Thursday, March 07, 2013

Insults and abuses on the Internet

COMMENT - Abuse, internet? Just use your blocking functions.

Insults and abuses on the Internet
By The Post
Thu 07 Mar. 2013, 13:40 CAT

The observations made by Charlotte Scott on the abuse of the Internet or social media to insult, abuse, humiliate, harass and intimidate women deserve urgent and serious considerations.

It is becoming increasingly difficult for women to participate in public discourse due to the harassment and abuse they are subjected to on the social media. Of course, it is not only women who are subjected to this. Men are also victims of these abuses. But the brunt of this is predominantly being borne by women.

Many readers will disagree with us and that is normal and rational. People cannot have the same opinion on one subject because though we are all equal by our common humanity, we are also different by our individuality. But does the fact that we differ on an issue give those who disagree with us the right to insult and abuse us?

The Internet has given a true meaning to press freedom and freedom of expression by opening up all forms of media to anyone and everyone with access to the Internet as well as enabling anyone and everyone with access to Internet to freely express themselves. As a result, even the most powerful governments in the world can no longer easily curtail press freedom and freedom of expression.

The Internet has also given a voice to the voiceless and empowered the powerless in the area of press freedom and freedom of expression. However, we believe that many users of the Internet are seriously concerned about the way it is being used or misused and abused in the name of press freedom and freedom of expression in Zambia and by Zambians. The practice these days is such that it appears insults and abuses have become an integral part of the enjoyment of these rights by Zambians.

Without doubt, those who developed the Internet and other media avenues did not intend to create a forum for insults and abuse, but rather an opportunity for us to share ideas, expertise and to contribute to the development of our communities.

The insults and abuses know no limits. Please do not misunderstand the rationale behind this editorial comment. We are not in any way suggesting that Zambians should not hold their leaders accountable or criticise them. Far from it. But could that not be done without insults and abuses? We should be critical friends and offer constructive criticism.

We can disagree with our political opponents without being abusive. After all, political parties and politicians are in competition to win elections and not at battle to win wars.
The freedom to post comments on websites without any review of the contents of such comments has made the insults and abuses inevitable. This is tantamount to a licence to abuse the rights of others.

Most comments posted on some of these websites are nothing but pure defamatory and libellous in nature and against the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, the African Charter on Human and People's Rights and the Zambian Constitution. So why are Zambians violating their own Constitution by using the media and Internet to freely express insulting and abusive language and opinions, incite hatred against other members of the community and so on and so forth?

There is the urgency for appropriate action to be taken to address this danger and threat to the two freedoms. Those who regularly post these insulting, abusive, racist and ethnic bashing comments are enemies of press freedom and freedom of expression.

Sadly, we are tempted to suggest that if the insults and abuses do not stop, then, our media websites may have to introduce some software to weed out the insults and abuses. For example, in order to be able to comment on most if not all media websites in the United Kingdom, one must register with the website and provide name and contact details including a valid email address and telephone number.

Comments are approved in advance before they are accessible to the public. We are not suggesting this approach as our websites may not have the resources to review in advance the many comments posted on the websites each day. However, if these abuses continue, then drastic measures must be introduced to stop the abusers and enemies of progress.

We accept that this would not be easy as it may be defeatist and may even not be in the true spirit of press freedom and freedom of speech. But the enjoyment of these freedoms without due regard to the restrictions contained therein (international and regional covenants and our national Constitution) they would make a mockery of the very rights and freedoms we all cherish and must protect.
We know for sure that we will be subjected to insults and abuse for the contents of this editorial comment.

We are not daunted, rather, we take inspiration from what Martin Luther King Jr said: "An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him or her is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law." He also said, "The ultimate measure of a man/woman is not where he/she stands in moments of comfort and convenient, but where he/she stands at times of challenge and controversy."

Current legislation and its enforcement does not provide adequate protection against insults and threats on the internet. As part of the solution, we require now that the law be updated and adapted.

It cannot be said too many times. Internet itself is not the cause of these insults and abuses, it is only a venue. The Internet is a channel where insults, hatred and other abuses can spread by wind-speed and where it seems easier to speak far more coarse and disgusting than face-to-face with someone.

To stop and prevent this requires action at multiple levels and by many actors.
The Internet has swept into our lives and we have smart phones and tablets into our hearts and into our homes. Many are the meetings, initiatives and ideas that have been born thanks to the internet. At the same time, we face a situation that is no longer sustainable.

Children and young people are exposed to serious violations online without doing anything. And oddly enough, there seems to be a general acceptance that a violation that occur on the Internet would be more okay than that that would take place elsewhere.

One may get the impression that the Internet is a lawless land, but this is not the case. The professional rules of zero tolerance of violations also applies to what is happening on the internet.

We need to talk about what is okay and not. We need to talk about what it feels when someone writes something that is lousy and how they want to be treated.
Insults, hatred and other abuses must go out into the light to be combated. Both because it affects individuals and hard for all of us to dare to express our opinions. And because when people do not dare to speak for fear of being insulted, abused in all sorts of ways on the internet, this becomes a threat to our democracy.

We cannot ignore it any longer, it now requires sharper action to change what is going on. The problem will not go away by itself. We need to put in place a system that promotes the rights that every human being has not to be subjected to slander, threats or other serious violations.

Our presence on the Internet has opened up new types of crimes and there may be gaps in the criminal catalogue that now need to be filled. Many of the crimes that many people suffer on the Internet lead to serous consequences, but are not always matched by the penalty that is possible to impose. The penalties should be reviewed.

We need to prioritise this crime and provide resources to the police and prosecutors. Often the police are powerless when it comes to abuses or crime online.

To stop these abuses is our common responsibility and here we all have different roles to play.

We need to strengthen the police's capacity to track these people down and have them arrested. Today very little is done to track down and arrest the abusers of the internet. We need a law and law enforcement agencies that would target people who insult, threaten, bully, harass and defame other people on facebook, forum, blogs, comment sections on blogs, comment sections on newspaper articles and so on and so forth. Some would see this as vial and undemocratic, but many people here would support it, so we guess it is at least democratic.

Day by day, the usage of the Internet is increasing. Some dishonest people abuse it. Anyway, Internet is becoming the necessity of every class of people. We need to restrict the activities of some heinous and immoral people who use the Internet to belittle and degrade others.

It is said that every man or women should have an undoubted right to lay what sentiments he or she pleases before the public; to forbid this, is to destroy the freedom of the press and the freedom of expression; but if he or she publishes what is improper, mischievous or illegal, he or she must take the consequences of his or her own temerity.

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