So­cial me­dia is not the prob­lem

Lesotho Times - - Leader -

IN this edi­tion, Home Af­fairs Min­is­ter, Ad­vo­cate Lekhetho Rakuoane, has called on Basotho to har­ness pos­i­tive en­ergy and not trade in­sults on so­cial me­dia to foster na­tional unity ahead of golden In­de­pen­dence ju­bilee cel­e­bra­tions in Oc­to­ber.

The min­is­ter also im­plores Basotho to “cease fire” and stop mak­ing neg­a­tive posts about the coun­try on so­cial me­dia. The Pop­u­lar Front for Democ­racy leader also said one way this could be achieved was through dis­cus­sions to en­sure the na­tional in­ter­est tri­umphs above par­ti­san con­sid­er­a­tions.

How­ever, in the same story, Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Min­is­ter and gov­ern­ment spokesper­son Khotso Let­satsi out­lines an al­ter­nate view of a clampdown of sup­pos­edly “rogue” so­cial me­dia users.

The two min­is­ters’ view­points could not be fur­ther apart, and it is dif­fi­cult to en­vi­sion them co­a­lesc­ing. While Adv Rakuoane is call­ing for di­a­logue and diplo­macy, his col­league omi­nously speaks of in­ten­tions to “sup­press this neg­a­tiv­ity”.

The word “su­press” is hardly used in a pos­i­tive con­text and for any so­cial me­dia user it is wor­ri­some. Its syn­onyms in­clude sub­due, re­press, crush, quell, quash and squash which cer­tainly don’t cor­re­late with demo­cratic dis­course.

The dis­con­cert­ing un­der­cur­rent in the state­ment by Mr Let­satsi is the use of so­cial me­dia to rally peo­ple with com­mon goals to­gether amounts to abuse of so­cial me­dia and that such abuse will be pun­ish­able by law or where pos­si­ble lead to a Chi­nese-style so­cial me­dia ban.

This may sound like a valid course of ac­tion where so­cial me­dia is a tool used to ped­dle hate speech, defam­a­tory lan­guage, and other forms of in­flam­ma­tory mes­sages.

How­ever, it is a slip­pery slope since the gov­ern­ment, which is also a po­lit­i­cal player, gets to de­ter­mine what can be deemed so­cial me­dia abuse. For in­stance, peo­ple call­ing for gov­ern­ment ac­count­abil­ity can end up be­ing la­belled as so­cial me­dia abusers.

As a re­sult, any so­cial me­dia ban or dis­rup­tion of in­ter­net ac­cess un­der those cir­cum­stances amounts to un­war­ranted cen­sor­ship and gross re­stric­tion of fun­da­men­tal rights.

On 1 July 2016, the United Na­tions Hu­man Rights Coun­cil passed a res­o­lu­tion con­demn­ing coun­tries that in­ten­tion­ally dis­rupt cit­i­zens’ in­ter­net ac­cess. The res­o­lu­tion on “The pro­mo­tion, pro­tec­tion and en­joy­ment of hu­man rights on the in­ter­net” em­pha­sises the UN’S po­si­tion on dig­i­tal rights and re­it­er­ates the UN’S stance that “the same rights peo­ple have off­line must also be pro­tected on­line,” in par­tic­u­lar the free­dom of expression cov­ered un­der ar­ti­cle 19 of the Uni­ver­sal Dec­la­ra­tion of Hu­man Rights.

In­ter­net shut­downs are on the rise glob­ally. Last year Ac­cess Now recorded 15 in­ci­dents of in­ter­net shut­downs glob­ally. The year 2016 has seen 20 in­ci­dents recorded so far from around the world. This rise is largely due to the cen­tral role that the in­ter­net in gen­eral and so­cial me­dia in par­tic­u­lar have taken in the dis­sem­i­na­tion of in­for­ma­tion of a po­lit­i­cal na­ture. Threat­ened by this kind of on­line po­lit­i­cal dis­course, gov­ern­ments such as those of Uganda, Ethiopia, Al­ge­ria and Chad have re­sorted to in­ter­net shut­downs and so­cial me­dia black­outs.

Th­ese are cer­tainly not the kind of coun­tries Le­sotho wants to be as­so­ci­ated with as far as free­dom of speech and democ­racy are con­cerned.

The In­ter­na­tional Covenant on Civil and Po­lit­i­cal Rights also em­pha­sises that re­stric­tions on speech on­line must be strictly nec­es­sary and pro­por­tion­ate to achieve a le­git­i­mate pur­pose.

Di­a­logue seems to be a sure-fire way to end the log­jam in our beloved Moun­tain King­dom. As long as some sec­tions of so­ci­ety feel the au­thor­i­ties are never in­ter­ested in lis­ten­ing to their con­cerns, they will al­ways be sim­mer­ing dis­con­tent which can­not be si­lenced by so­cial me­dia reg­u­la­tion.

Most Basotho are peace-lov­ing peo­ple with per­ti­nent is­sues to raise on so­cial me­dia, with only a few bad ap­ples that re­sort to abu­sive tac­tics. Surely, we can’t throw out the baby with the bath wa­ter.

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