Nigeria: The Review Of The Framework And Guidelines For The Use Of Social Media Platforms By Public Institutions

Last Updated: 8 August 2019
Article by Tobiloba Oluleye

Introduction

Social media has come to be recognised as a very important tool for the circulation of information due to its global reach. Yet, if not used properly, it could pose a lot of disadvantages. This double-edged impact of social media has given rise to the Framework and Guidelines for the Use of Social Media Platforms in Public Institutions (Guidelines) which was issued on 25th January 2019 by the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) to control the use of social media by Public institutions. The Guidelines which extends to all Public Institutions (PIs), State and Local Governments, was issued with the aim of mandating the use of official social media accounts by public institutions and public officials to discourage the use of personal social media accounts for such purposes. It was also issued with the aim of creating a proper handover process whenever the need arises. The Guidelines has some key provisions which shall be discussed below.

The Social Media Framework

The PIs are to define their social media usage objectives[1] and choose platforms that suit the organisation's social media needs.[2] The Guidelines also prescribes that PIs are to observe control measures in the way the accounts are created, the way the information is circulated and the way the responses are handled.[3] In view of this, only well trained professionals in Public Relations and Communications with requisite experience in social media management are to operate the Social Media Unit of PIs.[4] Furthermore, the PIs are to develop interesting and engaging content with an ethical, professional, accurate and consistent tone capable of drawing positive attention to the PI through its use of social media.[5] The PIs are also required to follow some aspects of the account governance on account creation, login and password, account usage/information presentation, account handover and account update/response.[6]

Guidelines for Official Use of Social Media[7]

The Guidelines makes additional provisions for the official use of social media by PIs. These provisions include obedience to relevant laws, policies and regulations related to the use of ICT in the cyberspace; use of official email(s) for social media account; establishment of an account handover processes for social media handlers who leave the organisation; maintenance of a high standard of professional conduct and behaviour on social media; establishment of an authority to review information before posting on social media; establishment of protocols in relation to who is authorised to respond to inquiries received via social media; ensuring only authorised spokespersons or duly delegated officials provide comment to the media on government-related issues.

Government officials, in using social media, are not permitted to use personal social media accounts for official engagements or publish personal opinions on official social media accounts. They are also to respect copyright laws; ensure that postings or comments are factual, ethical, respectful, apolitical, impartial and professional; and require permission from the authority before posting anything on the social media.

Perceived Effect of the Guidelines on Public Institutions

It is expected that PIs and officials within the scope of this Guidelines will create official social media accounts and ensure that only qualified and authorised persons handle such accounts. They will also have to comply with the content control measures provided in the Guidelines. This way, proper dissemination of relevant information will be achieved. The PIs can use their social media accounts to publish information on government policies, promote rule of law, disabuse the public mind of wrong information, allay their fears and obtain feedback from citizens. They can also publish information to promote the ease of doing business. This is expected to increase civic engagement of the citizenry.

The Guidelines provides that PIs are to maintain a high standard of professional conduct and behaviour on social media. They must therefore ensure that they maintain strict control over what is disseminated through the social media accounts as they shall be accountable and responsible for every action taken on social media platforms.

PIs have been taking advantage of the use of official social media accounts. Examples include the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) twitter account, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) twitter account, The Nigerian Senate Facebook account, President Muhammadu Buhari's twitter account and the Federal Ministry of Health's twitter account.

The EFFC's twitter account has been quite active in publicising news of crime, arrests and prosecution of various crimes. It has also been quite popular in its prompt responses to the public enquiries. The INEC social media account on its part, played a role during the election period where it carried people along on the entire electioneering process and it used its account to relay proper information and disabuse people of wrong information. Also, the Federal Ministry of Health twitter account has been constantly used to circulate health-related information. The benefits that the proper use of social media by these institutions have created, including circulation of accurate information, are evident to the public.

The Ultimatum by NITDA

Not all the PIs and Public officials have been compliant with the Guidelines since it came into force which gave rise to the 14 days' ultimatum issued by NITDA on 27th June 2019. The ultimatum was issued to PIs and Public officials to take appropriate measures at ensuring that they comply with all the provisions of the Guidelines to avoid being sanctioned. It should be noted that the PIs cannot violate the regulatory instrument of NITDA as this is a criminal offence, which is punishable with a fine, imprisonment or both.[8]

Possible challenges

There are also some concerns about the successful implementation of the Guidelines due to the poor network conditions, irregular power supply and high cost of internet usage in Nigeria. There are also security concerns of social media account hacking to circulate malicious/malignant information. There have also been reports of wrongful use by operators of the official social media accounts and lack of proper accountability within the PIs. It is therefore important that these issues are addressed for an effective implementation of the Guidelines.

Conclusion

Social media is an informal yet powerful means of dissemination of information with wide global reach, it is therefore an effective mode of communicating with the public. Hence, the Guidelines is a welcome development and addressing the challenges highlighted above, will improve government transparency and citizenry engagement.


[1]Framework and Guidelines for the Use of Social Media Platforms in Public Institutions (Guidelines), section 2.2.

[2] Ibid. section 2.4.

[3] Ibid. section 2.5.

[4] Ibid. section 2.5.1.

[5] Ibid. section 2.5.3.

[6] Ibid. section 2.5.2.

[7] Ibid. Section 3.0.

[8] Drusman, 'Press Statement: NITDA Calls for Strict Compliance with the Framework and Guidelines for the Use of Social Media Platforms for Public Institutions' (National Information Technology Development Agency, 2 July 2019) < https://nitda.gov.ng/nit/press-statement-nitda-calls-for-strict-compliance-with-the-framework-and guidelines-for-the-use-of-social-media-platforms-for-public-institutions/> accessed 29 July 2019.

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