The United States Ambassador to the Nigeria, Mary Leonard, has proposed alternatives the Nigerian government can deploy instead of an outright ban of Twitter in Nigeria.
On June 4, the Minister for Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, announced the indefinite suspension of Twitter, alleging that the platform was “capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence“.
This followed the deletion of President Muhammadu Buhari’s tweet on June 1, in which he threatened to punish those “bent on destroying Nigeria through insurrection.”
In an audio interview sent to PREMIUM TIMES on Thursday by the U.S. Embassy, Ms Leonard suggested that the Nigerian government collaborate with tech companies to address inappropriate contents on their platforms.
According to her, while the U.S. is against the restrictions on freedom of expression including on social media, the platforms should not be used to engage in online hate speech.
“At the same time, we should be very clear that the United States does believe any government should sit idly by so far as people are engaging in online hate speech,” she said.
“I think where we differ is that the response to that is not banning Social Media which plays so many important roles not only in freedom of expression but in the commercial sphere and disseminating health information rather in addressing that part of the issue.
“There are many ways to do that—working within the framework of civil rights laws or infrastructure to punish those violate the abilities of others to live free of discrimination and violence.
“But more to the point, I think government can expand voluntary collaborations and partnerships with technological companies to address inappropriate contents on their platforms,” she said.
She lauded the move made by Twitter to begin a dialogue with the Nigerian government.
On the Minister of Information and Culture, Mr Mohammed, said Twitter had approached the federal government for dialogue to resolve the problem that led to the suspension of its activities in Nigeria.
The U.S. ambassador also urged the Nigerian government to realise it has a “role and responsibility in creating an atmosphere in which their citizens can live their lives” free of violence, and said the absence of violence is about law enforcement and identifying and using the criminal Justice system to punish people who would engage in such acts of violence.
She said the government’s activities need to be firmly grounded within law enforcement and judicial processes with attention to human rights and civil liberties.
Ms Leonard added that the United States looks forward to a “rapid resolution of the debate surrounding Twitter and social media and the path to secure Nigeria lies in more and not less communication”.
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