2023: Stop using inflammatory remarks, CITAD advises political gladiators

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By Chimezie Godfrey

The Center for Information Technology and Development (CITAD), has cautioned political gladiators against the use of inflammatory remarks to ensure the peaceful conduct of the 2023 general elections.

In a statement Tuesday in Kano the Lead,
Countering Harmful Speech and Disinformation Desk, CITAD, Hamza Ibrahim said the organisation has a hate speech observatory which tracks and counters harmful speech and disinformation.

Ibrahim said since the last six months they have focused their attention to tracking and countering election-based harmful speech and disinformation, adding that this was part of their contribution to the quest of having peaceful 2023 elections.

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He said the work of the “harmful speech observatory” was collating instances of harmful speech, segregating them into various categories and rating their degree of potential danger, alerting relevant stakeholders, engaging social media giant tech companies on policy contravention, drawing caution and enlightening the public on the instances.

Ibrahim revealed that they have observed that spokespersons of campaign councils at different levels, film makers involved in advertising candidates or parties, content creators on social media, comedians, prominent politicians including serving governors, supporters of parties and candidates or movements
and political singers contribute the proliferation of harmful speech online

According to him, from their observation and monitoring of harmful speech in the last six weeks, the above groups have been at the forefront of purveying not only harmful speech on social media, but disinformation.

He stressed that as the general election keeps approaching and considering the rate at which incitement, call for violence, hate speech, threatening remarks and disinformation are surfacing online, they considered it necessary to raise these critical concerns with the public and pinpoint the danger they pose to peaceful conduct of the election that Nigerians hope for.

In the light of the foregoing among other critical observations, he advised the purveyors of inflammatory remarks, especially spokespersons of presidential candidates, among others to desist from the dangerous act of overheating the polity.

He said,”We call on spokespersons of presidential candidates to sanitize and guard their words and actions, we specifically want them to stop using denigrating, offensive, hateful or inflammatory remarks in their political address either at campaign rallies, social media commentary or anywhere, we want them to as well stop disrespecting symbols or regalia of their opponents.

“We equally call on some serving governors and other politicians who engage in insulting or using hateful comments on their opponents.

“We call on content creators, comedians and film makers advertising politicians to sanitize their wordings and ensure they are hate-free or violence promoting.”

Ibrahim said they have tracked and analyzed political videos containing threats against voters (these kinds of videos even threaten lives of voters if they dare vote against what their threateners want), videos showing how symbols and regalia of political opponents are being set on fire, audio clips directing hate against some people for their political choice.

“Disturbingly this is done in the name of campaigning for some political parties or certain candidates. In these multimedia clips we have analyzed the perpetrators have openly associated themselves with some parties and candidates, and up to the time of this briefing at 11:00am on Tuesday 7th February, 2023 none of the parties or candidates has cautioned the purveyors or dissociated themselves from the act, and at this point we are disappointed to know that these candidates have endorsed and signed the National Peace Accord, we want to note here, that, their silence on this can be seen to scuttling the peace processing. We therefore appeal to all the presidential candidates to henceforth urge their spokespersons and supporters to stay away from purveying hate as it will be a setback to the election.

“The observatory has documented and analyzed content that clearly directed and promoted hate, incitement and violence on political opponents on the basis of their religion and tribe, these content in audio form were recorded at a campaign rally of one of the presidential candidates, this is dangerous especially at a time when the elections hold in less than three weeks.

“We have also tracked and analyzed exchange of denigrating and offensive language amongst politicians aspiring for various elective posts provoking their supporters and followers against their opponents. These have been posted on social media platforms in especially video format. These content are obviously serious concerns that can be problematic to the peaceful conduct of the election, that is the reason we are raising the concerns.,” he said.

He said content creators and comedians on social media platforms are aggravating political tension with their insensitive language, in doing so they trigger people using harmful expressions against persons, parties or certain political idealogy.

He said they openly advocate for violence against political opponents, adding that in this regard they have tracked videos of campaigns produced for some governors in local language by film makers. This is against lawful political campaigning for candidate, party or any political interest.

“We have also observed that some online content creators peddle misinformation and disinformation. They do this by distorting political campaigns/rallies videos with commentary or narration to sell disinformation narrative against political opponents. This insensitivity on the part of the content creators and film makers is aiding rivalry within the political base. In one of the videos our team of monitors captured that sells one the strongest opposition party, a man was lynched for calling name of the party of another presidential candidate, mob were seen carrying locally-made weapons running after the person attacking and wounding him. After the attack a man openly said the wounded person deserves the mob action for calling name of one political party. The video was posted on social media platforms.

“We have also observed that burning symbols is gradually becoming part of the electioneering. We have in a video posted on Twitter that a spokesperson of one of the major political parties leading the burning of another party candidate’s regalia, the video posted by the spokesperson was captioned “burning the satanic attire of ….(names withheld). …. (names withheld) all the way”
In another Twitter instance we captured, the spokesperson of the other party posted a video in which his party receives decampees from another party and he caption the “jungle don dey mature for (name withheld). Full maturity for harvest: February 25th 2023”. In the two specimens that we sample for analysis, there are elements of denigration.

“This is clearly an instance of inciting the public to engage in violence against people for holding certain political choice. Inciting the public or calling violence on people regardless of the party they belong to or political interest they subscribe to is something we strongly condemn,” he said.

Ibrahim said they have also noticed hate speech and ethnic profiling directed at some people on the basis of their ethnicity, this is done by some powerful politicians.

He said,”We want to draw attention of particularly the hate purveyors that their action is dangerous especially at a time when the election is about three weeks ago. Ethnic profiling and hate on any group is very dangerous at all times and must be stopped and condemned regardless of where it comes from.

“We have observed that in their bid to promote candidates and political parties, some political singers use offensive, hate and dehumanizing language on opponents of their political masters. We condemn this act and urge the singers to sanitize their lyrics to be free from hate, offensive or any denigrating remarks.”