Challenging Hate Speech on Social Media: The case of Nigeria

By Mohammed Ibrahim

Hate speech on social media has been blamed for widening divisions between ethnic, religious, and tribal groups in Africa's most populated country.

"The definition we use for hate speech is really the general definition,” said Giselle Lopez from PeaceTech Lab.

“Which is speech that attacks a person or group, on the basis of their race, their gender, their ethnic origin, their religion, or sexual orientation."

"Hate speech is a problem - a serious problem - not just in Northern Nigeria, Nigeria as a whole," said Abdulazeez Abdulkadir, a social media user in Northern Kaduna.

"Because on a daily basis, when you go online, look at the social media - the kind of things you read - from a religious angle, from an ethnic angle, we have a lot of 'ethnic profiling',” he said. “When you see people who have never seen each other before profiling each other just based on the name, or based on their assumed faith the opposite belongs to."

"Sometimes you have people in a circle - or clique - the people that follow you are probably people that think like you, so when you post these things they "like" or make comments to further encourage such speeches," said social media user Mustapha Bulama, also of Northern Kaduna.

"I think it's majorly because of peoples' insecurities,” said Halima Bashir, another Nigerian social media participant. “I think sometimes they want to feel 'among', or they want to feel like they have something to say but I think it's a terrible thing."

Hate speech has been identified as a contributor to actual violence, even if it doesn’t directly refer to it.

"Even if it's not directly calling for violence, from what we've seen, it's still worrisome and it can still escalate tensions," Ms Lopez said.

"Some people don't sit down to verify the facts of anything,” said Mr Bulama. “The moment they get a message and it says share - they just share, and it keep going around, and that also led to a lot of anger, a lot of hate - it kept spreading so I think mainly the problem is lack of regulations."

What do Nigerians believe could reduce hate speech?

Opinions on the ground vary on what could reduce hate speech online in Nigeria, from education to criminalization, with a controversial proposed law entering the debate.

"I think people need to be educated - civic education,” said social media user Abdulganeeyu Abdulrahman Giwa. “They have to be given responsibility to know the importance of the country in which they live in, know the importance of peace, to know the negative aspects of conflict, or war, or whatever it is - to know what hate speech can cause."

"Until you have a law - a concrete law, you cannot say the government is serious about it," said Mr Abdulkadir.

"I think that the owners of social media themselves, or the people who work with them, should be able to restrain these things,” said Ms Bashir. “For instance, when passing on comments that have plenty [of] hate things in it, words that you think might be offensive, shouldn't even be allowed to go online."