, NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 9 – “Mr Speaker I want to say very clearly that this House and the committee which will be selected for ICT, we need as members to come up with laws to deal with social media.”
Matungulu Member of Parliament Stephen Mule on Wednesday on the floor of the National Assembly opened a can of worms with his suggestion that Parliament should consider regulating social media.
The debate was sparked by the death of Nyeri Governor the late Wahome Gakuru in a horrid road accident where the images of the gory images were circulated on social media like a bushfire.
“Mr Speaker, as an MP, even before your family knows your fate, you are already condemned dead by the social media,” he decried adding that “it is within the powers of this House without fear or favour to deal with such issues within the law.”
A proposition which Laibuta Mugambi, an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya and an expert in Social Media Law opposes.
“How would you regulate social media without infringing on the rights of freedom of expression as enshrined in Kenya’s Constitution?” he asked.
In the past, the government attempts to regulate social media has always hit a dead end at debate level.
Pro-social media freedom of speech negatively that condemning the whole ecosystem because of a few bad elements would be akin to throwing away the baby with the bathwater.
Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE) chairman Kennedy Kachwanya is one of the people who are opposed to any form of regulations.
He argues that social media will have to be allowed to self-correct. Any engineered correction by the government in form of regulations, he says, will only turn a worse situation into a worst one.
“Let’s create a community where if you don’t like something on your timeline, flag it off. If many people can do this, soon we will deal with these issues,” Kachwanya added.
“It’s actually faster to clean social media through this method than to regulate.”
Nominated MP Sammy Seroney joined his Matungulu counterpart in condemning social media which he said had morphed into “a room for speculation, spreading hatred information and talking negatively about others.”
“We need to look into this issue of social media as a House. Sincerely Mr Speaker, if we don’t consider putting a speed governor on social media, it will destroy this country,” Seroney lamented.
“I was shocked when I read funny things about the late governor on social media. Instead of condoling with the family, you start passing words that will hurt the family most.”
Kachwanya however said that even if the law regulating social media were to be passed, how would it be implemented?
“Even if the government were to arrest everybody who does something wrong on social media, do we have enough jails and enforcing officers to carry out the regulation? It’s counterproductive,” he said.
A leading communication professor who didn’t want to be named in this report is concerned about the cost versus benefit of going the regulation way.
“Society grows in the abundance of competing ideas which are then examined for their usefulness or lack of it. How do we know useless ones from useful ones if we don’t allow free flow of information?” he asked.
“The injury we cause by asking people not to speak or to limit what they say is much higher than the benefits society collectively will gain by allowing the flow of information,” he said.
Though the longevity of information that is put on social media can potentially cause bigger harm, the professor says, he is still opposed to regulations.
“The discussion in Parliament yesterday is a knee-jerk reaction. A better debate would be, how do we pass policies that can entrench chapter six of the constitution in the minds of Kenyans?”
The professor is convinced that just like it’s an effort in futility to wash and dress up a pig, it can be hard to educate a grown up with bad manners.
“It’s the question of what are your values? How were you raised? You can’t educate a brute and expect them to start behaving like a refined man.”
Nanjira Sambuli, a tech policy analyst based in Nairobi agrees with the professor that changing how people are socialized will be the long lasting solution to the nightmare of insensitive posts online.
“Public education is what has been missing. If there are any efforts to be put, it must be towards media literacy and not regulations.”
She also contends that using the heavy hand of the law to deal with social media ‘lawbreakers’ it not only counterproductive but has also proven infective before as the accused walks out free.
“We shouldn’t wait to have the conversation when an unfortunate event has happened. If resources were put in designing creative media ways to educate the masses rather than spread fear, that would be a better use of resources,” she said.
Only time will tell if the lawmakers will make good their threat to pass a legislation to regulate social media
“I want to urge the public, though social media is a tool, please don’t use it to harm other families,” Mule pleaded.