In another effort to curb negativity in social media Ethiopia’s parliament has passed a law on Thursday that imposes a jail term and a fine for people whose internet posts “stir unrest,” reports Techweez via Reuters.
It is evident that this is a move by the government to prevent violence ahead of their 2020 elections, scheduled for 16 August, and not a way to ‘clean’ Ethiopian Twitter timelines and create a safer space for users – this law, however, does try to effectively do just that.
The law was passed by 297 lawmakers who were in favour of the bill, while 23 opposed it, citing a violation in the free speech of users that is constitutionally guaranteed.
“Politicians or activists or others will be forced to be cautious, afraid that their speech might fall into the definition of hate speech or can be considered as false information,” Amnesty International’s Ethiopia researcher, Fisseha Tekle says about the law.
The punishment for breaking this new law is also quite severe. A fine of $3,000 and imprisonment of up to 5 years for anyone who shares or creates social media posts that are deemed to result in violence or disturbance of public. How exactly this will be policed is unclear as of now.
There is a worldwide trend currently of attempts to remove harmful content from social media sites. Last week Twitter announced plans to remove deceptive photos and videos from their platform in an effort against Fake News.
Likewise, posting content that is considered extremely offensive usually also lends to life-altering penalties. In 2018, a South African woman was jailed for 3 effective years because of a Facebook video that was circulated in which she made a long series of caustic racist remarks, and in the same year, another man was ordered to pay $10,000 for proudly uttering equally racist remarks on a WhatsApp video.
The argument between free speech and human rights on social media, it seems, will continue without an answer for some time longer. For Ethiopia, this is a move towards a less negative internet, for better or worse.
By Luis Monzon
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