Need to regulate social media abuse

Editorial, Normal

The National, Friday August 7th, 2015

 THE media’s job in maintaining equilibrium between truth and public perception and in ensuring always to re­main just and objective cannot be overstated.

For certain people, including politicians, public perception is almost everything and heavily dependent on portrayal by the media.  

Papua New Guinea’s main­stream media has today taken on an undeclared competitor. In an ideal scenario, social media, via internet applications and the multitude of local blogs must necessarily complement the traditional media.  

Where mainstream newspapers, radio and television are inhibited by situations such as geographical location or censorship and commercial considerations, social media could and should be the available option. However, recent developments have given rise to criticisms against the abuse of social media in spreading defamatory information, lies and half truths.

In the absence of any legal control or monitoring of the use of social media, it is open to widespread abuse.  Where such abuse results in defaming other individuals and public office holders it should be of concern.  

What’s worse, the perpetrators of such abuse sometimes remain anonymous or hide behind pseudonyms. 

It is a positive development that the public has come to use social media, which demonstrates that they are knowledgeable ab­out issues of national importance and are technologically savvy.  

There is, however, reason to believe that we need some monitoring mechanism now to avoid serious issues later.

The National Information and Communication Technology Authority (NICTA) said some time ago it had formulated a cyber crime policy, which would soon become law. 

The proposed legislation would spell out penalties for abuses of social media.

“It is not our intent to control the media but there must be some proper mechanisms in place so people have to be responsible when they are using social media to attack others. For cyber crime, we are going to make it an offence for people to use pen names, not using their real names and making defamatory statements. You have to be answerable for it,” NICTA chief executive officer Charles Punaha said at the time.

We agree that every Papua New Guinean has the qualified right to broadcast or publish and to take part in a public assembly. However, that comes with responsibility as well, which is what is lacking in social media.

Keeping tabs on social media is necessary yet at the same time, we in the mainstream media might want to do some soul-searching as well. Some common questions being asked about the roles of these two strands of media include : 

  • Is social media venturing into a grey area where the mainstream media is expected to but is either failing or being restricted by the laws on libel and defamation;
  • are the country’s newspapers, television and radio stations not doing enough for some of their readers who would rather educate themselves by using the freedom provided by social media, and,  
  • Whose job is it to tell the truth about public issues and controversies? Is it the mainstream media’s role to extract truth from public officials or is it incumbent upon them to provide it?

Some users of social media have obviously descended below levels of common decency and respect for their fellow citizens and others. 

Such abuse needs to be monitored and that is the big challenge facing NICTA. 

Social media is a vital source of information and education. 

Used correctly and with proper control mechanisms, it can result in positive development for the individual as well as the community. 

The public might want to ask whether to take social media seriously as a source of information and education.  

Elsewhere in the world, governments and NGOs have successfully used social media to transmit vital knowledge for social and economic development.

Unfortunately, social media in PNG has been thriving on conspiracy theories and is being used by people to vent their hatred and malice towards others. This has resulted in calls by responsible citizens for social media to be regulated.

As James Wanjik said in his letter to the editor today, the Prime Minister’s contempt proceedings against certain police officers and a private citizen is a good way to see what limits are placed on users of social media.