Establish clear cyber security laws

What you need to know:

From trivia to disasters, information reaches people as it happens and is keeping them engaged like never before. But how they react thereafter, makes social media a double-edged sword

Social media is a new phenomenon worldwide and it is here to stay. It has enabled people to be connected in real time and is bringing out new facets of people’s interests, engagement, and behaviour.

From trivia to disasters, information reaches people as it happens and is keeping them engaged like never before. But how they react thereafter, makes social media a double-edged sword.

The problem is that society is not keeping pace with the rapidly changing technology and is not prepared to address the social consequences.

In many societies, social media is increasing the gap between the older and younger generation rather than bringing them closer.

It is also being used to fuel hate and revenge messages. At the individual level, social media is full of examples where a relationship gone sour results in one of the partners uploading intimate pictures, videos, or information, in revenge against their former partners. Whatever the subsequent legal consequences, the damage to the victim’s reputation is instant and in some cases fatal.

Another fallout of social media is the evolution of all types and genres of pornography and its easy access by minors, which is resulting in rapidly changing social behaviour and redefining morality, especially amongst the younger generation.

With more people participating in porn and even greater numbers accessing it, the opportunity to make easy money is unfortunately helping the industry grow rapidly, on the back of social media. Society can neither do away with it nor ignore it.

In a world where, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have become everyday places to hang out, the consequent responsibility of using these platforms is still evolving.

 As the internet and mobile penetration increases in Uganda and brings more first-time users onto these platforms, the dangers of mass hysteria or communal reactions spreading with serious consequences, increase manifold.

Therefore, the government and stakeholders in civil society must try to address the issue of balancing media freedom with media regulation.

In any free society, this is a sensitive subject that will result in an uproar of opposition to any kind of curbs or regulation, but the problem is that all societies are not equal and therefore each society will have to evolve its mechanism to address the negative consequences of a free social media.

Ignorance and lack of training on part of the police is twisting the knife to the problem. Cases of arrest for uploading comments on Facebook against politicians or public figures, often result in police taking action without knowing the current laws, or understanding the facets of social media.

Most police officers and security operatives are completely ignorant of the developments in technology or social media, and therefore ignorant of its use and misuse. With no exposure or training in cyber-crimes or social media, most are completely unprepared to take either preventive measures or deal with any resulting situation as it emerges.

Are cyber laws in place to address all kinds of evolving situations? The answer is no. Social media has been gaining popularity for the last 8-10 years but the government’s response has been far from satisfactory. Several issues are related and need to be addressed. At an individual level, there is a thin line between freedom of speech and someone using social media to tarnish another person’s reputation, business, or livelihood.

 Then there are issues of privacy of individuals and also right to information, all of which need to be clearly defined and laws written to address all related issues.

In terms of social media content, where do you draw a line between what is freedom of speech and what comprises derogatory, seditious, or communal content? What may seem acceptable to one party may be completely unacceptable to another party again, what is seen to be acceptable to urban citizens may not be socially acceptable to rural folk. And, it takes just one upload to go viral and trigger a violent reaction.

With the world getting increasingly connected through the web and Uganda on the cusp of a ‘digital’ revolution, the government must establish clear cyber security laws and cyber management policies on an urgent basis.

According to a January 2022 digital report, there were 13.92 million internet users in Uganda and the number is increasing rapidly. Uganda’s internet penetration rate stood at 29.1 percent of the total population at the start of the year.

Social media could work as a development catalyst or could become a national threat. The government must act now and fast before this dinosaur turns into a Jurassic Park. The biggest purveyors of The Uganda Computer Misuse Act are among those who backed the resolution.

Angwella John Chrysostom Okoth III

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