The baby and the bathwater

19 February 2020 | Opinion

The idiomatic expression “don't throw the baby out with the bathwater” comes to mind when debates start stirring on social media regulation.

This idiom describes an avoidable error in which something good is eliminated when trying to get rid of something bad, or in other words, rejecting the favourable along with the unfavourable.

In terms of social media, there are a host of favourable outcomes, including a massive sharing of ideas through debate and other forms of expression, and the strengthening social awareness and empathy, among others. In the same vein, it also nurtures negatives like the proliferation of fake news, cyberbullying, negative body image and the like. It is inevitable that the recent announcement by information minister Stanley Simataa that Cabinet approved a resolution to regulate social media will be viewed with suspicion. Simataa claimed this regulation would be aimed at punishing anyone spreading content that encourages young girls to indulge in sexual acts, which in turn leads to an increase in teenage pregnancies. However, as social commentators have pointed out, 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. In terms of self-regulation, Facebook, which owns Instagram, has more than 35 000 people around the world working on safety and security, and it also releases statistics on its content removals.

Between July and September 2019, it took action on 30.3 million pieces of content, of which it found 98.4% before any users flagged it. This points to self-regulation that can be further explored by governments with social media sites.

In the Namibian context, where political and social debates occur with ferocity on social media every day, any move by government to regulate such platforms will be seen as an attack on freedom of expression, and can be linked to the ruling party and the president's waning popularity.

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