Cyber laws should protect from hate speech, not silence us by Nerima Wako

Please read the original article posted on East African Standard by Nerima Wako posted on June 20th 2018. Cyber laws should protect from hate speech, not silence us

The restrictive cyber laws that we see being passed across the region are limiting opportunities. In most countries in East Africa, the majority of the population is below the age of 20.

This means that we are raising a new generation, often called Generation Z or Gen Z, made up of young people born in the late 1990s and early 2000s.We have to recognise that though there are similarities between Millennials (the generation before Gen Z), there are also differences.Research shows that Millennials were born in an era where the smartphone was being explored.Most of them can actively engage two devices while Generation Z can access up to five devices at a time on completely different platforms.

Millennials are good at sharing content; they often retweet, or share information that they agree with: Hence the rapid growth of Facebook when it was launched in 2004.However, Generation Z are more inclined to create content. They believe that they are the centre of their lives and marketing agencies have recognised this, which is why most advertisements have people that the audience can relate to – consumers would rather see a relatable face than a celebrity.

That is also why we witness platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat growing at exponential speed while Facebook use is on the decline, since more users now prefer to upload their own stories.For a generation that creates online, restrictive legislation will become a barrier to creativity, innovation and opportunity in the country.For instance, Uganda has put in place a tax on social media platforms. Not only are these groups convenient for sharing information, they also provide a means for youth to organise themselves.Many young people are able to host meetings in WhatsApp with not just other youth in their community but also across countries. It is affordable to the point where several prefer to use WhatsApp to call peers rather than calling through a phone line. It is cheaper!

In Kenya, the Cyber Crimes Bill 2018 introduces a punitive penalty on those those who spread fake news on social media. During the election period in 2017, there was in fact a great deal of fake news circulating on social media. Additionally, most youth receive their information from social media and not trusted news sources. Research shows that up to 60 per cent of Kenyan citizens had consumed fake news last year. The rapid rise of hate speech during electoral periods led directly to this attempt to muzzle social media users. Anyone found guilty of spreading hate speech, fake news and pornographic materials will be liable to a two-year jail term or a fine of Ksh5 million ($50,000).

However, many human-rights activists worry that there no clear-cut definitions of what constitutes freedom of speech. How can information be verified, for instance, if it comes from a journalist who is professionally bound not to expose his or her sources? How do you balance your right to freedom of speech and accusations of spreading hate speech?

Recently, Tanzania also put regulations on social media users such as bloggers to register their entities and pay a fee as high as $900 to do so. A popular online platform, Jamii Forums, was recently shut down because it was judged not to be compliant with the new regulations. Cyber laws can, of course, help to protect citizens from cyber bullying, terrorism and cyber-crime. However, young people depend on the internet now more than any previous generation.

Technology is one sector that has created employment and so, even as we continue to rely on it for communication, it is an avenue for opportunities as well. Although regulations are needed for online usage, placing high fees on these very platforms will reduce access to young people due to lack of affordability. These spaces should be fairly priced in order to create a conducive environment for young people to grasp and create opportunities. With many youth having access to technology, more opportunities will be built online. However, without allowing this space to be reachable to young people it will cause them to deter from these spaces.

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