A new social media bill in Nigeria that is designed to punish those spreading fake news and hate speech could soon be signed into law.
Critics of the bill suggest that it will give the government power to silence free speech and freedom of expression by shutting down the internet at will, according to Human Rights Watch.
The bill, entitled “The Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulations Bill, 2019”, could punish offenders with a fine of up to $828 or three years imprisonment, Weetracker reports.
Corporate organizations could be fined up to $276,100.
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The wording of the bill is vague and gives the Nigerian government the right to shut down the internet when it sees fit.
Critics say that the bill is disguised as a measure to prevent hate speech. If passed, it could be used to silence any form of political dissent or dialogue that the government might find unfavorable.
Human Rights Watch argues that social media is a critical tool for shaping public discourse. There are 29.3 million social media users in Nigeria.
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Nigerians have reacted to the proposed law on Twitter with the hashtag, #SayNoToSocialMediaBill. But the bill is inching closer to becoming the law.
Sahara Reporters claim that the bill, sponsored by Niger State senator Mohammed Musa, is a plagiarised version of Singapore’s “Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act 2019”.
That act was passed by the Singaporean Parliament on May 8, 2019, and signed into law by President, Halimah Yacob, on June 3, 2019.
The report claims that the Singapore act has been copied virtually word-for-word in the Nigerian bill.
Authorities in Singapore – long criticized for restricting civil liberties – made use of the anti-fake news act for the first time in November, forcing politician Brad Bowyer to correct a Facebook post that questioned the independence of state investment firms.
The new Singaporean act has been labeled by critics as a “chilling” attempt to stifle dissent.