"We are going to work with key stakeholders to come up with a code of conduct for social media engagements in Nigeria," these were the words of the Director-General of National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Mr Kashifu Inuwa during the 2022 National Protection Week in January.
Five months later, NITDA has released a draft tagged—Code of Practice for Interactive Computer Service Platforms/Internet Intermediaries to serve "as a guide on steps to safeguard the security and interest of Nigerians and non-Nigerians regarding activities conducted in the [country's] digital ecosystem."
Before we continue, let's understand the key terms that make up the Code title:
- Interactive Computer Service Platforms — This refers to any electronic medium or site where services are provided using a computer resource and on-demand and where users create, upload, share, disseminate, modify, or access information, including websites that provide reviews, gaming platforms, online sites for conducting commercial transactions.
- Internet Intermediary — This includes, but is not limited to, social media operators, websites, blogs, media sharing websites, online discussion forums, streaming platforms, and other similar oriented intermediaries where services are either enabled or provided and transactions are conducted and where users can create, read, engage, upload, share, disseminate, modify, or access information.
How does this Code affect digital media companies?
NITDA said that all foreign and local platforms with more the 100,000 users will be required to incorporate in Nigeria, have a physical contact address in Nigeria, pay taxes and appoint liaison officers who will be their bridge to the government. Platforms with fewer than 100,000 users might also be asked to comply with these regulations when necessary.
Recall that, part of the conditions that Twitter was given before the lifting of its ban was to do the aforementioned. The Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) directory indicates that Twitter is currently registered in Nigeria as "Twitter Nigeria Limited".
Aside from the registration, these companies will "provide the necessary human supervision to review and improve the use of automated tools to strengthen accuracy and fairness, checkmate bias and discrimination to ensure freedom of expression and privacy of users."
The NITDA Code also requires these platforms to provide an annual compliance report that will highlight key details about them, including the number of [active and inactive] users, closed and deactivated accounts, and child protection efforts.
What are the red flags in the Code?
NITDA's Head of Corporate Affairs and External Relationships, Hadiza Umar claimed that the Code is "protecting the fundamental human rights of Nigerians and non-Nigerians living in the country, as well as defining guidelines for interacting in the digital ecosystem". However, critics have argued that it's an attempt to gag free speech and also reintroduce the "Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation Bill 2019"– which wanted to grant the Nigerian government regulatory control over conversations on social media platforms.
"They [referring to the government] are hiding tyrannical provisions inside dubious [and] ambiguous rules. All of this jargon is to hide repression in plain sight," Chioma Agwuegbo, the Executive Director of TechHerNG argued. Agwuegbo further described the Code as a "terrible idea".
Considering that Twitter deleted President Muhammadu Buhari's tweet because it violated its community policy, which also led to the ban of the platform for seven months, who then defines hate speech or morality in a secular society? The Code instructs that "where a Platform receives a notice from a user or any authorised government agency that an unlawful content has been uploaded, such Platform is required to take it down and ensure it stays down."
Part IV of the Bill said "a Platform shall not continue to keep prohibited materials or make them available for access when they are informed of such materials. Prohibited material is that which is objectionable on the grounds of public interest, morality, order, security, peace, or is otherwise prohibited by applicable Nigerian laws."
These companies are also instructed to disclose the identity of the creator of information on their Platform when directed to do so by a Court order. Meanwhile, non-compliance with the bill is a breach of the provisions of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) Act of 2007.
While red flags tend toward gagged speech, other issues like child digital protection and sanctions for revenge porn are relevant.
Khadijah El-Usman, Program Officer, Anglophone West Africa at Paradigm Initiative—a digital rights advocacy organisation, said in a press statement that "the code of practice and its impending implementation goes to the essence of digital rights and freedom for all, and we are aware of the dangers inherent in the closing of digital civic space in Nigeria."