The Social Media Problem: Nigerians in Diaspora engage in powerful debate. You don’t want to miss this!

L-R: Princewill Odidi, Ceejay Ojong, Sunny Omagu Ogar and Peter Offem Ubi 
Efio-Ita Nyok|15 February 2017
In the late hours of Tuesday 14th February this year Cross River-born, Atlanta-based development economist, social entrepreneur and social commentator, Mr Princewill Odidi, sparked a debate online about the current challenge new media is posing to society. Odidi’s post called for opinions about the degree of freedom in social media and its implications to society. 
His argument observed that falsehood is easily peddled via the said medium.
This poser incited the reactions of one Ceejay Ojong, Sunny Omagu Ogar, and Peter Offem Ubi among others. Incidentally, Mr Ogar is resident in Maryland, Mr Ubi in New York except Mr Ojong who is in Abuja but had once lived and studied in the United Kingdom according to his Facebook details.
On the one hand, Odidi is inquiring into the possibility of establishing control over social media. On the other hand, Ojong explains that it is possible to introduce checks and balances while admitting that too much of control results into dictatorship as too much of freedom yields anarchy. 
Again, Ogar notes that the Odidi’s observation hinges on the abuse by users and shows the absence of what he refers to as civilisation. Ubi notes that anticipated control measures are capable of being hijacked by powerful countries against less powerful ones.
In the course of the debate Ogar notes that since all Facebook accounts have phone numbers then abusers could be traced. Odidi counters saying that this may be possible in advanced democracies but not in Nigeria. On his part, Ojong submits that with the interplay of ‘social media platform providers, governments and the individual users themselves’ some degree of responsibility could be injected into the system. What follows is the debate proper:
Princewill Odidi:
Gradually social media has replaced mainstream media as the source of public information.
The problem with that is everyone is now a reporter, a journalist and media host. A lot of falsehood is shared and circulated in minutes. These falsehood even have the capacity to sway public opinion.
No matter how good performance a government puts up, a popular media group can make a caricature of it and reduce the good intentions of government to laughing stock. You can imagine what people write about the President illness, some even question Presidential phone calls to Trump.
Are we getting more than we bargained on cyber freedom? Should what people post on social media be censored or monitored? Do we need a cyber police to prosecute people who post falsehood or blasphemy? Excessive freedom of speech on the internet is it good for our democracy? What do you think?
Ceejay Ojong: There is this time-tested saying that ‘too much freedom leads to anarchy and too much control births dictatorship’.
We certainly have to collectively find ways of striking a balance between guaranteeing individual liberties while at the same time ensuring individual responsibility and accountability by reining-in all manners of irresponsibilities on the cyber space in general and social media in particular.
It’s a tough call though. A ‘catch 22’ or the ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ situation to say the least. But it is quite possible to craft and enforce the checks and controls mechanism.
Sunny Omagu Ogar:
Social media, freedom of speech or expression are not meant for the wrong purpose as a way that we can use it as a means to morally hurt someone. The improper use by anyone is lack of civilization and awareness.
The misuse of social media can not stop all by itself unless there’s a penalty for a misuse.
Princewill Odidi:
When paper publishing reigned, it was easier to sue for libel. Now with social media, it’s really difficult to sue, because anyone can create an account using other people’s information.
So how will regulations work when the cyber highway has no identifiable address?
Sunny Omagu Ogar:
In assessing the nature of various post on social media and it’s negative impact(if contain) to readers and who it is directed to, if it is a damaging or threatening message on social media is not different than if it is in the print or electronic media. There all have the same detrimental effect on the targeted person.
All Facebook account are associated with a phone number, no matter whose name you use to post, the phone number can be traced.
Princewill Odidi:
@ Sunny Omagu Ogar unlike how it is obtained in developed democracies where phone lines can be traced, it does not really apply here in Nigeria. Even though NCC requires all phones lines to be properly registered and fingerprinted, you can still buy a phone and phone line in Nigeria already programmed for use.
It is sometimes difficult to enforce regulations without a structure to enable compliance. 
Ceejay Ojong:
Princewill Odidi Very poignant and relevant observation there that underscores part of the intricacies of the ‘Catch 22 or ‘Scylla and Charydis’ situation I mentioned earlier.
Nevertheless the situation is not completely hopeless for a solution. It requires commitment, coordination and responsible action by the social media platform providers, governments and the individual users themselves. There could be a code of ethics including a responsibility statement that has to be signed on to by one and all account holders, which could be provided by the service providers. Governments have to craft local legislation for individual countries, as well as collaborating on common international standards and protocols with other countries. There could be an express provision that prohibits the use of false information to operate accounts and posting of offensive, abusive, immoral, inciting materials or utterly untrue and misleading information.
Of course it  is possible to trace almost all modern computer or telephone devices that are connected to the internet and their places of use almost anywhere in the world. 
But the problem is what might constitute an offense in one jurisdiction may be allowable in other jurisdictions by law. Some sort of National identification number from any internationally recognizable identity document could be required as part of the registration process.
Further, there could be the possibility of uploading fingerprints identity at the time of registration or upgrade  with a clear understanding that there is an actionable no-disclosure clause that binds the service provider except as required by law.
Just a few thoughts here but so much more can be done to stem the situation. It’s just that the service providers may not have the incentive to do this because it may not translate to immediate profits for them except governments condition them to do so as part of the licensing procedures.
Also, it may not be in their place to exactly determine what is harmful or libelous towards any individual or group. It is then up to the individual or group or government to bring action against the offender in case of a perceived injury, afterall the law of libel in almost all jurisdictions applies to published materials that are deemed damaging and capable of reducing the esteem of the affected person or persons in the eyes of right thinking members of society.
Peter Offem Ubi:
Who then sets the international standards Ceejay Ojong? Anything international I feel its application will be an abuse to less powerful or privileged country’s just like international law has been. Social media isn’t ordinary anymore, and due to improvements over the years, individuals can still be identify based on data collection with improve IP address information system monitoring.
For me the fact are clear today Princewill Odidi that providers are basically responsible for content control. Post nude pictures for example on Facebook and one will block after initial ⚠.
Ceejay Ojong :
Peter Offem Ubi I believe your position is not so different from mine except that you dwelt on one stakeholder – service provider rather than seeing it as an issue that requires multi-stakeholder consultation, cooperation and action.
Regarding your question, the International Standards Organization – ISO is responsible for setting world standards generally. Nigeria and over 175+ countries are members. There are almost 32,000 standards covering almost all areas of manufacturing and production or products that require ISO certification, as well as the Social Responsibility Standard that requires voluntary compliance. Chances are that even the mobile phone device or computer equipment we are currently using and almost every other devices we own including most of the clothes we are wearing and agricultural export products have to be ISO certified to be in the market.
No prosecution is really needed on default except that your product cannot go far in the international market if your products lack such certification.  Remember, the imperatives of trade says to nations ‘trade or perish, trade or remain poorer’.
Now, poor quality and non-standardized products including agricultural products are a key bane of African underdevelopment.
So, the route can be exploited with launching of a Standard that is tailored to meet the specific needs and largely address the problem across the globe. Such standards usually form part of the sub-legislation of governments in a particular country that guides the action of companies and citizens. Then of course in terms of protocols – these are more binding international agreements between and among countries that should provide commonly understood rules and guide action over particular issues of mutual interest.
All of these require collective bargaining that may not be explicit to ordinary citizens especially in ways that would harm them since no government should or ought to negotiate any agreements that would either harm its interest or its citizens.
Peter Offem Ubi :
I hope this body is able to reach consensus, due process and openness without influence from the major world powers.
Ceejay Ojong :
Is there really anything that is not subject to some sort of influence especially from the person or persons with strong motivation, expertise and resources to get things done? Is that not what we see with Nigeria and ECOWAS in our backyard here? Something about ‘he who pays the piper dictates the tune.’
ISO is built on a democratic model though with the Standard Organizations of its member countries forming its key decision making apparatus.
Usually governments, international civil society, experts, citizens and different interest groups are engaged in forging an international standard. Why don’t you visit their website to gain clearer insight into their activities. But this is only one leg.
The countries have to agree first and draft a protocol, and somebody must lead or drive the effort.
**Legislation , international protocol, consultation, cooperation and action, etc this dilemma could be surmounted. It seems to me that this debate was Odidi’s community service on an auspicious St. Valentines Day!
Efio-Ita Nyok
Is a Blogger, the Editor & Publisher of