Bloggers and social media enthusiasts in Nigeria on Thursday adopted a code of conduct, despite arguing that a regulation of any form would undermine the essence of the Internet.
The code, which was conceived by the National Orientation Agency and the Nigerian Stability and Reconciliation Programme, was approved at the end of a two-day Nigerian Bloggers and Social Media Workshop held in Lagos.
The process of formulating the code – a set of ethical standards regulating the conducts of citizen journalists and social media users – had commenced with the inauguration of the workshop, which was earlier held in Kaduna and Abuja.
The guidelines, which organisers of the event stressed was not binding on bloggers, cover perennial complaints against the new media. Some of the issues covered are sensational reporting, falsehood, indecency, plagiarism, copyright violation, abusive languages and absence of social responsibility.
The participants had expressed reservation at the adoption of such a code, though they could not reject it entirely. Their fear, it appeared, was that non-compliance could, in the long-run, attract external sanctions.
Founder of Sugunpreneur, Segun Ogunlana, noted that the regulation would undermine the essence of citizen journalism, which, he said, was about uncensored chastisement of bad government’s policies.
Tolu Ogunlesi, an online media expert, said the government, as a result of its secrecy, had inadvertently caused problems, including inciting statements and sensational reporting, that were attributed to new media users.
After an extensive debate, the stakeholders agreed on the standards but said that they should be described as guidelines instead of code of ethics.
A university teacher, Mrs. Edith Ohaja, said online reporters could do their jobs more responsibly and succeed in achieving their goals. She urged them to consider that they were members of the society who would reap from the problem they caused.
Ohaja, who teaches at the Department of Mass Communication, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, regretted that the new media reporters were trading national security and peaceful coexistence for the desire for high cyber traffic.
She traced the challenges caused by new media to poor training but noted that ethical compliance would improve their contribution to national security while reducing risks faced by practitioners.
“The whole idea is to generate traffic; hence, they post remarks that are capable of inciting violence and tension. You must know that you are socially responsible to the society, which means it is not every truth you should report,” she noted.
Nothing that victims of disasters needed empathy, she charged bloggers to shun reports that portray them as insensitive to the plights of others. The first thing people affected by disaster need, she said, was “sympathy and not media interviews.
“Some people are online just to cause controversies. Such people think the more abusive your posts are the more popular you become. It is insane to think like that. But unfortunately that is the challenge among bloggers. When people continue to do that, the up-and-coming practitioners imbibe the culture without questioning it.
“We must know that we are part of the building process. With this in mind, many people will begin to do the right things,” Ohaja noted.
According to her, the wrong notion that the Internet belongs to nobody is responsible for the rising challenge of plagiarism in the field. She warned that those who “copy and paste” without acknowledging the sources of the information were not different from thieves.
The good news, she said, “is that a lot of people are already making money from blogging.” Such people, she said, would embrace necessary ethics, a possibility that would increase professionalism in the field.
She urged bloggers to specify what “will be acceptable on their blogs,” saying this was the first step a serious blogger must do to differentiate himself from others.