Ethics and Social Media in Uganda: Where Do we Draw the Line?

Source: Revine

Source: Revine

Gone are the days when only high energy physicists had ever heard of what is called the World Wide Web. Today, even cats and dogs have their own pages on the internet!

The internet has made information accessible in a swift and easy way, openly accessible and within instant scope.  In simple terms, it has transformed communications and social networking, crafting a zone which is so universal and infinite.

People connect, share data and work via the internet all day, every day, everywhere, without realizing that it is completely decentralized. The internet therefore, plays a great role in removing the borders of nations, and assisting in the process of globalization.

Consequently, the rise of social media as an innovation to the internet, has made the impossible become possible. With Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, Telegram, Google Plus, LinkedIn, Flickr and Instagram, and with many more still developing on Google Play Store, Ovi Store and App Store, social media has already signed, stamped and sealed the fact that it is here to stay and a necessity on a global base.

The two most popular websites, Facebook and Twitter, which were founded in 2004 and 2006 respectively might be just sites, but they are big. Globally, 1.2 billion people regularly use Facebook, 255 million regularly use Twitter, 500 million “tweets” are made a day and there are 90 million blogs of which these numbers keep on doubling every after six months.

To be specific, In Uganda today according to Social Bakers, there are approximately 1,260, 000 Facebook users (4.6% penetration), 35, 000 Twitter active users ( 1.2% penetration) and 500 bloggers out of the total 37, 101, 745 population of Uganda as at February 2015.

Use of internet in Uganda on the other hand is also steadily rising. According to The National ICT Policy for Uganda 2012, there are over 7.2 million internet users, Mobile penetration per 100 people stands at 50.5, Internet wireless/mobile subscriptions is at 1.5 million people, fixed internet subscribers are 90,000, broadband Penetration is at 9% and the personal computer penetration per 100 people is at 2.3.

The above figures, already show the never ending significance of ICT (and social media) in lieu of any community whether least developed, developing or developed. Nevertheless, one question rises concerning the type of information we share on the internet and social media.

Institutions, organizations and companies like National Water and Sewage Corporation, Airtel Uganda, 40 Days 40 SmilesNational Social Security Fund and Kampala Capital City Authority take credit for having effectively utilized the importance of social media through online customer care and feedback to bridge the gap between them and their clients/fans.

On an individual basis however, it looks to be a little bit different. Sex tapes, nudes, misleading information, spontaneous and unauthorized death announcements, cyber bullying, harassment and trolling, defamation, revenge pornography, virtual mobbing, disclosure of confidential information and unauthorized use of copyright-protected works are now the order of the day.

Recently when Musician Emmanuel Mayanja a.k.a. AK-47 passed on, images of his dead and bleeding body where being made display/profile pictures on WhatsApp. Nude photos of musicians and “celebrities” like Cinderella Sanyu a.k.a. Cindy, Zarina Hussein a.k.a. Zari, Judith Heard, Desire Luzinda, and most recently Anita Kyarimpa alias Fabiola among others, have become the topics of analysis, commentary, discussion and opinion by all sorts of Ugandans on Social media.

This is rather sad. Minors who are now getting access to internet and social media sites at a tender age are being exposed to the adult content freely and at any time. This is worse when these minors are being exposed to such content when it is their parents (or one of their parents) that are the actual people in such material. They become the center of bullying and laughing stock by their peers.

Additionally, this new trend of sex tapes and nudes has made “celebrities” engage in them as a way of remaining relevant to their audience and media. Except for remarkable circumstances like Desire Luzinda and Anita Fabiola whose photos were leaked to the media by ex-boyfriends (if it is true anyway), this new lifestyle needs to be regulated.

How it will be regulated to strike a balance between all rounds of people, is also a question. Freedom of expression, hacking, privacy and assembly remain some of the most conflicting arguments on the internet. Most people who post such data on the internet which is considered harmful and immoral, have a defence of freedom of expression which is recognized under article 29 of the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda.

In March this year, the Constitutional Court of India declared section 66A of the country’s Social Media Law which sought to filter and regulate the content posted on Facebook and twitter unconstitutional. It reasoned on basis of technicalities on interpretation of the law.

However, this freedom has its limits which also extend to social media. Misuse of social media has consequences which have penalties attached to them. Splashing nude photos after a break-up and using your phone to disclose unauthorized information on social media is a direct attack on privacy and freedom of expressions within its limits.

It is just common sense that the brand you create online reflects on you as a person. It is not expressly written that people should behave in a certain way online but it is implied that someone’s behavior online must be professional. This is because everyone is responsible for what he or she posts online.

On the other hand, the current legal framework also does not give effective solutions to the status quo. The Computer Misuse Act 2011, which is the main cyber law legislation in Uganda, is rather a problem instead.  It contains ambiguous, vague, imprecise, sweeping, broad and confusing provisions that have potential to gravely affect the date rights as a whole.

Some of these Sections are 9, 10 and 11 (in relation to right to privacy), 3, 21(2), 24, 25 and 28(5) (imprecise) and  5, 12, 18 which unduly limit access to information in a broad manner and does not conform to the standards set out within the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Consequently, whereas the government is allowed to limit the enjoyment of freedoms, the restrictions must be narrowly defined and should conform to international standards of which Uganda is a party. The Computer Misuse Act falls short of these standards.

Existing rules for the ethical conduct of human subjects even when hard to define, must be clear because there is no universally approved code of ethical conduct. Therefore, considering what is private and public data on the internet and social media must be clearly stipulated as the first way to handle ethics on social media and internet as a whole.

Social media is not bad. The vast majority of people who use the social media are like society. The vast majority are decent, intelligent, inspiring people. The problem comes with a small minority, as in society, who spoil it for everyone else.

Conclusively, ICT and social media play a major role in all aspects of national life: economic life, politics as well as social and cultural development. It also relates to human rights and supports freedom of expression and the right to information. But caution should be taken in what, how and when we post online.