Ratkiewicz etal, in the journal, Detecting and Tracking Political Abuse in Social Media, acknowledge that “along with the recent growth of social media popularity, we are witnessing an increased usage of these platforms to discuss issues of public interest, as they offer unprecedented opportunities for increased participation and information awareness among the Internet-connected public (Adamic and Glance 2005).”
They go on to argue that “with this increasing popularity, however, comes a dark side — as social media grows in prominence, it is natural that people find ways to abuse it. As a result, we observe various types of illegitimate use; spam is a common example (Grier et al. 2010; Wang 2010).”
Ratkiewicz etal, also note that unlike traditional news media, social media provide little in the way of individual accountability or fact-checking mechanisms. Catchiness and repeatability, rather than truthfulness, can function as the primary drivers of information diffusion.
While some of the discussions taking place on social media may seem banal and superficial, the attention is not without merit. Social media often enjoy substantial user bases with participants drawn from diverse geographic, social, and political backgrounds (Javaet al. 2007).
The long and short of it is that while social media can be used for the good, it can also be used for the bad, and the way in which it functions has allowed those with sinister motives to hide behind the computer and send offensive messages as well as false information to the public. We have witnessed that scenario where political activists take to the social media to spread anti-Government messages based on falsehoods, trying to incite people to revolt.
Last week, social media was awash with messages which tricked people into believing that basic commodities were about to disappear from shops,
leading to panic buying and increase in prices especially among informal traders.
It is behind that background that we believe the cyber law is long overdue in the country so that those who are caught on the wrong side of the law are made to pay for their crimes. We pray that authorities speed up the processing of the Cyber Crime and Cyber Security Bill which goes to Parliament soon. Among the targeted crimes are inciting violence, revenge porn, racist/xenophobic material, bullying, causing “substantial” emotional stress, communicating falsehoods and degrading other people.
Phony websites that thrive on pilfering content from reputable publications and other intellectual property rights violators will be imprisoned for five years.
Originally dubbed Computer Crime and Cyber Crime Bill, the proposed law has been re-engineered and renamed to give greater bite to enforcement.
We reported recently that the Bill is with the Attorney-General’s Office and could come into force before year-end as legislators have undertaken to fast track its enactment, according to ICT, Postal and Courier Services Minister Supa Mandiwanzira.
“We have upgraded the Bill in a number of ways, and it is currently with the Office of the Attorney-General for further scrutiny. The changes are in line with Sadc guidelines to harmonise cyber security laws.
Numerous crimes are being committed in cyber space. It is now time to take action against perpetrators of these offences. We are waiting for the AG’s Office to scrutinise the Bill so that it goes to Parliament as soon as possible. We have done all the necessary consultations to push ahead with the Bill, and now await due process to follow.”
Part IV of the Bill says: “Any person who unlawfully and intentionally, by means of a computer or information system, generates and sends any data or message to another person, or posts any material whatsoever on any electronic medium accessible by any person, with the intent to coerce, intimidate, harass, threaten, bully or cause substantial emotional distress, or to degrade, humiliate, harass, threaten or demean the person of another or to encourage a person to harm himself, shall be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine not exceeding Level 10 or imprisonment for a period not exceeding 10 years or both such a fine and imprisonment.”