Tanzania passes law to regulate online content and social media, is it justified?

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When it comes to social media, I get mixed feelings sometimes. In all the good it has brought and continues to bring, I feel sometimes it really causes a lot more harm than good. I will justify myself in a minute, first let me let you in on what Tanzania is doing.

The Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations 2017 of Tanzania recently passed a law against social media or online content that can be deemed as ‘indecent, obscene, hate speech, extreme violence or material that will offend or incite others, cause annoyance, threaten harm or evil, encourage or incite crime, or lead to public disorder’.

Failure to comply and one will be required to pay a fine of 5 million Tanzanian Shillings (here I was thinking we are the only ones who had the privilege of having individuals expected to afford x trillion dollars) but don’t worry, it’s not that bad when converted to USD, it’s just $2 300 (said in all manner of sarcasm).

CCTV cameras will also be mandatory for all online service providers as they will need to record all their business proceedings in and out of the premises. Publishers such as ourselves will be prohibited from portraying any ‘hate propaganda, threat to national security or spark a health crisis, racial tension or violence, touching on possible terror attacks” lest they be punished duly.

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Oh, and y’all who comment as anonymous well, if you were in Tanzania this would have been the end of your anonymity because bloggers, website managers, online radio, TV and other digital platform managers will be required to barn any anonymous users from their platforms.

And as I had mentioned, the bill is not only affecting content creators but social media users as well. Therefore, everyday social media users will be held responsible for the content they share that incites any of the above.

I know some people do not like us flagging such things on the assumption that “it gives them ideas” but I think it would really be naïve of us to think they do not have intelligence that already investigate on what other countries are on about and all, or even to think that wouldn’t have already thought about it (unless they then say they got the idea from us just to spite us, wouldn’t really put it past them).

In fact, such articles are meant to warn those readers that have no idea what’s going on, or actually haven’t considered the possibility of such occurrences (I know that’s not you). Such people would need to mentally prepare themselves for the worst; but if it doesn’t happen… then good, no harm done.

Now to my justification.

The first thing is obviously the manner in which it facilitates the virility of fake news. Or even before we get to the news being viral, let’s talk about how people can just type anything and not be answerable to anyone, this is particularly true for WhatsApp since you can’t really trace the source of the story. Most of these stories spread a lot of panic throughout (of course fake news has to incite some sort of fear or extraordinary excitement otherwise why create fake news? Where’s the fun in that??). A recent example being the cooking oil drama (touchy subject) along with other basic commodities shortage hoax that happened over the weekend.

See, sometimes we don’t see how bad such fake news is because we’re part of that sceptical minority. Yes I say minority because last weekend proved it. Now most elderly people are on WhatsApp and believe it or not, they are most gullible to these hoaxes or pranks – I guess it’s because they didn’t grow up in the lying generation, fake news is still a new concept to them because to them, it only makes sense to believe that everything that has made its way to the internet is true.

You probably wouldn’t get this until you see pictures of a bus burnt to ashes with a caption that depicts that the bus was going exactly where your loved one was going on that day. I’ve seen a couple such messages which have all proven to be fake. I’ve also even seen texts circulating and claiming that so and so was found dead or whatever horrible thing someone can think of, and all fake! Imagine what that does to a concerned somebody, whether or not they are a sceptical somebody.

My other problem with social media is how people’s mistakes can easily be flagged out and spread. Seen in the wrong place at the right time or in the right place at the wrong time (or whichever way as long as the word wrong appears) and someone takes just one picture of you, then your fate is sealed. I know we tend to say “serves them right” but really? Let him who is without sin cast the first stone… The sad truth is that some people can never recover from that, I once read of a man who made a ‘social media mistake’ and took his life thereafter simply because of what then happens once it’s sent to just but one person, something we know all too well.

Well, say you are one of those who still feel people deserve to be exposed and ‘celebrated’ on social media, what of those who are just but victims? Before the rise of social media, cyber-bullying wasn’t really a thing. Of course it still could be done via email and all but we all know how social media has played a huge part in all that.

And the last thing I wanna talk about now is how social media makes it easy for people to exploit other people’s fears. I’m not talking of panic here but actual fear. Ever noticed how some pictures or videos are designed to exploit people’s phobias? From the top of my head I know how most pictures are aimed at trypaphobic people (warning: do not google this word!).

I really noticed how the same picture was photoshopped and stuck on a “do not use this lotion/shampoo/soap/<insert whatever else you can think of>, otherwise this is what it will do to your skin” and because I am a trypaphobia-survivor, it was quite easy for me to pick this up.

So, after all has been said do I support the new law by Tanzania? Absolutely not! More than anything this infringes on the basic right of the freedom of expression or speech. It’s no secret that such laws or bills are passed not for the security of citizens but for political agendas; so for that reason, I don’t condone such.

I also think that such operations are an unnecessary expense to the country, especially for countries struggling with other much more basic things. It’s difficult to justify why that then becomes a priority amidst other pressing matters. Laws like this are also quite difficult to enforce, things often turn south either way, whether by overdoing or by under-doing it.

Therefore, what should be done about fake news et al? I don’t know, maybe you can help…

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One Comment

  1. Peter George Raeth, Ph.D. says:

    Well considered and well written. Like any tool, social media should be used responsibly, not harmfully.

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