In a press briefing on 5 March 2017, State Security Minister David Mahlobo indicated that the South African government is considering the regulation of internet usage in the country, with a particular interest in social media activity.
“We are contemplating to regulate the space. Even the best democracies that are revered, they regulate the space” – Mahlobo
According to Mahlobo, the primary reason for the drive is to restrict the amount of fake news shared via social media channels. He highlighted misrepresentation of oneself and other people on social media, and photoshopped images being main areas of concern in perpetuating fake news. While Mahlobo acknowledged that the campaign would be met with resistance, he claimed that even the best democracies regulate internet usage. However, as a reporter for The Citizen pointed out, “It’s unclear which “democracies” do this, since the foremost country that controls the use of the internet, China, is not a democracy in any sense of the word.”
This is not the first time the possibility of internet monitoring has been discussed. In October 2016, the South African government approved the submission of the Films and Publications (FPB) Amendment Bill, which restricts South Africans from uploading videos to online channels, including YouTube, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, unless they have registered as a distributor and have paid a registration fee. The bill was aimed at curtailing child pornography and revenge porn. There have been no notable developments on the bill since then.
Numerous South Africans have taken to social media to voice their outrage at the recent news, resulting in #HandsOffSocialMedia being a trending topic for several hours on 6 March 2017. The majority of mentions were in the form of retweets from news sources reporting on the update, while others provided their commentary on the subject. Negativity towards the African National Congress (ANC) was the most popular theme in this conversation.
The ANC should focus on service delivery and implementing the things they promised and leave Social Media alone#HandsOffSocialMedia
— Sefularo Keamogetswe (@Sefularo_Keamo) March 6, 2017
Just know if the ANC are even shaken by social media then you have to acknowledge how powerful it's becoming. #HandsOffSocialMedia
— TweetGuru (@JustKholii_) March 6, 2017
Unfortunately, fake news exists and the implications cannot be ignored, but is government involvement necessary when the likes of Google and Facebook are working towards filtering questionable news? I say no. Internet censorship is unconstitutional and as consumers of information, the onus is on us to ensure that the ‘news’ we believe and share is real. Hopefully, nothing comes of this, but it’s scary to think the conversation is even being had. What are your thoughts?
References and Additional Reading
- Government considers policing social media – eNCA
- Protecting your brand on social media – East Coast Radio
- Social media in SA could be regulated, says Mahlobo – news24
- Government is looking at regulating social media – htxt.africa
- Regulation of social media will undermine democracy – Eyewitness News
- Mahlobo says the internet could be regulated – The Citizen
- State contemplates regulating social media – Times Live
- Twitter users vent at Mahlobo plan to regulate social media – eNCA
- Facebook Launches a New Tool That Combats Fake News – Forbes
- Facebook rolls out feature to combat fake news – The Hill
- Twitter tells Mohlobo: #HandsOffSocialMedia – IOL