Felex Share, Harare Bureau
Developing countries should mitigate the negative effects of information proliferation by creating laws that regulate social media usage, entrenching accountability and sanctions for offenders, a Cabinet Minister said yesterday.
Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said information had to be managed for the good and safety of society.
She made the remarks while presenting a paper on “Information as a threat to national security” at the Zimbabwe National Defence University (ZNDU) in Harare.
“It is abundantly clear that we need to invest more in information systems so that our people can benefit from the positive aspects of information, yet at the same time, we also need to deploy means to regulate and manage information for the good and safety of our society,” said Minister Mutsvangwa.
She said the country was working on a Cyber Bill.
“Zimbabwe is working on a Cyber Bill which has passed the Cabinet Committee on legislation and is about to be tabled in Parliament for adoption,” she said. “The Bill seeks to guide the formulation of a Zimbabwe Cyber Policy that will ensure that internet and related technologies are used for the good of society, not to violate national security.”
Minister Mutsvangwa said in managing and regulating information, integrated Information Communication Technology platforms were needed.
This, she said, would assist in denying the means to those threatening the State using social media.
“This calls for continuous virtual information flow monitoring so that strategies to remove the negative effects of the information revolution from harming our society are always being formulated on a need basis,” she said. “The most powerful States including USA, Russia, China and other European nations are good at that.”
Minister Mutsvangwa said while the proliferation of information had led to great strides in human development, it had brought serious challenges to national security.
“Terrorism, which is hinged on using violence to instil fear to advance a particular cause in society, is equally taking advantage of the developments that have taken place in the information revolution,” said Minister Mutsvangwa.
She said terrorist organisations use social media to destabilise nations.
“Terrorist groups such as Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab, Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) have used the information revolution, in particular the notion of citizen journalism and social networks to propagate narrow ideas on religious fundamentalism, Satanism, bellicose and other hedonistic and retrogressive practices that threaten the well-being of the modern State,” said Minister Mutsvangwa.
“Citizen journalism characterised by people freely generating information and sharing it, removes the editorial responsibility and self-restraint that you find in traditional media because purveyors of social media information often operate extra-territorially out of reach from the societies they offend against. You thus find all types of information circulating on social media, including fake news, some of it designed to create fissures in the nation state because those responsible are out of reach of national laws.”
Minister Mutsvangwa said nowadays, those planning to revolt against legitimately elected governments were easily commanding and controlling their operations using social media networks and applications.
“Events in North Africa and the Middle East in 2011/12 come to mind in which citizens of those countries were mobilised and controlled online to revolt against their governments,” she said.
“We have also seen, especially during important events such as national elections or crises, social media being used to attack sovereignty, national security, promote commotion and violence by whipping emotions mostly through the dissemination of fake information. Zimbabwe has not been spared, with social media information being used by detractors of the State during the general elections of 2018 to spread falsehoods that had potential to cause national instability.”
Minister Mutsvangwa said falsehoods and fabrications had been used to trigger or exaggerate economic crises and trigger panic behaviour by the people.
“In the recent challenges facing the country, opposition forces and other civic organisations whose main objective is to topple a legitimately elected government, social media has been used to coordinate the so-called shut down by deploying and coordinating thugs and criminals to attack members of the public and destroy infrastructure as a way of instilling fear in the citizenry and depict the country as failing,” said Minister Mutsvangwa.