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BUHARI’S RED LINE: Military says social media monitoring now top priority, raising free speech concerns

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Social media and national integrity

Barely forty-eight hours after President Muhammadu Buhari identified activities on social media as a threat to national unity in his broadcast, and just one day after the service chiefs met with the president, the Nigerian military has said it was now fully monitoring social media for hate speech, as well as anti-government, anti-military and anti-security information.

The Director of Defence Information, Major-General John Enenche, made this known in an interview with Channels Television late Wednesday.

Many had expressed fears over the seeming rising threat to free speech following recent public comments by the country’s first and second citizens.

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo had earlier stated that hate speech was terrorism, stoking much controversy as a result.

Buhari’s statement that social media debates questioning the country’s indivisibility crossed national red lines only compounded the worries of free speech advocates who feared that the comments from the two leaders who should be the frontline guardians of constitutionally guaranteed freedoms were ominous, pointing to imminent forceful push-back on free speech.

Enenche’s comments will all but confirm, if not heighten their fears, while sending warning signals across the country.

Many will be terrified by the military’s decision to monitor ‘anti-government’ and ‘anti-military’ information, wondering whether that was not indicative of full-blown dictatorship.

Read also: Review… Why Buhari’s August speech may not heal Nigeria

In attempting to defend the decision, Enenche said that prioritizing social media watch became necessary because of the potential of misinformation to destabilize the unity of the country.

He noted that social media was a challenge the world over, and that the military was not left out of the reality of grappling with the challenge.

Enenche said, “It is a double-edged sword and we are also having a bit of it.

“Imagine when the President came back and addressed the nation, not up to 30 minutes later, a fake speech of the Commander-In-Chief was being circulated; in order to do what? To derail the people.

“If you are not very sharp and if you didn’t listen to the speech or you don’t have a copy of it like I had it almost immediately, you wouldn’t know. So, looking at it from that perspective, it is a challenge everywhere.

“What are we doing? In the military, we are now taking on it more seriously than ever. We have our strategic media centres that monitor the social media to be able to sieve out and react to all the ones that will be anti-government, be anti-military, (and) be anti-security.

“We tackle them appropriately with appropriate responses. Ahead of that, we are also proactive. We have measures in place, scientific measures to be able to sieve this information and also to get the public and let them know that some of this information they are getting is not genuine are not true and their objective is an anti-corporate existence of this country.”

 

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