Excerpts from Webinar Hosted by Anyanwu Ikechukwu -Chairman Online Media Practitioners Association of Nigeria (OMPAN) Imo State Chapter & Publisher Arise Africa Magazine
I wish to wholehearted thank you all for giving me this opportunity to address you on this very important topic “Dealing with hate Speech and Fake news Writing and Reporting in our Contemporary Society.”
You can agree with me that this is one of the malaises threatening the very foundation of our society today. With the advent of the internet and the easy access to information dissemination and reception today, it has become a global problem. More like the Covid-19 pandemic. In my own view it is even more threatening than the Covid-19 pandemic. Therefore there could not have been any better time to discuss this topic than now. It is imperative that this issue of hate speech and fake news in our society be brought to the front burner ad be addressed by all and sundry.
The concept of hate speech and fake news
According to Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary, hate speech is a “public speech that expresses hate or encourages violence towards a person or group based on something such as race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation.”
The United Nations defined it as “any kind of communication in speech, writing or behaviour that attacks or uses pejorative or discriminatory language with reference to a person or a group on the basis of who they are, in other words, based on their religion, ethnicity, nationality, race, colour, descent, gender or other identity factor.
This is often rooted in, and generates intolerance and hatred and, in certain contexts, can be demeaning and divisive. From these two definitions it can be seen that hate speech is a deliberate and calculated action that is geared to achieve some personal or sectional gain to the detriment of the receiving party.
On the other hand, fake news according to Wikipedia “is a form of news consisting of deliberate disinformation or hoaxes spread via traditional news media (print and broadcast) or online social media.”
The issue of deliberate is also imbibed in fake news according to the definition above. Fake news has so much become very popular as the use of the internet and social media increases that it was even chosen as the word of the year for 2017 by the Collins Dictionary.
Although hate speech and fake news are different concepts as seen in our definitions, they are related as both can be used to achieve the same purpose as we shall see later. However, there is one issue that need to to be clarified in discussing hate speech and fake news: that is the concept of freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is a fundamental right that is being jealously guided anywhere in the world, but it does not provide any cover, protection or justification for hate speech and fake news. There is a whole line of demarcation between free speech and hate speech/fake news. That line of demarcation lies in the intention or target of the person or group making the hate speech or giving out the fake news. As seen in our definition, the intention of hate speech or fake news is to cause harm or unfavourable situation to the target of the hate speech or fake news.
Causes of Hate Speech and fake news
Hate speech and fake news are caused by the inordinate desire of some unscrupulous people to achieve undue power, economic gains or carry out vendetta against their perceived or real enemies. Raymond Sydney asserted that the same factors that cause other crimes like murder, fraud or assault are the same factors that motivate the perpetrators of hate speech and fake news. This is because these are planned and perpetrated against victims to give some sort of gains and satisfaction like the other crimes.
Consequences of hate speech and fake news
The consequences of hate speech and fake news are enormous. Hate speech causes violence and insecurity in the society. The Rwandan genocide emanated from the threshold of hate speech and fake news.
The incessant killings in some parts of Nigeria are also motivated to some extent by hate speech and fake news. The tension that engulfed Nigeria with the ultimatum issued by some northern youths in Nigeria last year was palpable and was triggered by barrages of hate speech and fake news propagated by the IPOB leader Nnamdi Kanu and some Muslim fanatics from the north.
Hate speech causes distrust, tension and uncertainty in the society. The consequences are the eruption of violence, stall or complete cessation of economic activities, hatred and suspicion. Fake news causes all the above too. But one very serious consequence of fake news especially as it comes to the social media is that it reduces the credibility of respected individuals who would either help spread, act on or make comments on the fake news. Fake news has also helped diminish government influence and affected public order.
Dealing with hate speech
Dealing with hate speech and fake news is very precarious as it borders on the rights of every individual to freedom of speech and expression. With the ability of the internet to make hate speechless and fake news viral, it does have so much resounding effect. The attempt by the Nigerian national Assembly to promulgate a Hate Speech Act has met with so much challenge as it is feared that it is an attempt to muzzle free speech. But the damage being done by hate speech and fake news are enormous and affecting the foundation of what holds the society together.
According to the United nations, “Tackling hate speech is also crucial to deepen progress across the United Nations agenda by helping to prevent armed conflict, atrocity crimes and terrorism, end violence against women and other serious violations of human rights, and promote peaceful, inclusive and just societies.”
Thus it is pertinent that strategies be evolved to deal with hate speech and fake news. One of such strategies is to swiftly and vehemently respond to hate speech and fake news as they drop. Most people believe and accept hate speech and fake news because that’s the information they have at the moment. It is the responsibility of the government and affected persons or groups to immediately and vehemently respond to hate speech and fake news as they come out. Where hate speech and fake news are immediately countered by the truth in same proportion or greater as it was released, it will go a long way to mitigate the effect or consequences of hate speech and fake news. This implies that every well-meaning individual, groups and the government have to be vigilant and proactive against hate speech and fake news.
Another way to deal with hate speech and fake news is to sensitise the public on the issue. Many members of the public do not know the difference and are not aware of the gimmicks and tactics of those that make hate speech and spread fake news. Where the public is diligently sensitised on this issue, it will also go long way to minimise its effect. This is not just the responsibility of the government. Individuals and groups like you and me can join hands and do the sensitisation as the effect hate speech and fake news is also on us.
Finally, the United Nations has warned that “addressing hate speech does not mean limiting or prohibiting freedom of speech. It means keeping hate speech from escalating into something more dangerous, particularly incitement to discrimination, hostility and violence, which is prohibited under international law.”
Hate speech and fake news lives with us. Its effect is destroying our society, our business, our government and our beliefs. It is not an issue we treat with kid gloves. We must tackle it head on with all the efforts we can garner. But we must thread with caution. We must tackle it discretely and tactically just as they do.