HomeOpinionTech&Crime: Zimbabwe now needs a social media policy

Tech&Crime: Zimbabwe now needs a social media policy

By Jacob Mutisi

IN Zimbabwe, we have over five million WhatsApp users making it the most used social media platform, outranking Facebook Messenger and other platforms.  Government bodies, local authorities and parastatals are now under increasing pressure to digitise their services, including their interaction with clients.

Social media is now an incredibly helpful tool for our government agencies. No matter what sector or branch of government one is in, employees are using social media.

Social media allows the government to connect and engage with its communities. It allows government agencies to share news and information easily and quickly. When used well, social media can increase transparency and build trust with citizens. But social media interaction can also be dangerous.

Zimbabwe does not have a national social media policy but the government needs to create and maintain policies to guide social media use. A government social media policy should cover institutional use, professional use and employees’ personal use. The policy should encourage staff to use social media responsibly and thoughtfully both inside and outside of work. A government social media policy helps ensure that social media is a useful tool for the organisation instead of a liability.

Zimbabwe’s social media space has experienced “fake news” which quickly spreads like wildfire.

Therefore, the Minister of Information, Publicity and Broadcast Service should have a Press Unit (PU) whose role is to quickly counter “fake news”. The PU is a checking unit whose role is to identify the fake news related to the government and its policies circulating on various social media platforms.

The PU will have officials from different government departments as well as employees hired on contract to monitor platforms such as WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube to flag fake news. The PU will have contact with social media companies such as WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube so as to report the same for their action. Countering fake news must be high on the government’s agenda. There was a lot of fake news on and before the 2018 elections dominating our cyberspace; as we approach the 2023 plebiscite the same is obviously going to happen.

The government of Zimbabwe has to start working with international social media companies to trace “fake news” and removal of malicious content within 24 hours of notice.

As the government is working on a social media policy, there is a need to deploy technology-based automated tools or appropriate mechanisms for proactively identifying and removing or disabling public access to unlawful information or content that is available on social media platforms.

Messaging giant WhatsApp has, in the past, drawn flak from governments across the world on the issue of message traceability and this is the right time for the Government of Zimbabwe to seriously engage these companies to counter the distribution of “Fake News”. Considering what happened with “Baba Jukwa”, our government has to take on social media companies to find ways to identify originators of rogue messages but US-based firms have resisted the demand citing privacy concerns but this may change in the aftermath of the damaging account of how harmful Facebook has been which was made public by a whistleblower recently. Also, the January 6 attack on Capitol Hill has made the US think again on social media use.

The time has come for government institutions to seriously start consulting on a social media policy and set up a Press Unit for effective interaction between the government and its citizens.

  • Mutisi is the CEO of Hansole Investments (Pvt) Ltd and the current chairperson of Zimbabwe Information & Communication Technology, a division of Zimbabwe Institution of Engineers.

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