nigerian elections. Recently it announced that it would implement advertising rules to combat hates speech and fake news as elections loom. Even more, the social media out platform has gone into partnership with Dubawa.
Strategies for tackling hate speech
Avoid the use of negative insulting counter message

Don’t rush to arrest culprits. Arrests tend to be counter-productive. Quite often, the personarrested is presented as a victim and his popularity is enhanced online while the negativehate speech is left unresolvedConsequently, there should be alternative engagement which could be in any of this:Direct contact where possible for the person to see his folly.Or release alternative narrative using social media tools like mention on twitter, add asmany social media influencersand getthem to draw attention tothe facts as theyare.Suffuse the social media space with the alternative fact.
You could also use another tool mentioned earlier the “hashtag” # which makes it easierto identify thecampaign.Remember the #BringBackOurGirlscampaignonline. Thisapproach will easily catch global attention.Some experts seem to feel like tightening the legal framework mayhelp. I know there is a Cyber Crime Act.
Let me not pretend that there is one water- tight solution yet. Infact,Twitter,FacebookYoutube, Whatsapp are all grappling with the challenges and coming up with rules to curb dangerous speech and fake news.
One cannot say anything better than the positions canvassed by CITAD when it cautioned that “NBC should be extremely vigilant in their monitoring of hateful and unwanted news content with a view to taking necessary actions on any radio or television station that promote hate and dangerous speech in the country.” I will added that once these contents are aired, they find their way to the social media.In fact some of the station have their online platforms live streaming their content.
Sadly, the CSO group noted: “We have noticed that some radio and television stations have continued to allow hate speech either in form of jingles or during live coverage of political rallies, and this has been paving way for another trend of hate speech as the 2019 elections keep approaching”.
It warned: “hate and dangerous speech as well as spreading fake news are dangerous andcapableofjeopardisingthepeacefulconductofthe2019generalelections.”

Advice to Politicians
In an election year, politicians should mind their language; avoid the use of inflammatory expressions They should spread message of patriotism, love, affection and comrade ship not hatred. Let your followers know election is not a do –or-die affair. Know the domestic and global communities are very sensitive to hate speech so much so that no one will accept any excuses after you have said something dangerous. Simply avoid hate speech. Itis not acceptable. Don’t threaten anybody, group or communities. A single sentence in along speech might just give you away.We must all watch our tongues.
Also, the media should avoid giving vent to hate speech or dangerous expressions.Civilsocietygroupsmustremainactivelyasvanguardsinthesearch for peace and transparency.
At individual levels, we must return to the cherished tradition of being our brothers’ keepers.
Conclusion: Why Nigerians should work against hate speech
Nigeria which has experienced more than its fair share of political turbulence needs some years of relative peace to focus on development for the transformation of the country. implore our citizens to show that we desire peace and harmonious working relationship among ourselves. We must kick against any source of instability. Hate Speech creates tension and violence, It is a destabilizing force. We must resist it.

Danlami Nmodu, mni, Publisher and Editor in Chief of News Diary delivered this paper at a Seminar organized by the Arewa Media Forum at Arewa House in Kaduna on Saturday February 9 2019

Categories: SPECIAL REPORT

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