Should Tanzania regulate social media? Yes, if you ask Deputy Minister for Transport and Communications Edwin Ngonyani.
Speaking at the China-Tanzania New Media Roundtable in Dar es Salaam, Mr Ngonyani insisted the government should keep an eye on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as it seeks to prevent cybercrime.
“Our Chinese friends have managed to block such media in their country and replaced them with their homegrown sites that are safe, constructive and popular. We aren’t there yet, but while we are still using these platforms we should guard against their misuse,” he said.
Citing the role of social media in the Arab Spring, when governments were overthrown, Mr Ngonyani said social media content has power to shape ideas and the mindset of people and if it remains uncontrolled it can lead to instability.
“In America, where most of these platforms originate, they often say freedom must be unlimited, but in our case we must find ways to make sure that while a person is free to say anything there are mechanisms to hold them accountable for what they say,” Mr Ngonyani said.
He said the government wants to acquire advanced technological skills and capability of tracking cyber criminals.
“If a person sends an offensive SMS or an e-mail to anyone we should be capable of following them, make arrests and bring them to justice,” he said.
This is not the first time the government has shown interest in controlling social media. In 2015, the government enacted the Cybercrimes Act which was heavily criticised by stakeholders as limiting freedom of information.
The Act outlaws the publishing (defined as including disseminating, copying or making available) of offensive information in any format through a computer system (which has been defined to include computers, laptops, tablets, mobile phones and their related mediums such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, websites and blogs).
Currently, Twitter, WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram are the major social media sites many Tanzanians, particularly the youth, are using.
The China-Tanzania new media Round table has been co-sponsored by the government of Tanzania and the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), which is the central Internet censorship, oversight, and control agency for the People’s Republic of China.
CAC’s vision has been responsible for the absence of western social media platforms and upcoming of local social media platforms in China, such as WeChat and Weibo.