Association for Free Research and International Cooperation

Freedom of Speech in Social Networks

Clifton Ellis from AFRIC Editorial
The title given to this article is the same as that of the roundtable that was hosted by the Foundation for National Values Protection, an NGO headed by famous Russian journalist and member of the Civic Chamber Alexander Malkevich in partnership with the Association of Free Research and International Cooperation (AFRIC) and think tank headed by Professor Jose Matemulane of Mozambique was held at the Hilton Hotel, Berlin on the 20th of January, 2020.

The aims of the round-table discussions were to elaborate on the following concerns:

  • Social networks’ ambiguity about their policies for determining what is appropriate and what is not, showing clear evidence of bias and partiality in many instances
  • International rules around freedom of expression on social media tied to the UN convention of Free speech
  • Elaboration of ways to introduce public control methods and self-regulation of the new media 

The round-table

The event was attended by a number of international reputable experts and professionals from the political, academic, journalistic, documentary production and civil society spheres. Notable presence in Berlin included the indefatigable Nathalie Yamb, Swiss-Cameroonian advisor to Ivorian presidential candidate Professor Mamadou Koulibaly, who adumbrated on her experience of having been targeted for censorship by her illegal deportation from the Ivory Coast where she lived for many years to Switzerland her mother’s country. It is clear that the decision was made by the Ouattara government who on the grounds of “national interests” decided that Ms. Yamb’s expulsion from the country due to her stance against France’s continued control of Africa via the CFA France and their illegal military bases dotted throughout western Africa. She views these as a subversion of Africa’s sovereignty by France.

It was noted by Alexander Malkevich and by Russian political scientist Yulia Afanaseva that since 2016 many conservative organisations and alternative media sources in the west have been targeted by Facebook, Twitter and Youtube for censorship. Mr. Malkevich himself has been banned from Twitter without explanation noted that “events of recent months clearly indicate a trend towards increased censorship in Western messengers and social media.” He said that these actions go against the democratic values espouced by western governments and are contrary to the original reasons for social media to begin with, which is to facilitate free and open political discussions. Ms. Afanaseva further adumbrated on the role of the social media in the political process and its growing influence related to the development of “generation Alpha”.

AFRIC’s strategist Clifton Ellis elaborated on the “propaganda model”, saying that the interest of the establishment that is represented by the mainstream media has become diametrically opposite to those of the citizens of many countries resulting in a zero sum situation culminating in the establishment doubling down on support for their agenda by demanding that extra judicial measures be implemented by social media companies to silent “unfavourable” political speech. This, he said, posed a serious risk to the democratic process, a process which requires open debate so that the voting population are equipped to take the decision they deem in their best interest. 

Stefan Keuter, a member of the German Parliament (Bundestag) representing the AfD party elaborated on the latest legislative proposals in Germany aimed at social media space regulations while Wilhelm Domke-Shultz, film director from Germany shared his opinion regarding the importance of the uncensored access to the internet in order to preserve the legitimacy of the western parliamentary democratic model.

Eric Topona, a journalist at the Africa-Francophone Editorial Office of Deutsche Welle and author of the book “The misery and the greatness of the freedom to inform” explained that the internet and social media have become more important than traditional media and that with it the inherent challenge with fact checking the new media space, while Dr. Qemal Affagnon, a communication researcher with the West Africa division of Internet Without Borders shared statistics related to the economic impact of internet shutdowns with his thesis being that such actions are a function of a failure of governance and a direct attack on freedom of speech.  

Janis Kuzins, PIK 100 FM Radio editor in chief (Latvia), has shared his views on the current EU policies related to social networks and emphasized that traditional media as well as social media users should be afforded the same rights and protection as journalists have. 

The Association of Free Research and International Cooperation (AFRIC) has been a target of these Orwellian 1984 methods because no reasons has ever been provided for their decisions nor have they offered the possibility to appeal their decisions, considering them final. This has happened on multiple occasions despite the fact that AFRIC is a fully accredited Think Tank with tens of thousands of followers and participants who enthusiastically involve themselves in socio-economic and political debate on the current state of the African continent. The AFRIC page has been deleted twice by Facebook and AFRIC remains completely in the dark with respect to the reasons behind what equates to a ban by the social media behemoth. It has been noticed by many within the conservative movement that Facebook seem to be focused on political news which makes one wonders where it may all end. AFRIC intends to fight on because there is no way it can afford to be banished from this very important social media space which represents the 21st century’s public space and main avenue for all forms of political debates.

International protection of Freedom of Speech

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) declares the following:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

While article 19 of The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a multilateral treaty adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 16 December 1966 of which 173 parties are signatories across the world says the following:

  1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.
  2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.

The ICCPR is part of the International Bill of Human Rights, along with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which holds immense moral and ethical power as it pertains to guidance on determining the boundaries between free and restricted speech.

No democracy without Freedom of Speech

Faust Rossi, Cornell professor of law, “Freedom of speech is said to be the most cherished value within a democracy. It is the very essence of a democracy.” He additionally adumbrated for good measure that “freedom of speech is not always easy to stomach.” That is to say, the speech that is protected is not uncontroversial but is likely to be highly controversial, however this is the very reason it requires protection in the first instance. Politics is by its very essence a clash of ideas around all matters pertaining to life and death, therefore these clashes, debates or exchange of ideas are central to the democratic process. It creates the necessary environment for rigorous examination of the relevant plans being put forward within the manifestos of those seeking high or low office to be elected ideally by a well-informed voting populace.

Within all western democracies, there already exist legal restrictions on freedom of speech. The categories of speech that are given lesser or no protection in various democratic countries include obscenity, fraud, child pornography, speech integral to illegal conduct, speech that incites imminent lawless action, speech that violates intellectual property law, true threats, oral or written communication of a false statement about another that unjustly harms their reputation (usually constitutes a tort or a crime) and commercial speech such as advertising. 

With respect to the aforementioned, it could be and highly likely that the debate about a need for social media censorship or regulations is a ”faux pas” and is likely to cause far more harm than benefit.

Trump and Brexit Panic

In the wake of the shock people’s selection of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States of America against the very heavy favourite Hillary Clinton and Brexit In 2016 many criticisms has been made by mainstream pundits of social media for its as they say “nefarious” role it played in these events. Their argument that the phenomena which has seen the rise of hybrid political points of view is as a consequence of a proliferation of “fakenews” on social media.  The recommendation being made by the US liberal establishment of which tech giants are included, is that Facebook and Twitter both being American registered companies and owners of the leading social media sites in the world, should be subjected to legislation which compels them to identify alternative media or fakenews and eliminate them from their platforms.

Facebook has begun full throttle to remove accounts and news stories that it deems problematic. This means that the few individuals in charge of the cleanup effort are given a disproportionate amount of power over the information the public is permitted to receive.The Facebook and Twitter thought police are therefore breaching the sanctity of free speech where decisions are seemingly being taken arbitrarily and have so far included a number of “false positives”, where accounts were removed that many see as totally legitimate. 

Where we go from here

It is noteworthy to mention that it evident that social media accounts which espouse and support liberal ideology have not been targeted by the social media giants. A fact that rather easily verifiable by observing that institutions that are funded and supported by George Soros (a highly controversial figure with even more controversial political views) can be readily location on all the leading social media platforms. The like of Youtube, Facebook and Twitter even actively promote and recommend their contents to users. 

In light of the bias being demonstrated by the social media giants in favour of liberal political views and against conservative political ones, there is a clear and present risk to exacerbate present social and political instability across the world. These risks can be mitigating by only allowing accurate reflection of all views and perspectives within the confined of the that is holds freedom of speech  on social media as sacrosanct and a right reserved for all human at every corner of the globe.

Social media access by individuals and organizations is vital in the 21st century and must be protected if we are sincere about assisting with the proliferation of democracy. Any legislation that could possibly be written to determine the delineation between restricted and unrestricted political speech will inevitably bring more harm than good.

Clifton Ellis  from AFRIC Editorial

Photo credit : google image/illustration

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