Minister warns about social media

By John Churu, Gaborone, Botswana

A junior minister has advised Batswana to be very cautious of the now popular social media, saying it has become a scourge and harbinger of many criminal acts including terrorism. Botlogile Tshileretso, who is the Assistant Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, told a Kgotla meeting (Setswana for village gathering) that cases of terrorism are posing a serious threat to peace and security in the country.

Tshireletso said she noted that cases of “terrorism, which include human trafficking, arms and drug trafficking and warned that they were mostly communicated through social media.”

Tshileretso urged Batswana to be careful at all times when dealing with social media. “Batswana should be careful when looking for employment opportunities or when they want to further their education and when looking for marriage partners through the use of social media,’ she warned. She added that most people are associated with terrorism on the social media unknowingly, thereby ending up being exploited resulting in unimaginable hardships and suffering.

Tshireletso contended that women and the girl child were the most vulnerableas they could be recruited locally or elsewhere into brothels services and drug trafficking. On the other hand, the minister said the boys were easy targets for ‘illicit firearms where they were taught to kill without mercy.”

The tone of the minister comes at a time when the SADC region and the world at large is facing new and challenging cases that involve the use of social media of which many legal entities in the region are not able to prosecute because of archaic laws.

ON the 26th of June 2014, Zimbabwean police arrested one of the editors of the Sunday Mail Newspaper, Edmund Kudzayi, on charges of “attempting to subvert a constitutionally elected government or alternatively attempting to commit an act of insurgency, banditry, sabotage or terrorism.” Kudzayi was also charged with undermining the authority of the President.

 As reported, the charges are rooted in a Facebook character Baba Jukwa, allegedly created by Kudzayi. In total, the police said they are on the hunt for a ten individuals they believe to be administrators of the Baba Jukwa Facebook page, with some of the accused said to be based in South Africa and the United Kingdom. Legal fundis and those close to cybercrime issues say it is nearly impossible at this day for most legal instruments in the world, let alone sub-Saharan Africa to prosecute such crimes.

 “It is of no doubt that social media provides a platform for national and global communities to rally and advance common goals. It is also not in question that crimes can be committed on social media, but using laws that were designed to prosecute crimes committed by physical persons and not social media characters raises evidentiary problems which include the fact that the technological space is a space where people can manipulate technology to the prejudice of other individuals making it critical for the police or prosecutors to have absolute verifiable evidence before deciding to pursue a matter,” one expert weighed in.

The British case of DPP v Collins [2006] UKHL 40 made it clear that the context of social media provides a free platform to converse and air controversial opinions which might not necessarily warrant investigation or prosecution by stating that "the test [to enable investigation and prosecution] is whether a message is couched in terms liable to cause gross offence to those to whom it relates". Everyday millions of people send and repost communications which are offensive or in bad taste and to proceed and prosecute poses a potential threat of the arrests of millions of people if arrests are to be made without a very high threshold of evidence.

However, all forms of cybercrime present new challenges to lawmakers, law enforcement agencies, and international institutions. This necessitates the existence of an effective supra-national as well as domestic mechanisms that monitor the utilisation of ICTs for criminal activities in cyberspace.

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