By Eneh Achadu, Staff Writer, Intervention
How would it look like? Like Artificial Intelligence or Cyborg warriors parading the Facebook space, acting as predators capturing violators of the rules and issuing red cards, electronically? Or Panoptic surveillance that disciplines intending violators from even contemplating any infractions? Or just something like that?
The answer is what only Emeka Ike, Nollywood star and a former president of Actors Guild of Nigeria, (AGN) can provide at the moment, being the one suggesting such. He is one public figure who has been vocal about the vices in the country and he extended his voice to cyber space crimes this week. Understandably so because that arena of crimes has become a menace in Nigeria, though not only on Facebook. He was quoted as saying “How did we get here? What has Facebook turned my people into? Is it possible to have Facebook Police? I’d surely go for that”. But, doesn’t this beg the question? What is or could be Facebook Police? It could be such a brilliant brainwave turned initiative but how would it be operationalised, from the institutional point of view? Under global governance or national security? What about existing laws or policies guiding Facebook and it’s users.
With about 2.2 billion active users, Facebook is the biggest social media platform in the world. There are about 16 million active Nigerian users on Facebook. Cyber crimes in Nigeria especially cyber fraud is almost uncontrollable and the corruption in Nigeria has made it more difficult to curb.
Does Facebook itself have a social media Police? No, it doesn’t exactly beyond measures to track unusual account activities through the use of notification by SMS or email in case of an account hack which has been created. There isn’t necessarily a Facebook Police but there is indeed Internet policing and this is a collection of activities or strategies aimed at keeping the Internet free of crimes. They include profiling, censorship, fire walling, encryption and regulation.
There are certain countries that limit the use of the Internet to reduce or prevent cyber crimes such as China, Myanmar, Vietnam, Tunisia, Syria, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Eritrea. These countries have limited or eradicated the visibility of certain contents on the Internet in the hopes of reducing the spread of fake news and other cyber crimes. But enabling Internet policing costs a lot of money and the government of the affected countries are responsible for funding it, directly from tax payers money. According to a research by the Center for Technology Innovation at Brookings Institution, internet shut down or limiting cost countries $2.4 billion in 2015. And it costs Egypt, for example, $90 million to limit the Internet.
There are a few ways fraud can be tackled. Instagram which is also a big social media platform and also owned by Mark Zuckerberg has a feature that let’s you report Instagram accounts that promotes fraud or any illegal activity and the account after investigation gets taken down. There are also certain words or phrases that have been banned on Instagram and when a user types and sends, it is automatically rejected and this is a feature Facebook could implement.
A country like Nigeria that has been ranked as the third global Internet crime state, policing Facebook or the Internet will be a herculean task as the high level of corruption not only resides with ordinary citizens but also with those in power. Using tax payers’ money to police the Internet will only result in more embezzlement, a case of fighting fraud with fraud. The abuse of this system will not only completely eliminate privacy, innocent Internet users could suffer for it. There will be multiple cases where innocent users could be accused of fraud in the case of a misunderstanding. Nigeria is far from ready to police the Internet. The intimidation tactics, and observable incompetence in and around Nigeria will most likely make it a curse rather than blessing to the Nigerian Internet or social media space.
It is nevertheless an idea worth further and diverse reflection, particularly from the media, the larger civil society and the engineering community experimenting with all manner of technological forms in the 21st century.