25 March 2019

Ethiopia: Constructive Dialogue Crucial to Enhance Responsible Use of Social Media

Addis Ababa — Defamatory contents, fake news and hate speech on social media have become a discussion point in Ethiopia, where people can post and share whatever they want.

"Nowadays it is common to attack someone on social media mentioning his identity, sex, ethnic and religion background instead of expressing difference through discourse, said Befekadu Hailu, an activist and blogger.

Befikadu is among the bloggers known as the "Zone 9 bloggers", who were arrested in April 2014 and charged with terrorism. He was pardoned along with thousands of prisons as part of the political reform.

He told ENA that defamatory contents and hate speech are intended to instigate ethnic tensions and widen differences.

Well aware of the benefits of social media, Befikadu said he uses social media platforms to sell his ideas and influence others.

He noted that conducting constructive public dialogues presupposes heated arguments, but not attacking personalities, and "this won't get us far" he said.

People are trying to convince others through force or vehemently conduct hate speeches which of course will harm the public and ruin the culture of constructive dialogue, he added.

"We need to refrain from hate speech and dangerous speeches which is almost becoming a daily activity in the country these days," Befikadu said.

Nurturing the culture of dialogues which allow people to follow democratic ways in their efforts to express their ideas, as there is no other better alternative to the existing problems, he suggested.

Befikadu said people might be offended as a result expressing views; however freedom of expression shouldn't be mixed with attacking individuals because of their difference in opinion, religion or ethnic background.

Dr. Bekalu Atenafu, Lecturer on education psychology at Kotebe Metropolitan University said that lack of experience on democratic ways of expressing ideas and forward demands led to increased tendency of using force.

The social media practice such as disseminating fake news in order to assert thoughts on followers, and defame personalities so as to get rid of them from the stage, reveals this fact, he said.

He added the government has a lot to do to shape the use of social media.

Saying that putting issues on the table for discussion is crucial, Bekalu emphasized the need for the active engagement of the media and public figures in such forums.

In addition to promoting discourse to minimize the adverse effects of defamatory and distorted contents, the lecture urged the need to take measures on trespassers.

"Taking appropriate action on trespassers of constructive dialogue is imperative until attitudinal change comes among the public."

Strengthening capacity of civil society organizations, working on the curriculum and enhancing the role of the media could be some of the mechanisms that should be employed to promote the culture of constructive dialogue in the society, he said.

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