Social media regulation is dead on arrival

By Nicholas Sengoba

If you listen to most government officials and some ‘purists’ within the mainstream media, we are in the middle of a dire social media crisis.

But they are not alone. Parents, teachers, religious leaders, law enforcement officers and medical practitioners have also raised concerns for obvious reasons.

Besides the very commendable ability to easily share information faster, in a more convenient, timely and cost effective manner, there is a downside.

Irresponsible loose talk, hate speech, breach of privacy, sectarianism, immorality, explicit sexual content, fake news, malice, misinformation, unsubstantiated claims and outright lies come along.

What many, especially politicians, are now calling for as a solution is ‘regulation’. This could mean anything to include laws with punishments if users do not play within given parameters to ensure order, decency and ‘acceptable’ moral standards.

The media has come out strongly for what is seemingly a selfish cause against a ‘rival’, in the business of communication.  Because of the real time nature of messaging on social media, traditional media is now under threat. By the time the newspaper is breaking news it has already been broadcast on social media in its raw form with pictures and all manner of embellishments.

It also comes with what in a traditional newsroom would be considered unethical, like graphic photos and unproven claims used to make a point. The editor is no longer the all knowing viceroy of society who determines what should or should not be read. Because he fears court proceedings and being shut down, for publishing what cannot be proven, the media house will not publish all it knows yet the barefooted shamba boy in Mutukula with access to a smartphone and some data is at liberty to do so.

The established newsroom no longer leads and guides public debate effectively. It is also now one of the many in the middle of an information jungle fighting for space to breathe.  But most important of all, social media threatens the blood supply of established media houses which is sales of both newspapers and advertising space.

As for the politician, his every move is now under scrutiny like never before by a myriad of eyes and ears. In the past when the mainstream media houses ruled the roost, if the politician was not happy that their excesses were exposed, they simply arrested journalists, beat them up,  sued the media house, blackmailed it with denial of advertising revenue or closed it down.

Now they have to contend with a torrent called the masses who, unlike the mainstream media, are scattered in cyberspace, have no fixed address and in many cases no name or reputation to protect. In fact in some cases the more vituperative they are, the more famous and visible they get.

Source credit is Monitor Uganda and click here for the full story


Frank Byaruhanga is a human rights activist with years of experience in community dialogues, digital communication, advocacy and digital campaigns. He specializes in Media Relation Work, Management and Training with sufficient knowledge in Governance, Accountability, Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights, Youth-led research, Content developer, Creative Activism, Social Media Management and documentary photography.

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