Twitter: Is Julius Malema right?

March 7, 2011 • Features, Opinion

Angela Meadon, Online Editor,

In November 2010, South Africans collectively guffawed at the ANC YL leader Julius Malema and his statements about twitter. Malema was being impersonated on the popular social media tool and he felt that his complaints were not being addressed by the website’s administrators. Malema’s complaints were not taken seriously.

As a reminder, here is the statement made by Floyd Shivambu, Spokesperson for the ANC YL, on 03 November 2010:

The ANC Youth League is concerned by the continuous creation of fake Twitter accounts in the name of ANC Youth League President Julius Malema. There are computer hackers who have created twitter accounts in the name of the President and recurrently posting misleading messages.

The ANC YL has in more than one occasion reported these impersonators and hackers, yet no action has been taken against them by the twitter administrators. We will now approach the relevant authorities to report these hackers and call for the closer of twitter if its administrators are not able to administer reports for violation of basic human rights and integrity.

Those who are hacking systems and impersonating the ANC YL leadership should immediately stop doing so because the laws of this country will come very hard on them.

Now, before we get all tangled up in a discussion of whether or not the spokesperson of the ANC YL has ever come within a hundred meters of an English textbook, and before we make rude jokes about what the laws of the country might do, there is something I’d like us to give serious consideration. Should we be so quick to dismiss his complaints, or are his accusations about human rights violations valid?

Basic human rights are those rights which you are entitled to simply because you are a human. People are entitled to them regardless of where they live in the world or of their position in society. The South African Constitution, and the Bill of Rights contained therein, recognises the following basic human rights:

  • The right to be equal before the law.
  • The right to life.
  • The right to freedom and security of the person.
  • No slavery or forced labour.
  • Right to privacy.
  • Freedom of assembly, demonstration, picket and petition.
  • Freedom of movement and residence.
  • Right to education.
  • Right of access to health care, food, water, social security
  • Right to a clean environment

Were any of Malema’s basic human rights violated when people created fake accounts in his name? Probably not. But, can Twitter and Facebook be considered responsible for the violation of basic human rights, specifically in relation to the recent revolutions in North Africa?

The Libyan Human Rights League estimates that 6000 people have lost their lives in the on-going civil war between troops loyal to “Brother Leader” Muamar Gadaffi, and civilians protesting his 41 year rule. The Egyptian revolution, which started on the 26th of January 2011, was largely peaceful. However, 365 casualties are confirmed by Egypt’s Health Minister with a further 5500 injuries.

Last week, reported that the American Senator John McCain made a public statement in which he credited Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, with the revolution in Egypt. “This social networking cannot be underestimated in how all of these events, really the driving force in how all of this transformed and took place,” McCain said in his comments.

McCain related a story he heard of a young man in Egypt, who held up his blackberry and said, “I can get 200,000 people in the square in two hours.”

If you know that your call for people to revolt might very well cause them grievous bodily harm, including death, are you responsible if they are injured, or killed, during the protest which you encouraged them to attend?

If I encourage people to gather in Harare to protest Robert Mugabe’s dictatorial regime, and they get arrested, imprisoned without trial, maybe even tortured, am I responsible for them being there? Am I endangering their right to life and their right to freedom and security of the person?

Do I think that I would be more responsible than the people pulling the triggers and murdering the civilians? No, of course not! But I do think that we should not be celebrating the “Twitter Revolution” quite so enthusiastically. I think that we need to consider the impact which a 140-character “Tweet” might have on people’s lives. Average people have never had such a great opportunity to have their voices heard, to have their opinions acted upon. The consequences are enormous and can be very frightening.

By Angela Meadon

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