Columnists Features

Let’s not use social media to foster hate speech

AS ZAMBIA prepares for the presidential election in January 2015, Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf) is calling on all political actors and the general populace to desist from abusing social media to fuel conflict.   
It is unsettling to see various political actors and sympathisers trying to outdo each other in the abuse of social media, using platforms like Facebook and Twitter to insult each other, share misleading information and project hate speech.
By and large, social media should be used to unite people for a purpose and bring about positive outcomes of any progressive process such as an election, regardless of existing differences in ideologies or opinions.
The use of social media peaked towards the United States of America elections in 2008. It is widely believed that Barack Obama’s ascendancy to the presidency was mostly because of the manner in which his campaign team used social media.
A number of lessons can be drawn from that campaign; not just in the way a significant fraction of the population got campaign messages through social media, but also in the way different stakeholders worked together to ensure that there was no abuse of social media.
We would like to encourage all political parties, their candidates and their supporters to exercise the highest level of responsibility when using social media to reach out to the electorate with their campaign messages.
PSAf believes that communication has the power to influence the direction of any society or country, whether positively or negatively.
One positive word on social media can help people see Zambia’s potential and encourage them to play their role in building the nation. In the same way, one negative word can cause anarchy, confusion and disturb the country’s peace.
One reckless utterance on social media can set people against each other, fuelling unnecessary conflict in the country. Each one of us can make a choice to use responsible language on social media and promote constructive, issue-based debate.
Zambia is a democracy and everyone has a right to belong to and support any political party of their choice. Everyone has a right to hold an opinion and freely express themselves on a platform of their choice, without fear.
However, bullying, insulting and threatening each other on social media is an affront to democracy, especially as the country is celebrating 50 years of independence. We therefore would like to appeal to all Zambians to be responsible on social media. People may belong to different political parties, have different opinions on various issues, but our personal interests should never override the interests of Mother Zambia.
We all have a responsibility to look out for any factors that may disturb the country’s peace and good standing as a democracy.
The author is executive director, panos institute southern africa .

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