To reg­u­late or not?

CityPress - - Voices -

The ad­vent of in­for­ma­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nolo­gies and their im­pli­ca­tion on dif­fer­ent spheres of hu­man life have been top­ics of de­bate for decades. Such nar­ra­tives have been echo­ing in academia, gov­ern­ment, busi­ness, civic life, pol­i­tics and me­dia cor­ri­dors world­wide. The com­mon theme for such de­bates cen­tres on find­ing an­swers to how the afore­men­tioned bod­ies can keep up with the rapidly evolv­ing new me­dia and their in­evitable in­flu­ence on hu­man com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

It is true that the new me­dia en­able com­mer­cial in­sti­tu­tions to be­come ef­fi­cient with lit­tle cost im­pli­ca­tions on mar­ket­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion, on the one hand. On the other hand, so­cial me­dia serves as a ve­hi­cle for cit­i­zen jour­nal­ism and public par­tic­i­pa­tion.

But the abuse of such ap­pli­ca­tions at the grass roots has be­come a new or­der of per­pet­u­ated so­ci­etal and psy­cho­log­i­cal abuse glob­ally. This abuse is obliv­i­ously com­mit­ted and ex­erted in jest, but with dev­as­tat­ing so­cial trauma.

South Africa has re­cently been hit by a huge wave of so­cial me­dia bul­ly­ing – the act usu­ally re­ferred to as cy­ber­bul­ly­ing. In sim­ple terms, cy­ber­bul­ly­ing is an act where a per­pe­tra­tor uses dig­i­tal me­dia to ha­rass, mock and vic­timise an­other per­son. Cy­ber­bul­ly­ing re­mains a global so­cial is­sue with fatal im­pli­ca­tions on so­ci­ety, and es­pe­cially on young peo­ple – the group aca­dem­i­cally re­ferred to as mil­len­ni­als (peo­ple grow­ing up dur­ing the in­ter­net era).

The per­pet­u­ated abuse of the au­ton­omy of so­cial me­dia also gained at­ten­tion from gov­ern­ment through David Mahlobo’s State Se­cu­rity Agency, which is re­port­edly con­sid­er­ing ways to reg­u­late so­cial me­dia, as it is be­lieved to be spread­ing fake news and scams. Mahlobo’s as­ser­tion re­ceived great crit­i­cism and was ridiculed as an­other step by gov­ern­ment to­wards dic­ta­tor­ship

Jab­u­lane R Mu­lambo

and an at­tempt to cen­sor free­dom of speech. The crit­i­cism might have been rel­e­vant in the pro­posed con­text, but with cy­ber­bul­ly­ing con­tin­u­ing on most so­cial me­dia plat­forms, the ur­gent call for so­cial me­dia reg­u­la­tion seems to be a ne­ces­sity.

How­ever, the anonymity of some so­cial-me­dia in­ter­faces poses dif­fi­cul­ties on the ef­fec­tive reg­u­la­tion and the crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion of cy­ber­bul­ly­ing. This is the harsh re­al­ity of so­cial me­dia that gov­ern­ment has to face.

The per­mis­si­bil­ity of anonymity makes quench­ing the spread­ing of cy­ber­bul­ly­ing im­pos­si­ble.

More­over, so­cial me­dia al­lows users to cre­ate un­lim­ited ac­counts with no obli­ga­tion to use their real iden­ti­ties. Some users might be tempted to clone an­other per­son’s ac­count by us­ing that per­son’s name and pic­ture. This might re­sult in fewer cy­ber­crimes be­ing ac­counted for and pun­ished.

The re­cent #Se­suthu video (a porno­graphic video of a 14-yearold girl that went vi­ral) demon­strated the per­va­sive­ness of cy­ber­bul­ly­ing. Some par­tic­i­pants might have ig­no­rantly in­dulged in the ex­er­cise as a means of en­ter­tain­ment, but the im­pact on the vic­tim can only be imag­ined as trau­matic.

There­fore, reg­u­lat­ing so­cial me­dia in South Africa will re­quire a well-de­fined act of law that can give clar­ity to what are con­sid­ered so­cial me­dia crimes. In the con­text of cy­ber­bul­ly­ing, some of these in­clude: Who should be pun­ished be­tween the ini­tia­tor of bully com­mu­ni­ca­tion and the dis­trib­u­tor of that com­mu­ni­ca­tion? What kind of com­ment is re­garded as cy­ber­bul­ly­ing and which is not? How do you dis­tin­guish be­tween a joke and the per­pet­u­a­tion of cy­ber­bul­ly­ing?

Put­ting reg­u­la­tory frame­works in place with­out ed­u­cat­ing so­ci­ety about the pos­i­tive and po­ten­tial use of so­cial me­dia for com­mer­cial and com­mu­ni­ca­tion pur­poses will see fur­ther trans­gres­sions of so­cial-me­dia laws.

Sim­i­lar to other crime and health aware­ness cam­paigns, South Africans need in­ter­ven­tion to un­der­stand the con­cept of cy­ber­bul­ly­ing and its im­pli­ca­tions on in­di­vid­ual, so­cial and psy­cho­log­i­cal well­be­ing. Mu­lambo is a com­mu­ni­ca­tions grad­u­ate from the Uni­ver­sity of

Lim­popo and a founder of the JR Ca­pac­ity In­sti­tute

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