Cameroon: Fake News, Hate Speech - Tall Order of Regulating Social Media Use

Participants at a five-day workshop in Yaounde last week discussed these burning issues.

Social media offers many benefits. Though it also presents huge challenges to society, media practitioners and media regulators. This is because social media use has become an all-comer-journalists' affair, requiring neither prior training nor qualification. Consequently, many social media users have overnight become "celebrated citizen journalists!" Promptly and indiscriminately reporting and disseminating all what happens around them - understandably without recourse to the canons of journalism. Herein lies the dilemma for society. For, an increasing amount of the content shared on social media these days is completely false and is purposefully intended to confuse or misinform the public. Similarly, the use of language that promotes hate against particular communities or groups of people is commonplace in the country. Meeting in a five-day workshop on Media, Peace and Elections in Yaounde on October 24, 2019 organised by the Network for Solidarity, Empowerment and Transformation for All, NewSeta, some 70 journalists discussed the threats posed by fake news and hate speech. And also how the impact could be contained or mitigated. Facilitated by Dr Sakah Bernard of the Pan-African University, Yaounde, the discussion was on the topic, "Regulating hate speech and fake news: From whose perspective?" Participants agreed that there was urgent need to curb fake news and hate speech both online and offline because they threaten national security, peace and social cohesion. Why some statutes already exist in Cameroon on regulating media practice as a whole, they do not go far enough in tackling fake news and hate speech per se, Dr Sakah noted. Fake news and hate speech could be countered, he suggested, by adopting self-regulation and co-regulation, embarking on awareness campaigns on the abuse of citizenship journalism, organising training for stakeholders, and holding inter-generational dialogue fora. The two ills could also be handled by promoting the change of mindsets and attitudes towards others, inculcating positive values such as respect, tolerance, compassion, etc, fact-checking any content before disseminating or sharing with others, and by instituting laws that criminalise and punish hate speech offences. The root causes of hate speech and fake news could be handled from historical, political, social, economic and cultural perspectives, Dr Bernard Sakah noted.

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