Last week I came to learn that some Jubilee MP had published a bill whose intention is to regulate social media platforms. It specifically states that the new bill will amend the Kenya Information and Communication Act (KICA) by:
‘… introducing new sections to the Act on licensing of social media platforms, sharing of information by a licensed person, creates obligations to social media users, registration of bloggers and seeks to give responsibility to the Communications Authority to develop a bloggers code of conduct in consultation with bloggers’.
In a nutshell, if you are a blogger or anyone who uses social media, you need to get clearance or registration from the communications authority and are obligated to behave online in a certain way – according to whatever code of conduct that will be prescribed.
It is difficult to understand what problem the bill seeks to cure other than to try and introduce online censorship.
Some of the clauses in the bill are not shy to explicitly state this intention. For example, Section 84IC, part 1 states as follows:
A social media user shall ensure that any content published, written or shared through the social media platform -
a) does not degrade or intimidate a recipient of the content;
c) is fair, accurate and unbiased.
There are many times in my social media posts that I deliberately want to intimidate my recipient and I want to believe I reserve the right to do so. There are also many times I share posts on my social media timeline that may not be fair, nor accurate or unbiased and I believe I reserve the right to do so.
But if I exercise this right, the bill proposes the following penalties in Clause 84IC part 3.
Any person who contravenes the provision of this section commits an offence and shall be liable upon conviction to a fine not exceeding two hundred thousand shillings, or to an imprisonment of a term not exceeding one year.
So basically, if anyone gets intimidated by my social media posts, they can easily send me to the gallows for a year, if I fail to raise the fine.
Essentially, this is the classic definition of sending a chilling effect on online freedoms through draconian social media laws.
Incidentally, this is not the first time we seem to be seeing this attempt to constrain freedoms online.
During the deliberation of the Computer Misuse and Cybercrime Act (2018), MPs managed to sneak in clauses to restrain blogger’s freedoms and some of these clauses are currently before court for adjudication.
Previous high court rulings found sections of the KICA on ‘misuse of telecommunication device’ illegal and unconstitutional. This section was notorious for being used by state agencies to harass bloggers.
It seems the courts recognise that whereas every citizen has a right to protect and preserve the integrity of their reputation, the normal cause for redress is through existing libel and hate speech laws rather than through draconian social media laws.
But it looks like someone keeps trying to sneak back social media regulations at every opportunity they get.
One can only wonder which part of Article 33 of our Constitution that deals with freedom of expression they have failed to totally understand.
Mr Walubengo is a lecturer at Multimedia University of Kenya, Faculty of Computing and IT.
Email: [email protected], Twitter: @Jwalu