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Online Integrity Matters even when facing lawsuits

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A decade ago, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, focused on the internet. The report considered general human rights principles on freedom of opinion and expression, whether these apply to the internet, and a number of issues
Hopewell Chin’ono also known as ''DaddyHope'' unfortunately failed to make it as one of the panelists and will next time be expected to provide user experience as a journalist and user of both online news websites and social media. Chin’ono has engaged directly with some of the service providers but has been a victim of denial of service attacks on his social media accounts as well as environmental threats related to government desire to censor content online.

Zimbabwean local journalists recently benefitted from an online zoom training which had the best brains in the field sharing experiences and advice.

Independent online news organizations has become prevalent in Zimbabwe.

Issues discussed by Panelists who included editor in Chief of TechnoMag Toneo Rutsito, and Sizani Weza from the US Embassy Communications department included Arbitrary blocking or filtering of content,Criminalisation of legitimate expression, Imposition of internet intermediary liability, The implications of disconnecting users including on the grounds of intellectual property rights violations, Cyber attacks, Privacy and data protection, Internet access.

In Zimbabwe, in addition to internet shutdowns, the recent years has seen the investigation and arrest of several individuals for communication on social media- Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp.Earlier dialogues with the Zimbabwe Online Content Creators Trust (ZOCC- Trust) show an increasing number of lawsuits directed at online content creators. No systematic assessment has been conducted but the bulk of these cases have either not reached the courts or are meant to scare independent news organizations from pursuing a story further.

Mr Rutsito highlighted about certain rogue elements who want online media to be discredited saying this should not impede the efforts from journalists to do their work professionally.

The Human Rights Council, in its resolution 32/13, condemned unequivocally measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online in violation of international human rights law, and called upon all States to refrain from and cease such measures.

The continuing emergence and evolution of threats to internet freedoms is a major theme for ZOCC series particularly website security, content filtering/ denial of service attacks and access (affordability) issues. We are always looking for strategies to resist these threats within a human rights framework and generally, the use of rights to fight for wider social justice issues such as the need for the rule of law, affordable quality internet access, and freedom of expression. What strategies can be adopted to ensure secure online communication to promote the free flow of information in the public interest, protect freedom of expression and freedom of association, including anonymity, particularly for online content creators.

At the global level, the role of service providers in ensuring integrity online has been debated. For example, when Twitter closed President Donald Trump’s account, questions were asked about limiting effect of intermediaries like Twitter and Facebook on Freedom of Expression. Prominent Zimbabwean twitteratis like @matigary have had their accounts suspended for violating Twitter rules.

The subject was looked at from a selfish viewpoint to enhance the integrity of a system in which journalists work.Sizani Weza said there is a role online content creators play to promote internet integrity adding even in the face of contemporary threats such as “fake news” and disinformation and online extremism, what speech-based restrictions work, if at all, in a way that respects democratic norms and counters authoritarian demands.

Nompilo Simanje, Legal Officer at the Media Institute of Zimbabwe, provided general principles of ensuring online integrity within legal and human rights frameworks speaking on what arrangements should be made to avoid “proactive” monitoring or filtering of content, which is both inconsistent with the right to privacy and likely to amount to pre-publication censorship?

Nompilo  went in overdrive over the roles individual content creators play, and raised pertinent issues that got every zoom attendant to live the meeting as bold as a lion.

Hopewell Chin’ono also knows as DaddyHope unfortunately failed to make it as one of the panelists and will next time be expected to provide user experience as a journalist and user of both online news websites and social media. Chin’ono has engaged directly with some of the service providers but has been a victim of denial of service attacks on his social media accounts as well as environmental threats related to government desire to censor content online.

Ross Moyo

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