11 September 2012

Nigeria: Cynthia - Growing Apprehension Over Social Media Freedom

Photo: Birgerking/Flickr
Facebook 'Like' icon and question mark.

Following the recent gruesome murder of Cynthia Osokogu by people she met on a social media platform, many Nigerians have canvassed the need to regulate the unlimited freedom people have to social networking media.

THE emergence of social media like Facebook, Twitter, Blackberry Messenger and YouTube have changed the face of media practice by making information sharing easier, faster and quicker. But this is not without its demerits. Social media has become a threat to the ethics of media practice and good governance because of its accessibility and absolute freedom.

Every freedom carries a responsibility. Even in advanced democracies where we all believe good governance is practised, there is no absolute freedom. I, therefore, believe that there must be a measure to check the negative tendencies of the social media in our country."

It was on this note that the Senate President, Senator David Mark kicked off a two-day retreat for Senate Press Corps in Umuahia, Abia State two months ago.

The Senate President said the check became necessary because people now use social media to demean their leaders. He added that there was no opportunity for retraction of information in such media.

The position of the Senate President, however, attracted criticisms from various quarters, especially from those, who noted that social media platforms are a mechanism for ordinary citizens to assess the performance of their leaders.

On the heels of the condemnations, were several posts on Facebook, which called for an Occupy David Mark movement, as a way of checkmating the suggestion.

For instance, a particular post on Saharareporters read thus: "ATTENTION: Occupy David Mark. The Senate President must be stopped from his moves to restrict the use of social media in Nigeria, as it has been done in militarised countries of the world. He has been quoted as saying the social media is being used to insult leaders. We are not in North Korea, this is a democracy. Occupy his telephone line and help save our only freedom of expression".

Another social media platform, Nairaland also had a post which read: "We now have citizen journalists. To me that's a big improvement for the masses. The revolution in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya would have been impossible to organise without the social media. If someone commits what could pass for a crime, by all means get the person and sue him. They do it all the time in US and UK. Nothing is wrong with that. There is a difference between slander and personal opinion. I can say Mr President is silly based on my personal observation of his conduct but I should be ready to prove it if I say that he embezzled 10 billion naira. Now, let me ask, why are they so concerned.

"Are we doing them any real damage? Are they not still stealing our monies despite our Nairaland and other nonsense web where we helplessly vent our anger? Do your torturers have the right to tell you not to scream and cry?"

Barely two months after the call by the Senate President, the nation was faced with the bizarre murder of Cynthia Osokogu, made possible by a social media platform, Facebook.

For those, who had attacked and even supported the Senate President's position, the Cynthia saga was a reminder of earlier calls, by Mark and others, for a law to regulate the social media.

The late Cynthia, it would be recalled, was the last and only daughter of Major General Frank Osokogu and his wife Joy. A business woman and student, the 24- year-old was declared missing on July 22, a few weeks to her 25th birthday.

She came into Lagos to purchase goods for her boutique and also keep a date with a few Facebook friends who had allegedly paid her air fares. She was allegedly lured to a hotel in FESTAC where she was killed.

Her alleged killers were said to be her Facebook friends who were part of a syndicate which lures young women to Lagos, robs them of their possessions and murders them. Cynthia was their sixth victim. She was allegedly drugged, robbed and strangled. All forms of identification were taken off her at the time of her death. She was even reported to be a call-girl who died in the 'line of duty'.

Police the social media platforms

With the trial of Cynthia's alleged killers still on-going, Vanguard Features investigations reveal a growing concern over the use of social media networks and the need to regulate the use of social media in the country.

Only recently, the Minister of Information, Mr. Labaran Maku, lamented the mischievous use of the social media by some Nigerians. He spoke at the 20th anniversary of the National Broadcasting Commission, NBC in Abuja,

He decried the unwholesome information and pictures of teenagers posted on Facebook, which are sometimes used to tarnish the image of some innocent Nigerians.

Also corroborating Maku's call for a regulatory framework, Chief Emeke Ndige, told VF that it is regrettable that the merits of social media are being consumed by its disadvantages. He called on the regulatory bodies to check the trend, adding that concerned agencies should come up with laws regulating the freedom in social media usage.

"It is a sad development, and we should all rise to do everything within the ambit of the law to checkmate this trend. It was unfortunate that the young lady ended in such manner. But it has come with a purpose because the law would now become so responsive to the need to police the social media platforms. They have to be policed in order to create order in its usage, because there is so much freedom there, " he stated.

Continuing, Ndige said: "I am not against any form of liberty; as a lawyer we support people's inalienable rights, but that right should not infringe on other people's life. So NCC and other concerned agencies should come in. But that is not all, the law enforcement agencies and the judiciary should ensure that any social media suspect is prosecuted to a logical conclusion to serve as a deterrent to others. In other countries, cyber criminals are prosecuted by the law".

Also speaking on the need for cyber security in the country, the Managing Partner of Okoro&Okoror Chambers, Chief Eidonogie Isiwele, told VF, that there was nothing wrong with the unlimited freedom in social media. He explained that what is needed is to create a secured future for the youths.

"I am not holding brief for anyone, but you will agree that most cyber related crimes in Nigeria are driven by poverty and state of hopelessness. A lot of people have no future in this country because of the collapse of the social system, hence surviving in Nigeria, to them, becomes survival of the fittest. The situation made the people to embrace internet crimes, but that notwithstanding, the law should be preventive on social media crime," he said

As far as Isiwele is concerned: "Relevant laws should be put in place, but the people's right to social media should not be stopped like what obtains in few countries where their laws are draconian as regards to social media.

"I know that the Federal Government made attempts to curb the excesses of social media and its growing influence early this year; it is in order because it would reduce the soaring rate of cyber crimes in the country," he posited

According to him: "Cyber criminals are already exploiting vulnerabilities and loopholes in national and regional legislation, there is evidence that they are shifting their diverse operations to countries where appropriate and enforcement laws are not yet in place".

A 2008 report by the President of Global Network for Cyber Solutions, Dr. Chris Uwaje, stressed the need for government to seek the advice of experts in the field of information technology. "If Nigeria knows IP and cyber security issues, they should domicile them at the footstep of the professionals in the CPN, the NCS and ATCON. These are people who have been trained in the area of informatics and information technology development; they should be the experts advising government," the report said

Continuing, Uwagie declared : " How can we have a nation that does not have an IT adviser to the President? And you want to safeguard your country from digital attack. There must be a Special Assistant to the Office of Mr. President, who would be a senior adviser on information technology. These are the things that need to be put in place in the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which is very strategically imperative that we need to do as fast as we can".

According to him: " There is no reason why we should not have an Institute of Cybercrime Monitoring; there is no reason why we cannot have Cyber Engineering in our institutions; there is no reason why we should not inculcate the cybersecurity curriculum from primary school upwards. Just the same way we used to have the civic lessons of old, cybersecurity and cybercrime can be introduced at the primary and secondary schools levels".

Vanguard Features recalls a recent report on Aljazzeera titled: "Dutch boy sentenced in Facebook murder case".

According to the report, the 15-year-old Dutch boy was sentenced to a year in juvenile detention after he confessed to killing a schoolgirl over a row that appears to have begun on Facebook, the social-networking site. Jinhua K was 14 when he fatally stabbed Joyce "Winsie" Hau at her home. Jinhua was further convicted by the court for attempting to kill his victim's father.

"The case, known in the Netherlands as the Facebook murder, caused widespread debate about the role of social media in violent crimes. The court said the boy did not know the victim and had murdered her "at the request or instructions of others".

Dutch media reported that the 15-year-old victim had argued for weeks with two friends on the social-networking site before they allegedly asked the defendant, who was 14 at the time, to kill her. He was offered a 1,000-euro payment, the media reported.

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