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SOCIAL MEDIA: TO BAN OR NOT TO BAN

By Kenneth Dlamini | 2018-02-16

IDI Amin in his maiden speech addressing his fellow Ugandans, famously or infamously said: “There is freedom of speech, but I cannot guarantee freedom after speech.”

Today, I’m reminded of this famous quote as I write this column, while trying to contextualise it in so far as the freedom of speech in Swaziland.

While Idi Amin couldn’t guarantee the freedom after the speech at least in Swaziland we can guarantee both. That, at least, I can say without the fear of contradicting myself when I say there is freedom of speech in Swaziland. And, of course, the freedom after the speech is definitely guaranteed.

This, I say in light of the new phenomenon of social media that has taken not just Swaziland but the entire world by storm. It’s a fact that social media has caught everyone completely unaware, especially the country – where we are still coming to terms with its advancement at a lightning pace.

Influence

Such has been the influence of social media that everyone suddenly fancies themselves at being crack journalists. Indeed, citizen journalism is the best thing that’s happened in the media industry in over a century.

People are thrilled by the power they suddenly possess of breaking all kinds of stories without having to rely on the traditional media.

In days gone by, people would have waited for the traditional media to carry a story before they could share it with their friends and relatives.

However, things have since evolved as people now have power to disseminate information as expediently as possible.

Take for instance, the trending issue of resigned South African President Jacob Zuma, which developed late at night. Whereas in the past people would have waited until the next morning to grab a copy of their favourite newspaper in order to know what eventually transpired, not in the world of social media.

The world of social media was littered with the story as it unfolded, including the death of Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.This news is broadacast as it happens – a blow by blow kind of encounter.

Never mind the timing, accuracy and sensitivity with which such information is disseminated, but people just want to tell the next person, be it their cousin or anyone.

And as soon as it reaches that next person, he or she also wants to dispose of it in the best possible way – which is to send to the next person. We are in that era where even the traditional media find itself having to play catch up to social media.

Indeed, at most times we, as the traditional media, are beaten to the story by the common social platforms such as Facebook, Whatsapp, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr to name but a few. It’s a fact, we are also playing catch up.

But the freedom of news dissemination is probably one of the many positives brought about by this social media phenomonenon. A number of other good things are posted in social media, including vacancies, medicinal remedies  and recipes.

Of course, with anything new there’s bound to be challenges. And, one of such challenges is that it gets abused in the process.

As I said, we know freedom of speech is guaranteed in the country but it’s a fact that government finds itself sitting uncomfortably, knowing how social media is proving to be a monster that is uncontrollable. I say monster because we have seen the good, bad and ugly side of sopcial media – all in one.

The ugly side has to do with the manner some sensitive and propaganda material has been distributed in the social media platforms.

We have seen how gory and insensitive images of people either killed in car accidents or any other forms have found their way into social media.

Just the past weekend, a video of a known personality was doing rounds whereby he was being bashed for an alleged affair with a married woman. You may say he deserved it, but lest we forget, that man has children and relatives.

What kind of trauma do the children go through when such material lands in their hands…which of course, we know it eventually does.

We have seen how some crude things touching on Royalty have made their way into such platforms. And, I say, that’s very much unSwazi.

We have seen how some people have been scandalised and had their characters assassinated in the very social plaforms. All that, of course, under the name freedom of speech. What kind of freedom of speech is this?

It’s just too care free. We must admit that social media knows no bounds. It goes for anyone anytime so long as that individual has a vendetta against the people they are writing about – they can say absolutely anything without fear or favour. What has happened to people being accountable for their actions?

Yes, we live in an era of technology and things such as social media should be embraced instead of being discarded. But we must not be blind to the fact that as much as we have freedom, any freedom comes with responsibility.

Freedom

Where freedom has no responsibility there’s bound to be chaos. Thus, I welcome the moves by government to regulate social media.

I have been told by sources in higher authority that government has reached a point where it can no longer ignore the threat posed by social media. Thus, I’m told the Minister of Information, Communications and Technology  (ICT) Dumisani ‘Ngudzeni’ Ndlangamandla is contemplating bringing a bill soon to regulate social media.

Of course, government is alive to the fact that it can’t just ban social media but they have to copy models used by advanced countries in controlling it. There are some good models all over the world in countries where social media is well regulated.

Over to you, Mr Minister, Sir!

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