'Grasping at straws'

Swapo chief whip Evelyn !Nawases-Taeyele claimed last year that young Namibians were using social media to fuel propaganda and insult national leaders.

11 February 2020 | Government

Government has been accused of grasping at straws to justify its agenda to regulate social media and silence the voices of ordinary Namibians.

This follows information minister Stanley Simataa's announcement that Cabinet had approved a resolution to regulate social media and punish anyone spreading content that encourages young girls to indulge in sexual acts, which in turn leads to an increase in teenage pregnancies.

“What is contemplated is to explore the possibility of regulating, with specific reference to harmful content shared on social media which has potential for the girl child to indulge in activities that may lead to pregnancy, and as a result, thwart the girl child of her right to education. This is the focus of the intended regulation. The modalities of realising such regulation will still be worked out,” Simataa said.

Social commentator Frederico Links said this seems to be a continuation of a motion to regulate social media tabled in parliament last year by Swapo chief whip Evelyn !Nawases-Taeyele, who claimed that young people in Namibia were using social media to fuel propaganda and insult national leaders.

Simataa supported the idea to enact laws to regulate social media, but said government cannot effectively teach people how to behave on online platforms.

Links said although he does not dispute that the sexual exploitation of young girls is a problem, this however appears to be a smokescreen.

“I am not saying girls are not exploited sexually, but I do not think that is really the reason for this regulation. I think before the elections they signalled what their plans are and now they're doing it, but they do not want to just come out and say it, so now they use this as an excuse,” he said.

Links also said government must reveal the research they have done into the exploitation of girls via social media and tell the nation how big this problem is.

“They cannot just do this without presenting any evidence of how young girls are lured into sexual relationships. They cannot just do it unless there is compelling evidence to back up their statement,” he said.

Social commentator Rakkel Andreas also asked whether government can prove whether cases of sexual abuse, which can be traced to social media engagement between the predator and victim, warrant the urgency for regulation.

“If anything, this past election has shown that social media, especially Facebook and Twitter as well as WhatsApp groups in Namibia, have been platforms where many young people have been able to openly express their satisfaction and, more often, dissatisfaction with government in a manner that some leaders have publicly termed as disrespectful and unruly.”

Andreas pointed out that the Namibian Constitution advocates for freedom of expression and that regulating these spaces could violate that right.

“It appears that government is grasping at straws to justify an agenda to regulate social media to silence the voices of ordinary Namibians. If that is the case, then it is most disappointing, as the issue of child abuse and teenage pregnancies in our country cannot be taken lightly, and mixing it with such ulterior motives can give the impression that it is not important. We have a problem of that nature in Namibia, yes, but it is not really from social media,” she said.

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JEMIMA BEUKES

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