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Africa in need of locally developed social media platforms

Africa in need of locally developed social media platforms

South Africa's Internet Service Providers' Association (ISPA) has recommended the development and use of more local social media platforms in order to combat hateful and unlawful content.

The internet industry body refers to the We Are Social's 2016 Digital Report which found that while some 27 million South Africans spend an average of three hours a day tweeting, posting and liking media on international social media platforms, none of the country's top ten favourite social media platforms had been developed locally.

The ISPA says the poor showing by locally developed social media networks poses a challenge in dealing with hate speech and other unlawful material posted on these platforms.

Dominic Cull, regulatory advisor to ISPA says the internationalised nature of social networking services and lack of popular and locally developed alternatives has resulted in a complicated way of enforcing local laws and values.

"South Africans abroad, in a social media sense, cannot expect protection from the laws of their own country when trying to have this content removed. If one chooses to interact with international platforms, one must use international mechanisms to solve any problems. We may have fundamental rights to privacy and dignity, but these can be extremely difficult to exercise where a platform is hosted in another country".

The ISPA says while web users in South Africa have useful tools like the ISPA take-down procedure whenever they discover online content believed to be unlawful, none of the web's biggest social media platforms are hosted by ISPA members which means that the mechanism created under South African law simply does not apply.

A request to remove, or take-down, the material can be submitted to ISPA as long as the content is hosted locally by an ISPA member according to the industry body.

Cull advises social media users to check terms for provisions and remedies specifically relating to the combatting of hate speech and other unlawful materials before signing up to use them. He says many users fail to adequately consult the terms of service they agree to when signing up for social media services.

"This is particularly true for parents allowing their children to use these platforms, who need to know what remedies they have to get content removed if the child is the victim of an incident"

Extent of liability for social media platforms

Terri Burns, Associate Product Manager at Twitter told ITWeb Africa during her visit to South Africa last month that many of the concern over undesirable content on social media networks is often universal.

"I am from the USA which also has a tortured racial history (like many other African countries). There is a lot of stuff going on currently with regard to racial relations in the US, so I think places like South Africa, places in America and other places where racial tension has a strong history will share abhorrence to it. Stuff like racism is a global phenomenon and I think it is worse in some places as opposed to others but I hope no matter where I am in the world, it is something that people can understand or resonate with."

Burns believes responsibility for keeping malicious content off social media networks should be shared between social network owners or developers and users.

"I think that the main point of responsibility should fall on the developers because from the very beginning when you are learning how to code you are taught to think about these things and to predict what can happen. If a social media platform builds a piece of software that goes out to over a billion people, but there is obviously loopholes where people can hack into it and crack it and exploit users, that would be the social media platform's fault. Of course, we should be encouraging people to be respectful with software and not do malicious things on the internet, but there are ways that you can foresee and build and have really secure infrastructure to prevent those things from happening. Some of the responsibility falls on developers and I would encourage them to keep this in mind when they are scaling up big pieces of software."

The ISPA says it hopes that South Africa's Cybercimes and Cybersecurity Bill, if passed by Parliament, will go some way to help locals deal with unlawful electronic communications – given that international law may not always be the most effective channel through which to resolve issues.

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