What (re-)started on 3 October 2020 as an online movement, has now rightfully become a global movement calling for the end of police brutality in Nigeria. What has been impressive and interesting is to see the online movement move to the streets in Nigeria as more and more young people in the West African country peacefully protested to demand the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) unit be shut down, and also calling for the ending of bad governance in Nigeria.

It didn't take long for the protests to start agitating the Nigerian government.

After the President, Muhammadu Buhari, claimed he had issued instructions to close down the SARS unit, protests continued as more reports of police brutality in Nigeria kept coming in. On 20 October 2020, during one such peaceful protest at the Lekki toll gate in Lagos, in a series of what looks like premeditated events to try and prevent any spread of photos and videos from the shooting, the Nigerian Army massacred peaceful protesters as we witnessed on various live streams, videos, and photos.

What happened next is as equally shocking as the #LekkiMassacre itself.

Silencing of #EndSARS stories by Facebook

Barely a day following the #LekkiMassacre on 20 October 2020, Facebook and Instagram went on to mark most #EndSARS related content as fake news. This whether by Facebook's human fact-checkers or algorithms, effectively silenced crucial stories of what was happening in Nigeria. In the process, this added to the Nigerian government's lies that no shooting took place and no protesters were killed by the army.

What is interesting is that each post that was flagged as false information came with a message that read:

"False information The same information was checked in another post by independent fact-checkers."

This raises several questions. The first one being, what if Facebook's human fact-checkers sympathize with the Nigerian government and not the protesters and as such have a motive to suppress any information that is against the Nigerian government?

Secondly, can Facebook itself be trusted with regulating what is factual or false information when it too has a motive to appease various African governments as it lobbies for favorable treatment given its various projects it wants to roll out across Africa?

After "discovering" this after thousands of Nigerians on Facebook and Instagram highlighted this, the company issued an apology stating that it was its automated systems that were at fault:

"Yesterday our systems were incorrectly flagging content in support of #EndSARS, and marking posts as false. We are deeply sorry for this. The issue has now been resolved, and we apologize for letting our community down in such a time of need."

Unfortunately, that apology is not acceptable given the history Facebook has when it comes to policing fake news and hate speech.

A brief history of fake news, hate speech, and censorship on Facebook

Dating as far back as 2017, and possibly even earlier, Facebook has failed, despite its policies and many promises, to regulate hate speech and fake news on its platform.

In 2017, the social media company had to admit following a United Nations report that it amplified hate speech content that ended up inciting the killing of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. A similar thing happened in Ethiopia in 2019 where, despite being warned several times, Facebook again failed to take down hate speech content that would end up going viral and inciting the killing of many people in the East African country.

There are many other examples.

What is notable and concerning is that in all these notable cases, Facebook ended up helping one or another political faction in each country.

Which brings us to another important question: should Facebook and governments regulate fake news or should we be evaluating other options?

I must admit, it is a tough one to consider but I do know that we cannot leave this important task (if ever we are to regulate fake news) in the hands of Facebook or any government. The results could be devastating as we are witnessing.

What are your thoughts on this?

Quote of the day

Facebook labeled #EndSARS content following #LekkiMassacre as "false information." It later issued an apology blaming its "automated systems," this excuse is hard to accept given the company's history with fake news and hate speech. (Tweet this)

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