By Verlie Oosthuizen, Head of Social Media Law
A trending hashtag on Monday this week was #HandsOffSocialMedia which was in response to the Security Minister’s statement to the press on Sunday that “We are contemplating to regulate the space,” he said. “Even the best democracies that are revered, they regulate the space.”
The problem is that the “best democracies” that have these types of controls include Zimbabwe, China, Vietnam and North Korea which are hardly examples with the best human rights records. Obviously the public is outraged by this suggestion and it represents a very worrying trend that suggests a move towards a clamp down on freedom of expression. In China there is no access to Facebook and the company is working hard to try and be allowed back in to the fold. There were even reports that they were developing a software censorship tool in order for this to happen. Last year the Zimbabwean government blocked the Whatsapp service during a national workers stayaway which had been organised to put pressure on the Mugabe regime.
Some experts and commentators say that it would be impossible to clamp down on social media in South Africa in the same way and that it is unlikely to happen but others say that the more worrying trend is that the cabinet is even thinking along these lines at all. South Africa is supposed to be a shining example of a constitutional democracy and these ideas certainly do not fit with that ideal.
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Verlie Oosthuizen, Head of Social Media Law