The Minister of ICT, Supa Mandiwanzira
In a bit of news that will offer some relief to the WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter fans, the government has said that it has no intentions of banning social media platforms in Zimbabwe, but it will be actively involved in regulating its use by penalising those who abuse such platforms.
This information was shared by the Minister of ICT Supa Mandiwanzira on Monday afternoon while addressing a Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on ICT which had asked him to respond to statements made in the media regarding the possible ban of social media in Zimbabwe.
The Minister dismissed any suggestions of a ban on social media in the country, and referred to anyone suggesting such a ban as being mad. He cited the positive impact such platforms have had for the people of Zimbabwe and how the government is only concerned about the abuse of such platforms.
News of a possible ban of social media started circulating following statements made by President Robert Mugabe regarding the adoption of Chinese style internet restrictions to curb its abuse.
Mandiwanzira pointed out how the government had already turned down a proposal from the country’s telecoms operators to ban social media platforms like WhatsApp and Skype, emphasising how it wouldn’t make sense for the State to then turn around and place a ban a few months down the line.
He highlighted how social media has positively impacted the way people communicate and do business and how it wouldn’t be rational to ban it saying,
…it is an important tool for development and no sane government or sane Minister would say we want to ban social media. And if there was an intention by anyone to ban social media it would be next to impossible.
Everybody understands that anything that is good and positive that is doing well for the country, for society, must be protected and must be protected against those who abuse it, so that it doesn’t lose its credibility.
So therefore what we would like to do, and the statements that I made over the weekend are to the effect, (that) we want to promote the use of social media, but we want to penalise the abuse of social media.
When His Excellency President Robert Mugabe came from Japan, where he was received by many Zimbabweans who went to welcome him back, he expressed concerns about the abuse and not use of social media. And it’s very important that people understand that the concerns that the government has raised relate to abuse and not use of social media.
In pointing out the examples of social media abuse Mandiwanzira highlighted cases of cyberbullying and revenge porn as representations of how social media was being misused by some Zimbabweans.
The Minister butressed his point on the need to regulate social media by referring to Section 61 of the national constitution which specifies how the freedom of expression and freedom of the media excludes incitement to violence, advocacy of hatred or hate speech, malcicious injury to dignity or reputation and an unwanted breach of a right to privacy – all of which are violated by social media abuse.
Currently, there are no Zimbabwean laws that specifically address cases relating to social media or internet related offences something that has created a haze when it comes to dealing with some cases which are emerging as internet use rises.
To deal with this there are some draft bills on cybersecurity, data protection and e-transaction that are set to be brought before Parliament as a followup to the Draft National ICT Policy which is also set for parliamentary tabling.
In the Minister’s remarks he pointed out how these pieces of legislation would form the context within which social media would be regulated as they outline the law on the use of the internet.