Having recognized the relevance of information technology as a critical infrastructure in society which must be safeguarded, regulated, and protected against online harm, the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), on the 13th day of June 2022, announced the release of a Draft code of practice for interactive computer service platforms/Internet Intermediaries.
SCOPE AND APPLICATION
The code applies to all Interactive Computer Service Platforms/Internet Intermediaries and their agents in Nigeria such as blogs, e-commerce websites, gaming platforms, social media platforms, media sharing websites, mobile apps, streaming platforms, online discussion forums, or similar platforms where users can create, read, engage, upload, share, disseminate, modify, or access information.
It also outlines security measures such platforms must put in place to protect the interest of their users.
SOME KEY PROVISIONS SOCIAL MEDIA AND INTERACTIVE ONLINE PLATFORMS IN NIGERIA SHOULD TAKE NOTE OF
- All computer service platforms or internet intermediaries must act promptly in response to any court order mandating such platform(s) to either provide information under its domain, assist any authorized government agency with respect to investigating, prosecuting an offence or combatting cybercrimes.
- All online platforms are to provide a dedicated channel that is available all the time where authorized government agencies and users can lodge or forward a request or complaint against content that is unlawful or harmful.
- All respective platforms must respond swiftly to notices about the presence of unlawful content on their platforms from either a user or an authorized government agency. All platforms are expected to acknowledge receipt of such complaints and take down the content in question within 24 hours.
- Online platforms are to provide a complainant with a unique code or ticket number for tracking the progress of a complaint.
- Where a complaint has been resolved, such platforms are to inform a complainant of their findings and resolutions as well as provide parties involved with evidence used to arrive at such findings.
- All online platforms are to publish on their websites and/or applications, the rules for using such platforms. Such rules must be easily accessible and summarized in simple language.
- They are to preserve any information concerning a person that is no longer a user of a platform due to withdrawal or termination of registration, or for any other reason, as required by law.
- Regularly inform users that access to and usage of the platform are subject to compliance with rules and regulations. Where a user fails to comply, the platform reserves the right to terminate the user’s access to the platform.
- File annual compliance report with NITDA.
- With respect to large service platforms (i.e. platforms with over 100,000 users), in addition to some of the responsibilities provided above, they must;
- Be incorporated in Nigeria.
- Have a physical contact address which must be displayed on their website or platform
- Appoint a liaison officer who must serve as a channel of communication between NITDA and the platform.
- Provide the necessary human supervision to review and improve the use of automated tools to strengthen accuracy and fairness and protect the overall freedom of speech and privacy of users.
- On request, furnish a user, or authorized government agency with information on:
- Reason behind popular online content demand and the factor or figure behind the influence.
- Why users get specific information on their timelines.
- Provide users or authorized government agencies, upon request, with a report of due process on their activities, and/or open investigation to ensure individuals are not targeted.
- All online platforms are mandated to remove prohibited materials from their platforms within 24 hours after receiving notification about the existence of such on their platforms. “Prohibited Material” in this context refers to that which is objectionable on the grounds of public interest, morality, order, security, peace, or is otherwise prohibited by applicable Nigerian laws.
GUIDELINES FOR CURBING AGAINST MISINFORMATION AND DISINFORMATION
In order to curb the menace of misinformation and disinformation, online platforms are required to do the following under the code;
- Prioritize authentic information in search, feeds, or other distribution channels.
- Trace, expose, penalize, and close accounts and sources that amplify disinformation and misinformation.
- Provide users with easily accessible tools to report disinformation and/or misinformation and improve access to different authentic sources with alternative perspectives.
- Where a piece of false information is likely to cause violence, public disorder, or exploitation of a child, the platform shall caution the publisher and remove the content as soon as reasonably practicable.
- Provide independent researchers, media organizations, journalists, civil society organizations, and government agencies with access to the necessary data to facilitate research in combatting disinformation and misinformation, etc.
CONSEQUENCE OF BREACH OF THE RULES
Under this code, Non-compliance with this Regulation shall be construed as a breach of the provisions of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) Act of 2007, and any Platform and/or internet intermediary that is responsible for the violation of this Regulation may be liable to disciplinary measures under civil service rules, prosecution and conviction for violation of NITDA Act 2007.
HAS THE CODE BEEN SIGNED INTO LAW?
At the time of publishing this article, the code has not been signed into law as it is merely in its draft stages. The reason behind the publication of the draft code is to enable members of the public to make their input at this stage.
Although the move to regulate online platforms is a commendable one, it has been observed that a major part of the code makes reference to practices which are already tenable by online platforms. There is also the issue of vagueness in certain sections of the code. For instance, when is a platform below one hundred thousand users, deemed to be in Nigeria? Is it when it has a physical presence in Nigeria, when it has users from Nigeria or when it is incorporated in Nigeria?
On the other hand, there are concerns about how much information the code seeks to control. According to the code, it seeks to regulate misinformation, disinformation, harmful content, unlawful content and prohibited materials. While “unlawful content” already has legal backing, the same cannot be said for “harmful content” and “misinformation” as they are subjective.
However, the code is in its draft stages and it is hoped that a good portion of the drafted code would be revised to embrace present-day realities as well as issues bothering human rights.