Out­rage over so­cial me­dia crack­down

Lesotho Times - - News - Bereng Mpaki

THE pro­posed tem­po­rary clo­sure of Facebook and Twit­ter by the Le­sotho Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Au­thor­ity (LCA) is po­lit­i­cally-mo­ti­vated and meant to avoid ac­count­abil­ity.

This is ac­cord­ing to the Con­sumers Pro­tec­tion As­so­ci­a­tion’s (CPA) strongly-worded let­ter to the LCA. The mis­sive was in re­sponse to the LCA’S re­quest to the coun­try’s two telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions op­er­a­tors, Vo­da­com Le­sotho (VCL) and Econet Tele­com Le­sotho (ETL) to jus­tify the con­tin­ued pro­vi­sion of Facebook and Twit­ter ser­vices.

In the let­ter, the CPA says the pro­posed block­ing of the so­cial net­works is a bar­rier to trade, sug­gest­ing the telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions reg­u­la­tor was abus­ing its pow­ers.

“(The) CPA is shocked by the planned tem­po­rary clo­sure of Facebook and Twit­ter by the LCA. This move is against the no­tion of reg­u­la­tion and con­sumer pro­tec­tion in the con­text of com­mu­ni­ca­tion ser­vices,” the con­sumer watch­dog notes.

“The reg­u­la­tor should in­ter­vene in mar­kets where there is mar­ket fail­ure not to make mar­kets that op­er­ate smoothly to fail. In this case, LCA should be an ad­vo­cate of re­li­able, ef­fi­cient, af­ford­able and fast in­ter­net in order to fa­cil­i­tate trade and com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween var­i­ous eco­nomic agents.

“Un­for­tu­nately, the ref­eree has turned him­self into a hooli­gan and de­mands play­ers in a field of play to fa­cil­i­tate in­for­ma­tion block­ade.”

The CPA also ar­gues the clo­sure con­tra­venes bench­marks for the re­newal of trade pref­er­ences un­der the African Growth and Op­por­tu­nity Act (AGOA). AGOA gives duty-free and quota-free ac­cess to the United States mar­ket to el­i­gi­ble Sub-sa­ha­ran African coun­tries in­clud­ing Le­sotho.

“We wish to cau­tion the gov­ern­ment of Le­sotho that this move will ex­ac­er­bate the frag­ile 2017 AGOA el­i­gi­bil­ity for Le­sotho. Ac­cord­ing to the AGOA el­i­gi­bil­ity, there is a need for an AGOA ben­e­fi­ciary coun­try to demon­strate progress to­wards be­com­ing an open so­ci­ety,” says the CPA.

“The clo­sure or Facebook, whether tem­po­rary or per­ma­nent, will vi­o­late the fol­low­ing pro­vi­sions of the AGOA el­i­gi­bil­ity cri­te­ria; elim­i­na­tion of bar­ri­ers to US trade and in­vest­ment, pro­tec­tion of hu­man rights, poli­cies to re­duce poverty, ef­forts to com­bat cor­rup­tion and rule of law and po­lit­i­cal plu­ral­ism.”

The as­so­ci­a­tion also queries the le­gal­ity of such a move, say­ing it was po­lit­i­cally’ mo­ti­vated.

“There is no le­gal ba­sis or jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for LCA to shut­down Facebook and Twit­ter ex­cept im­ple­men­ta­tion of the long taunted threat by politi­cians to close so­cial me­dia.

“This un­jus­ti­fied fear by politi­cians is noth­ing less than the fear to be held ac­count­able. It is very im­por­tant that stew­ards re­mem­ber that they hold pub­lic of­fices not to be­come like an­cient chiefs rather to serve the in­ter­ests of the elec­torate.

“The times of fief­doms was dur­ing the Li­faqane wars and slav­ery where peo­ple acted with all the im­punity and looked at other hu­man be­ings as their sub­jects. Any­one who wants to close so­cial me­dia has lost touch with the re­al­ity of the present time where mil­len­ni­als use Facebook, Twit­ter and other so­cial net­works to con­duct their busi­nesses, com­mu­ni­cate, share ex­pe­ri­ences, or­gan­ise, prayer, fight cor­rup­tion, hold stew­ards ac­count­able and so­cialise.”

Me­dia In­sti­tute of South Africa Le­sotho Chap­ter (MISA Le­sotho) has also added its voice to the out­cry, urg­ing the gov­ern­ment to view so­cial me­dia as a pos­i­tive thing and start us­ing it to strengthen its gov­er­nance struc­tures.

“The po­si­tion of MISA Le­sotho in this re­gard is that Facebook and Twit­ter are im­por­tant plat­forms that have added value in Ac­cess to In­for­ma­tion (ATI), which is vi­tal for sus­tain­ing democ­racy and pro­tec­tion of hu­man rights,” read part of the MISA Le­sotho state­ment.

“A move to close down Facebook, Twit­ter or any other so­cial net­work – whether tem­po­rar­ily or per­ma­nently – is a re­gres­sion in the de­vel­op­ment of our coun­try, and it un­der­mines demo­cratic gains that Le­sotho has at­tained to date. The clo­sure will neg­a­tively af­fect free­dom of ex­pres­sion, civic en­gage­ment and par­tic­i­pa­tion in the po­lit­i­cal and so­cio-eco­nomic ad­vance­ment of Le­sotho.”

MISA Le­sotho adds: “Facebook, Twit­ter and other so­cial me­dia plat­forms have ev­i­dent pos­i­tive changes in the po­lit­i­cal, so­cial and eco­nomic eman­ci­pa­tions of in­di­vid­ual cit­i­zen, civic groups, cor­per­ate sec­tor, as well as the gov­ern­ment of Le­sotho. Fur­ther­more, ac­cord­ing to stud­ies on the use of so­cial me­dia, aca­demic re­search has con­sis­tently found that peo­ple who con­sume more news on so­cial me­dia have a greater prob­a­bil­ity of be­ing civi­cally and po­lit­i­cally-en­gaged across a va­ri­ety of mea­sures.

“While we ac­knowl­edge that if not reg­u­lated, so­cial me­dia plat­forms can be detri­men­tal to safety and se­cu­rity of the coun­try and its cit­i­zens, we strongly dis­agree with the clo­sure of Facebook and Twit­ter in Le­sotho.”

The in­sti­tute urges the gov­ern­ment of Le­sotho to work to­wards pro­vid­ing an en­vi­ron­ment that pro­hibits use of so­cial me­dia to vi­o­late peo­ple’s rights such as free­dom of ex­pres­sion, as­so­ci­a­tion, safety, order, moral­ity and health in terms of Le­sotho’s con­sti­tu­tion and other in­ter­na­tional ap­pa­ra­tus.

“We also rec­om­mend to the gov­ern­ment of Le­sotho to take ad­van­tage of the SADC Com­mis­sion of In­quiry’s rec­om­mended le­gal re­forms to work to­wards a reg­u­la­tory regime for in­for­ma­tion and me­dia in Le­sotho.

“In our view, Facebook and Twit­ter are im­por­tant plat­forms that can be used to so­licit peo­ple’s views to in­form de­vel­op­ment of laws that pro­tect rights and free­doms of the peo­ple of Le­sotho.

In its re­sponse, the LCA took is­sue with the “deroga­tory” tone the CPA used to drive across its mes­sage.

“The Au­thor­ity has noted me­dia spec­u­la­tion on Twit­ter and Facebook clo­sure. Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion As­so­ci­a­tion (CPA) has is­sued a strong worded state­ment in which un­fair, un­founded and un­sub­stan­ti­ated al­le­ga­tions are lev­elled against the Au­thor­ity.

“How­ever, LCA be­lieves the deroga­tory lan­guage em­ployed by the CPA might cloud the le­git­i­mate concerns as re­gards clo­sure of ma­jor so­cial me­dia plat­forms.

“We, there­fore, note concerns by CPA on the mat­ter but re­gret the lan­guage used.”

The LCA said they re­ceived a di­rec­tive to close Facebook and Twit­ter from the Min­istry of Com­mu­ni­ca­tion, Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy on 2 Novem­ber 201.

“On 3 Novem­ber 2016 - the Au­thor­ity called upon the two net­work op­er­a­tors to make rep­re­sen­ta­tions as re­gards the Hon. Min­is­ter’s di­rec­tive,” says the LCA.

“On 10 Novem­ber - the Au­thor­ity re­ceived rep­re­sen­ta­tions from ETL and is awaiting those from VCL. It is only there­after that the Au­thor­ity will con­sider the rep­re­sen­ta­tions and ad­vise on the way for­ward. As such, the Au­thor­ity has not taken the de­ci­sion to shut down Facebook and Twit­ter.”

THE CPA has ar­gued that the pro­posed block­ing of the so­cial net­works is a bar­rier to trade.

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