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Of freedom of expression in social media era, setbacks

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TEMBO—All rights have corresponding responsibilities

By Gresham Ngwira:

It is a fact that platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have simplified life in as far as communication is concerned. It would not be wrong to say that the coming of social media has, to a great extent, brought positive impact on people’s lives.

Through the use of social platforms, people are able to follow events happening across the world, while conveniently seated in their respective homes or offices.

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Yes, at just a touch of a button, one is able to send or receive information to a large group of people; a thing that was not possible previously when there was no social media.

But that is not to say that such platforms are devoid of controversy bordering on abuse, people being reflected in negative light through the very same social media platforms where video clips, audios and pictures showing the happenings across the country and beyond pop up almost every second.

Malawi has lately witnessed people sharing video clips showing accident victims crying for help and you tend to wonder how someone would just be busy be taking videos or photographs at the expense of rendering support to those victims.

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A lecturer at Mzuzu University, Wanangwa Tembo observed that social media in Malawi, specifically WhatsApp and Facebook, is indeed prone to abuse and that something ought to be done as nearly every person wants to break news without regard to ethical issues that journalists look into before breaking news.

He added that such people do not care about the impact brought about by what they post on social media.

“Some people have mistaken carelessness for fun. The biggest challenge we have so far is that in the face of social media, everyone wants to be a journalist longing to break the news without regard to ethical issues,” he said.

Tembo noted that women are common victims of social media abuse through cyber-bullying, citing the constant leakage of nude pictures by some men, alleged to be their partners.

“It is our responsibility as social media users to be mindful that all rights have corresponding responsibilities. While we have the right to break the news, we also have a responsibility not to injure others with what we post on social media,” he said.

Equally concerned is gender activist Veronica Chaika who feels that women’s privacy has been exposed more than their male counterparts, which she said is worrisome.

“What is more worrying is that it is women nudity that is mostly exposed. Such things demean women in our society and have made them not to be respected. No gender should be looked down upon or belittled as there is no gender that is inferior or superior to the other,” Chaika said.

Chaika, who is also facilitator for Speak One Voice (SOV) against women and children, a movement in the Anglican Church, added that people should desist from sending nude pictures on social media; describing it as immoral in as far as Christian values are concerned.

She is however quick to state that despite the drawbacks, social media has also brought positive strides on issues affecting human beings.

She gave an example of people being able to mobilise resources for various spheres of life, like helping in the fight against pandemics such as Covid-19.

“People have to accept that social media has come to stay because it is the only means of communication that has an immediate impact, but it is prone to be abused by people who have negative motives.

“However, it has to be noted that the same social media has been used to achieve positive results on issues of human problems. Nowadays people are mobilising resources to help in the fight against diseases such as Covid-19,” Chaika said.

She agreed with Tembo’s view that authorities have to regulate the use of social media.

National Initiative for Civic Education (Nice) Regional Civic Education Officer for the South, Christopher Naphiyo said it is unfortunate that people have become obsessed with taking pictures or videos and sharing them on social media at the expense of helping such victims.

Naphiyo pointed out that such acts border on ethical, religious, human rights as well as legal values that must be safeguarded.

He said it is pleasing to note that Malawi has strong Constitutional guarantees for freedom of the press and expression, though there are several laws that restrict these freedoms in practice.

He also observed that while exercising these freedoms, people should remember that they also have corresponding responsibilities.

“It is unfortunate that in this age we have, all of a sudden, become obsessed with taking pictures or videos and sharing them on social media when we should primarily be engaging in acts that should put our fellow human beings out of danger, or to even save their lives. In view of this, all the constitutionally guaranteed freedoms, for example that of conscience, opinion, expression as well as press, association and others have to be enjoyed responsibly and not infringe on other people’s rights,” Naphiyo said.

He said as one of the principal providers of civic education, Nice engages many players and actors at different levels to discuss such issues.

“Nice has its presence in all districts across the country and is a member of numerous forums at community, district and national levels. As an institution that is on the ground, we engage many players and actors at all these levels to discuss a wide range of issues plaguing society, including the misuse of social media.

“We use several approaches discussing the implications of abuse of social media that include violation of citizens’ rights like privacy, a thing that leads to many people withdrawing from the public domain,” he said.

On her part, Mzuzu based social commentator Emily Mkamanga described taking of obscene photos or videos as a practice against the law.

She therefore advised people to avoid the tendency. She said alternatively, any person who wants to take someone’s photo or video must get permission from the owner to avoid being sued for libel.

“To say the truth, taking obscene photos or videos is against the laws of privacy. The best is to just describe the situation or get permission from the owner to avoid being sued for libel,” she said.

As ably analysed above, any misuse of social media breaks the rights of others, including right to privacy. While there is freedom of expression, including the use of social media, people should be responsible by respecting and protecting other people’s rights.

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