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ELECTION 2022

Proposal to regulate social media absurd

COMMENTARY
By Alphonce Shiundu | Sep 27th 2019 | 4 min read

In a rare light-bulb moment, Malava MP Moses Malulu Injendi has now come up with a bill to police Facebook and WhatsApp groups. The Kenya Information and Communication (Amendment) Bill, 2019 may look like a reasonable legislative move for the second-term lawmaker, but it is technically deficient, ill-informed and contains unenforceable clauses.

It appears to impose national borders on social media and the Internet. It ignores the obvious that for someone to write about anything happening in Kenya, they don’t need to be in Kenya. The Internet itself is borderless. Unlike China, which we could argue has its own version of the Internet, Kenyans on the Internet and social media depend on platforms made in the West; Google, Facebook, Twitter. These platforms have community standards and reporting mechanisms to do exactly what the MP proposes in the bill and so far, it is difficult to understand why he thinks another piece of law would work better.

The MP’s definition of blogging as “collecting, writing, editing and presenting of news or news articles in social media platforms or in the Internet” is inaccurate. If he had cared about the contextual origins of the term “blogging”, he would know that it is not primarily focused on news; that it is about the airing of personal views on many issues; and it is also about keeping an online diary or journal. He would also know that online, anyone can set up a website and write about their cat or dog; or they can decide to keep an update about the weather, or even just write the village gossip or whatever they think will add value to the lives of those who read the blogs.

The proposal in the bill purporting to grant the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) the power to “prescribe” the “manner” and to even set “conditions” that must be met before “any person” is authorised to blog, is ill-informed.

Had the lawmaker visited Kenya Network Information Centre (KENIC), he would have learned a little about how blogs are registered. He would know that so far only 85,788 websites (2018 figures) have been registered under KENIC for companies, businesses, and people, yet only less than 800 of these could be defined as blogs.

It is obvious, therefore, that not all blogs in Kenya are registered by KENIC. The global platforms such as Medium.com, Blogger.com and Wordpress.com, offer free registration of websites and blogs. Also, there are thousands of domain registrars littered all over the world, some granting anonymity and making it difficult to trace the exact person who registered a domain name, a blog or a website.

Potentially, the over 21 million Kenyans with broadband connections could have a blog and there’s nothing the CA can do about it. Most of the blogs on the global platforms are registered overseas and hosted overseas. It is technologically difficult and laborious, but not impossible, to block these platforms from operating in Kenya. If CA were to go ahead and block them because their users have not been “licenced and authorised to blog” there would be two pitfalls. The most obvious is the censorship. The second, is, it will kill innovation of information and knowledge products.

Aside from that, the MP also defines blogging as “presenting of news or news articles in social media platforms” and he wants people to get licences for that. With over seven million users on Facebook and millions more on Twitter and Instagram, each of them sharing what they see, wherever they see it at whatever time, how, pray would CA enforce this granting of authority to blog?

About WhatsApp groups, the challenge is still the same. What would the CA do if Kenyans in Uganda meet, form a group and chat about Kenya, without the administrator getting a licence? How would CA keep tabs on the formation of new groups? Really, this is a waste of valuable finite resources that the CA has, resources which could be put to better use such as adding it to the pot meant for improving mobile connectivity in the marginalised areas.

Apart from the ill-informed definitions, and the unenforceable proposals, there are credible questions about the potential infringement on the freedom of association and expression that could arise by the provisions to limit who can form a group, and what can be said in those groups. Should this bill go through, this is something the courts will definitely be invited to address.

It is possible the bill could get the support of many leaders who may have been slandered or defamed online. Each one of us has been trolled or abused on social media. It is not fun. It hurts. Ruins reputations. However, there are sufficient laws to deal with those who peddle falsehoods, and mechanisms embedded in social media platforms to try and limit spread of false information. This bill is a waste of parliamentary time.

Mr Shiundu is an editor and fact-checker

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