Harare – Social media use will soon be regulated in Zimbabwe, with the State already drawing up legal and policy instruments to govern information communication technologies.
Local web developers are also in the process of stitching together products similar to social networking sites such as Facebook, Whatsapp, Youtube, Skype and Twitter so as to enable greater supervision.
These measures are tailored to protect citizens’ rights following a surge in social media abuse through propagating falsehoods, defamation, character assassination and national security threats. Countries like China have similar regulations and have developed their own social networking sites.
Sina Weibo, the equivalent of Twitter, is one of the most popular networks in China. Following his return from a Japan working visit on April 2, 2016; President Mugabe advocated for hi-tech systems that engender development instead of abuse and infringement of people’s rights.
The President revealed that the Information Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services Minister Supa Mandiwanizira is seized with the matter. Last week, Minister Mandiwanzira told The Sunday Mail that internet supervision is imminent.
He said that it will be incorporated into the National ICT Policy. He also said the Universal Services Fund – established with contributions from telecommunications companies – will be used to spur technological innovation.
“There is an enormous abuse of the internet, particularly social media. Hardly a day passes by without a story alleging scandals involving social media. A vivid example is that of Tafadzwa Mushunje who was condemned by social media users after she was reported to have allegedly injected a toddler with HIV-infected blood.
“It later emerged that the story was absolutely hogwash and a fabrication. But imagine the impact that that had on a young girl like Tafadzwa. That is one classical example of how the internet is being abused and that cannot continue.
“In his statement, the President was saying we need to look at systems that protect the freedoms accorded to all Zimbabweans by our Constitution where those freedoms are being undermined by social media.”
Minister Mandiwanzira said experts are considering technological and legislative means to stop the menace which also extends to the hacking of internet accounts. He said the broad initiative will result in cheaper and greater internet access.
“We need to put in place laws that protect internet users while also promoting internet usage.”
The minister stressed that the policy is not meant to infringe citizens’ pricacy.
“When we talk of having laws here (social media regulation), we have no interests in snooping on people’s communication. That is not our business, our interest is in protecting people.
“The President is saying let us do something about it and we are doing something about it. He mentioned the example of China which has gone to great lengths to protect the integrity of the internet.
“It is in the interest of every country to protect the integrity of the internet so that it is a tool for development, not a tool for destruction. Our mandate is to look at various options as instructed by the President, and we are already on it.”
On local innovations, the minister said, “Last month, at the E-Tech Africa Expo, I mentioned that the ministry was working towards a fund that will promote ICT innovation, especially on applications, software development (gaming and education software) and others.
“We are targeting innovations that primarily address local market demands, which, we hope, can be grown for the global market. We want to promote locally-developed software as a step towards import substitution. The software development initiative has the support of all networks.
“It has been agreed that a portion of the cost of every (cellphone) call made will be directed to the Universal Services Fund. We started collecting that money on January 1, 2016; and believe the fund will have US$25 million in the next 24 months.”
“Furthermore, we also want local people to be very creative and talented. We are looking for those who have already developed something that could potentially have a market but don’t know where to go.
“We want to identify such people. The fund will invest in them to develop the product, register the necessary patent and then offer it to telecoms networks. It will thereafter be sold by the networks locally to the 13 million subscribers on local networks, creating local millionaires in the process,” he added.
- Sunday Mail