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Impact of new media on Zimbabwean politics

14 Jan 2021 at 07:47hrs | Views
Recent events in the United States stimulated debate on cyber space. Social media has taken the world by storm, and the recent developments in the US have raised debate on the impact of the phenomenon.

Following the recent attacks on US Capitol building by President Donald Trump's supporters, Twitter Inc, Facebook Inc, Google owned Alphabet Inc, Apple Inc, and Inc took strong actions against him and his supporters.

The decision by these tech companies to curtail Trump's right of freedom of speech and his ability to speak to his followers through mainstream social media raised pertinent questions regarding the tremendous power that these tech companies wield vis-à-vis governments and individuals.

If these tech companies can stifle such a powerful president's voice, what will they do to developing countries like Zimbabwe? Other questions that need urgent attention pertain to the code of conduct by those who use these social media platforms. Are other users safe? How can these platforms be regulated?

What are the world's best practices to deal with the emerging new world phenomenon of social media? How can Zimbabwe harness social media for its development? Zimbabwe's livelihood is interdependent on that of the world through trade, investments, tourism, exchange of technology and knowledge.

As a result, politics in Zimbabwe is evolving with the advent of new forms of media that use Internet technologies combined with the use of telephone, television and other media devices, which have opened new ways of political engagement.

It is important to point out from the beginning that the concept of new media is also constantly evolving. And as the new media is adopted and used, particularly by young people, special attention is needed to ensure that political debate is not polarised, but responsible for the nation-building.

In 2020, social media played a very significant role in shaping the political debate in Zimbabwe. The country witnessed a very vibrant and strong political engagement on social media, which also saw the emergence of cyber bullies who were responsible for the perpetuation of the prevailing political polarisation in the country.

These are new issues in the modern world that need to be tackled to ensure that the cyber space is safe for everyone.

The Government needs to move with the times to ensure that new developments in communication remain valuable sources of information and not a jungle of nonsense. Regulation should keep abreast with latest technology to ensure that the Internet serves as a way to communicate, entertain and not as a danger to people's privacy nor a source of indecent and obscene material.

The general sentiment is that the law in Zimbabwe does not adequately provide for or regulate the new ways of political engagement using the new forms of media. In other words, the law in Zimbabwe is notoriously slow to change, partly because its development is usually in reaction to new challenges or changed circumstances. In contrast to such slow pace, almost anything we do has become intimately connected to information creation, retrieval, processing or management.

More specifically, the information revolution has created and facilitated electronic politics: e-politics, whereby many people engage in political debates through the Internet.

As a result, the Internet has become both an effect and a cause of the new politics because of the powerful technological platforms and information changes that are shaping a new epoch of information society.

The important debate, therefore, should focus on how Zimbabwe's legal system should be responding to the increasing use of computers and the Internet in socio-political and economic life. Laws are urgently needed to regulate digital activities.

There is a need for cyber laws that cover such areas as digital intellectual property, e-commerce, privacy and data protection, freedom of expression and content regulation, cyber crime and even the electronic evidence and telecommunication infrastructure. Laws are also needed to curtail the influence of tech companies so that they provide a level playing field.

The idea is that governments should be equal to the task so that they understand the dynamics, substantive and growing body of law and be able to improve, adapt, meaningfully apply the law and keep up with technological advancements. Cyber-space has become an important area of law that cannot be ignored any more.

There is urgent need for governments, Zimbabwe included, to grasp the intricacies and complexities of information and communication technology to be able to develop appropriate laws. When coming up with such laws as the recently debated Cyber Security Bill, the Government should be informed by the principals of digital jurisprudence that is usually implemented through interpreting the traditional sources of law such as common law.

This should also be done taking into consideration future legislative developments and international best practices. As a way forward, there is a need for legal development in Zimbabwe to stem legal uncertainties or loopholes in our e-politics, especially the social media. Political cyber crime is not only a problem for Zimbabwe, but it is a challenge that most jurisdictions in the world are facing.

Failure to address the problem will see many with ulterior motives taking advantage of such loopholes to abuse or bully others on cyber space. In other words, new technology has come with increased cyber-crime with organised and technically skilled cyber criminals using advanced techniques.

The Government should pay close attention to the power wielded by tech companies and the political cyber-crimes committed by individuals, groups and/or nation states in furtherance of their political goals.

Many people are using concerted efforts to engage in nefarious cyber activities with the intention of advancing their political interests. As a result, the country has witnessed increased disregard of facts on social media with political players only interested in advancing their political goals.

Zimbabwe should not continue to be seen as a safe haven for political cyber criminals to operate illegally with impunity.

There is, therefore, a need to develop a coherent strategy for digital governance, so that different and competing interests are managed in a consistent, transparent and accountable manner to ensure that those who wield enormous influence on digital space are held accountable for their actions. Both powerful tech companies and influential individuals should not be allowed to possess absolute power on cyber space.

Livit Mugejo is a deputy director in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade responsible for policy, research and communication. The views expressed here are personal.

Source - the herald
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