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We refuse to add the government to our WhatsApp groups

Thursday September 26 2019

By ABIGAIL ARUNGA
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I think someone needs to look into the boredom levels of our MPs.

Something is clearly going on there, and I say this because of the recent dearth of bills they seem to be putting forward.

Dearth might be the wrong word – maybe the right word is, the lack of any sort of coherent thought process involved in what they are suggesting into law. The proposals before us are not only unimaginative and unnecessary in this clime, but also just…well, boring.

There was the appalling one from last week, about WhatsApp groups. Apparently the government wants to monitor all such groups in Kenya.

I won’t beat the dead horse again about how there are so many other things that our parliamentarians need to, and should, be focusing on – people dying, incoming famines, useless Huduma numbers, the whole lot. What I will focus on is the sheer impracticality of trying to monitor social media.

Social media is a monster of its own making, with or without the encrypting that WhatsApp offers. Because it is such a diverse offering, in that you have so many platforms – Facebook, Tinder, YouTube, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, TikTok, among so very many others – unless you’re the creator of such a platform, you really can’t regulate what goes on therein. And unless there is some international Cambridge Analytica-scale data breach going on that I don’t know about, I don’t know how the government will be able to regulate Kenya’s social media. And if there is a data breach – well, someone is getting sued.

The government wants the listing of everyone who is in the WhatsApp group, inclusive of names and addresses and other personal details. This is groups for funerals, small trips, work groups, contributions for bridal showers, family groups, cousin groups, groups formed for nothing that you forgot about…this bill proposes that groups that are unlisted and unregistered should be punishable by law.

How exactly is this implementable? Will there be a council formed to monitor WhatsApp specifically, or is it everything online? How are they chosen? And is their work, then, never ending? And what happens if the people of Kenya decide they don’t care enough to register each and every single group created? What if we get off WhatsApp and go onto – gasp - Telegram? What if we create our own platform? The possibilities are truly endless. Truly. Because technology is truly endless. I’m waiting to see how much of my money the government will be trying to spend on this nonsense, if it becomes a bill, and I will not cooperate. Regulation of social media is tantamount to regulation of free speech, and I don’t roll like that.

UNTRADITIONAL MEDIA

Then there’s the blogger commission regulation as well. Again, trying to regulate free speech in blogging seems a bit silly to me. Blogs evolved from not wanting to partake of regular media. They are untraditional media by definition. Rules and regulations don’t work there, that’s why they don’t operate in the traditional scheme. If they wanted rules and regulations and ridiculous fees, then they would have opened up a TV station. The people who form these platforms – Wordpress, Blogger, etc. – have their own methods of making sure no one is insulted or discriminated against or vulgar, and all that. That is not the role of a government, unless, of course, what they’re trying to do is become an authoritarian government. In which case they should just let us know so we can prepare properly for draconian rule. Chuck out the whole Internet with the bathwater, at once.

I don’t know whether to hope that the government remains woefully behind its Internet-savvy citizens so that we can always stay one step ahead of its pathetic attempts to make money off people who have none, or to wait until these bored MPs, with no actual jobs, realise that they’re building castles in the vast, digital air.

Twitter: @AbigailArunga