War has been declared. It is gathering force and coming from multiple fronts, some surprising, but still welcomed. It is war for Facebook (internet) curbs. If ever there was an idea and move whose time is ripe, this is one. It is one powered by tragedy and ballooning incivility, malice, and ugliness. There is relevance and implications for Guyana.
First, from New Zealand, the word has surfaced of targeting Facebook and Instagram. This will be through tougher guidelines on hate speech; speech that is linked to white nationalism will be banned. This is the kind of hard, unambiguous language demanded to rein in what has become a runaway problem, where people are bent on inciting hatreds, intensifying divisions, and doing so through the extreme of wanton violence.
Second, and also from online global news agency afp.com “Australia, Ireland, and Germany were all wrestling with the issue of dealing with extremist material on social media…” In fact, down under matters have been taken a step further in that “Australia has warned social media executives that they could be jailed for failing to quickly take down extremist material.”
These are steps in the right direction, and the people in charge have to be saddled with some accountability, through holding their feet to the fire. The objectives are simple and should appeal to the civil and right thinking: to limit harmful content “while preserving a free, open, and secure internet.”
It is sure to provoke a firestorm about freedom of speech and police state and the rest. No matter, there has to be determination and perseverance to bring order and decency to what does bring out the worst in the many comforted by anonymity.
Third, and upping the ante, on March 28, Reuters reported in an online headline that, “Facebook charged with racial discrimination in targeted housing ads.” The story expanded to say that, “The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) charged Facebook Inc. on Thursday with violating the Fair Housing Act, alleging that the company’s targeted advertising discriminated on the basis of race and color.” Again, this is a step in the right direction that highlights a longstanding problem in the United States.
Fourth, and in one that should be of particular interest to Guyana, especially at this tense hour, there was this online BBC article of March 28, “Chad – where social media has been cut for a year.” The story focuses on intensifying pressure for the government to reverse this ban. According to the report, “Chadians were using social media to organize anti-government protests.” In the process, it was seen as a real threat to government, hence the restrictions to “Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp.”
It could be argued that the Chadian government overreached and in a very heavy-handed manner. There may be need for revisiting what seems to be a blanket ban. The content has to be better policed, and with people held responsible through known and enforced sanctions, including ultimately total curbs. The latter has to be the last resort.
Fifth, and articulating similar themes, Facebook’s own Mark Zuckerberg has gone public in recognizing the problem and pleading for help. In a story dated March 30, the BBC reports that, “Mark Zuckerberg asks governments to help control internet content.” He is asking a lot, “stronger laws around the world to protect the integrity of elections” and laws that not only apply to candidates and elections, but also to other “divisive political issues.” In Guyana, that means RACE, INSTIGATIONS, DIVISIONS. Guyanese: listen. Zuckerberg is asking for common laws, common rules, industry-wide standards.
It is high time for what is a wonderful thing to be managed better. In Guyana, reports are of violence involving an educational facility’s head, of unauthorized nude photos, and of occasional racist content. Spells trouble at any time, never more so than now. There must be better control. Sensible, reasonable, and fair and balanced controls. This cannot wait.
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