To streamline social media, State doesn’t have to register users

On the face of it, the proposal by an MP that is aimed at regulating social networking media use is a godsend.

A bill that will be introduced in the National Assembly this week by Malava MP Malulu Injendi seeks to have group administrators of social media accounts such as Facebook and WhatsApp obtain licences from Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) before opening them.

If the bill becomes law, those without the licences or those who send unsavoury messages will have to pay a fine of Sh200,000 or be jailed for not more than a year.

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By all means, the intentions of this bill are good. For since their advent, social media platforms have been used by some to disseminate hate speech, obscene pictures and even by terrorists to radicalise gullible youths.

Indeed, at the end of July 2017, during the campaigns for 2017 General Election, National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) revealed it had identified at least 176 social media accounts that propagated hate speech.

Such perversion should not be allowed and those who seek to divide Kenyans through the internet must be punished.

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In fact, just how to regulate social media is a major headache for many countries.

Britain, for example, has been planning to impose heavy penalties on social media companies that fail to block harmful content, including fake news, hate speech or extremist messages.

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Yet, forcing Kenyans wishing to form social media groups to register with the CA would go against the spirit and letter of our Constitution which provides for not only freedom of speech but also association. However Kenyans must always remember that these freedoms, like all others, come with responsibility.

That is why after flagging the hate-filled messages in the 2017, NCIC took to court scores of people it suspected of engaging in hate speech during the election campaign period.

The truth is, Kenya is not short of means of taming hate speech Internet abuse. Even if the Government requires extra laws to meet these ends, it does not need one that will force Kenyans to acquire licences in order to open social media accounts to help arrest those who abuse the social media.

The Government already has adequate information to track and arrest those who misuse the Internet.

The State already has the ability to track every gadget, computer or mobile phone, that is used to access internet. This means the Government can easily establish exactly who sent what message regardless of where they are in this country.

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Forcing Kenyans to acquire licences is likely to drive Kenyans out of social media in droves. Despite its negative side, social media is a source of useful information for citizens.

We should learn from Uganda whose decision to tax social media users early this year forced millions of people to abandon social media.

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National Assembly2017 General ElectionNational Cohesion and Integration CommissionNCICsocial media