Hate speech: CITAD warns against divisive posts on social media

By Abdallah el-Kurebe, Editor

#TrackNigeria: The Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD) has called on users of social media to be sensitive to Nigeria’s diversity and desist from posts along religious, tribal, political, ethnic and other forms that could jeopardise peaceful coexistence between citizens of the country.

The Coordinator, Countering Hate Speech Project of CITAD, Hamza Ibrahim, stated this on Monday during a press conference held at the secretariat of the Nigeria Union of Journalists in Lokoja, Kogi state.

According to CITAD, hate speeches tracked and analyzed between August 20th and September 10th 2019 were 138, showed that remarks of some Nigerian social media users were becoming a big challenge because of their pseudo effect. 

“Our monitoring platform has from 20th August to September 10, 2019 captured one hundred and thirty eight (138) hate speech and violence against women online items.  An online checklist or coding sheet was designed using the Susan Benesch’s schema of identifying and analyzing speech items. The schema allows for multilayer examination of speech items to be able to conclude on whether or not a particular speech is hateful or dangerous,” it revealed.

CITAD further stated that elements embedded in the hate speeches included religion, ethnicity, gender, election, farmer/herder conflict and resource control agitation. 

The Centre expressed concerns over remarks that might undermine resolve for peace, unity and tolerance amongst Nigerians of variety of religious, tribal, political, gender and regional backgrounds.

“Another point of concern is the gender dimension of the speech items. We have seen a trend of hate speech related to gender which by extension breeds series of negative effects around women’s political participation and expression.

“We have seen cases where gender hate speech has deprived some women and girls’ access to social media platforms, freedom of expression, etc, for fear of reputational damage, some women and girls prefer not to voice their concerns or opinions on certain issues.

“We believed this is a major setback to Nigerian polity particularly at a time when women political participation is advocated for and encouraged at all levels.

“It is also our worry that social media platforms in Nigeria are gradually becoming unfavourable for women and girls because of the harassment, bullying, insults, denigration, etc they are exposed to,” CITAD stated.

In Kogi state, it noted the circulation of write-ups that could jeopardise peace as the governorship election approaches.

“As gubernatorial election here in Kogi approaches, we have noticed the circulation of anonymous write-ups inciting hatred and jeopardizing peace. The write-ups are shared especially on WhatsApp. We feel this is a problem that people should be educated on.

“Intolerance of some Nigerian social media users is clearly depicted through their posts and comments. Followers of different religions don’t value or respect each others’ norms. This is a persistent sad reality on social media platforms that should worry any concerned Nigerian.

“It is equally our concern that while people in other countries regardless of their differences are mindful of their conduct in the cyberspace, some Nigerians misuse the space thereby jeopardizing peace efforts,” it stated.

The Centre called on social media users to be sensitive to Nigeria’s diversity and avoid making statements that could cause division among citziens.

“We call on Twitter and Facebook users to be sensitive to Nigeria’s diversity when making tweets, posts or reacting remarks on the platforms. We again urge social media activists to be advocates of peace, shun and discourage hate speech and online violence against women.  

“We specifically call on Facebook to set rigorous procedures for creating and maintaining groups and pages on their platforms as most of the speech items captured emanated from there. Facebook should be more responsive to report of complaints of their users especially those relating to hate speech and online violence against women.

“We urge specifically the leadership of the two religious bodies in Nigeria: Jama’atul Nasril Islam and Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) to use their pulpits in preaching against hate speech and online violence against women.

“ We urge the social media influencers to debate and promote development issues and shun promoting divisive pieces. We strongly call on the authors of the hateful pieces about Kogi election to be pece-loving and stop publishing such content.

“We urge social media users particularly in Kogi to be cautious of what they write or share, and more importantly, should not share hateful content, instead they should such content to WhatsApp. We urge media organizations in the country to prioritize enlightenment campaigns against hate speech and online violence against women,” CITAD recommended.

It also called on law enforcement agencies to enforce extant provisions in the Electoral Act and other legislations that forbid hate and dangerous speech to discourage further spread.