INFORMATION minister Monica Mutsvangwa let the cat out of the bag on Tuesday when she revealed that government was snooping into citizens’ private social media chats.
Government’s monitoring of social media content is disconcerting in that this equates to intruding into people’s private lives.
What is more worrisome is that this is coming at a time when the Cyber-Security and Data Protection Bill, which President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government is pushing for to punish suspected social media abusers, is awaiting assent into law.
Social media is now part of our lives.
Almost everyone with access to the internet and a smartphone has a presence on social media. It has become a vital communication tool allowing people across the globe to exercise their right to freedom of expression.
In Zimbabwe, social media has been celebrated as a beacon of democracy and corruption buster.
Mnangagwa’s government, however, seems uncomfortable with the new-found platform for freedom of speech and expression. The social media honeymoon is coming to a close for Zimbabweans as Mutsvangwa confirmed.
It is worrying that social media use is coming under increasing scrutiny at a time democratic space in the country is also shrinking.
To authorities, social media is being wrongly perceived as an anti-government platform used to mobilise protests and tarnish the image of the country.
While we share concerns over abuse of social media to spread hate speech, fake news and promote terrorism, it is our view that the role of regulating and preventing such does not lie with government but with tech companies.
Former US president Donald Trump can attest to that.
After abusing social media to share misleading content to incite his followers, social media giants Facebook and Twitter banned him from their platforms.
There are many other examples where the tech giants have blocked content on account of spreading hate speech, fake news and promoting violence, among others.
This leaves the government with little room to regulate social media save for dictatorial purposes.
As such, we object to government regulation as it seeks to censor and encroach upon the civil rights of the people by limiting freedom of speech and expression.