OPINION: Cybercafe surveillance will do little or nothing to tackle hate speech

HumanIPO reported yesterday stakeholders in Kenya had met for a forum on national cyber security, partly geared towards tackling the increasing incidences of hate speech on social media.

The meeting appears to have been largely a waste of time, if the outcomes are anything to go by. The best thing the great and the good of the Kenyan regulatory world could come up with was to recommend installing surveillance cameras in the country’s cybercafes.

It is painfully evident that this will not solve the problem. Even if the cameras deployed were sophisticated enough to catch cybercriminals or individuals spreading hate speech online, the problems with assuring cybercafe managers purchase and install the necessary equipment would be too much to handle. Never mind the fact that, if the cameras were actually installed and did have the capabilities necessary, those they were designed to stop would simply stop visiting such premises.

The funny thing is, there is no need for the likes of the Communications Commission of Kenya to be suggesting such ludicrous measures as this. Kenya has actually been doing a solid job in tackling hate speech. Though a recent report indicated a spike in hate speech, primarily attributed to March’s general election, the previous government had been doing a reasonable job in pursuing those responsible.

The court cases of bloggers Robert Alai and Dennis Itumbi may have received the most press attention, but the authorities have been doing more than hunting down prominent individuals allegedly using social media for hate speech.

In April, the National Media Monitoring Steering Committee was busy tracking down administrators of three Facebook pages accused of spreading hate messages and raising tribal tensions to over 50,000 followers, with director of public communication Mary Ombara saying the pages: “Luo Nation”, “RIP Citizen TV”and “Nyanza Si Kenya” were spreading hate messages that could cause instability.

Information and Communication ministry permanent secretary Dr Bitange Ndemo said in March over 300,000 hate speech related messages were blocked by mobile telephone service providers in Kenya every day, adding the government would petition Facebook and Twitter in a bid to uncover the identities of others perpetuating hate speech. This followed an expose on Kenyan television highlighting the growing trend of hate speech and tribalism on social media.

That the issue exists is in no doubt. But the previous government at least appeared to be making efforts to tackle the problem head-on. If the new Jubilee administration can continue and build upon this work, then there is no reason to say Kenya will not find a proper solution to the hate speech threat. Unworkable gimmicks such as cybercafe surveillance are not the answer.

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