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Kenya to License Bloggers and Facebook/WhatsApp Group Creators

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Government acts are contagious. Uganda and Tanzania came up with laws to regulate blogging and use of social media, and Kenya is on the verge of copying and pasting. The Kenya information and Communications (Amendment) Bill 2019 seeks to bring in regulations that will lead to the tightest control of social media use in Kenya, affecting users, content creators and group admins. Here is the story.

The Bill

The proposed Bill seeks to define a blogger as a person who is registered by the communication authority as a blogger, and blogging as collecting, writing, editing and presenting of news or news articles in social media platforms or in the internet. It also defines Social Media Platforms to include online publishing and discussion, media sharing, blogging, social networking, document and data sharing repositories, social media applications, social bookmarking and widgets.

The Bill seeks to amend the Kenya Information and Communication Act to allow for the following

  • The communications authority of Kenya will license anyone who wants to establish a social media platform, upon payment of a fee.
  • The precondition for licensing could include
    • Establishment of a physical office in the country
    • The social media users should be registered using legal documents
    • The licensee shall keep the data of all the users
    • Ensure that the users are 18 years and above.
  • The Communications Authority can access and collect any data from social media platforms
  • For Group administrators
    • Inform the Communications Authority of their intentions to form groups in platforms such as WhatsApp/Facebook.
    • Vet content that is posted to the group
    • Approve members who want to join the group
    • Regulate content that is posted
  • The communication authority shall license bloggers, and keep a register of bloggers.
    • Blogging without a license is punishable by imprisonment to a term not exceeding two years or a fine not exceeding 500k.

Implications

If we are to predict the implications of the Bill, perhaps we should look at Tanzania and see what happened when the government adopted such measures. What will happen when one is required to register with CA before forming a WhatsApp group for a funeral? What will CA achieve by keeping a list of blogs, whose content is too much to monitor? How many enforcement officers should the CA have in order to keep up with every Facebook group?

The most likely scenario is that these laws will never be enforced, but will be used as a tool for witch-hunt and settling government scores. At the end, it will be about weakening any voice that the government does not want to hear, and thus control the media.

Solution

If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. This explains the propensity of the government to result to legislation to solve virtually any problem. Take the example of the failed attempt to curb Female Genital Mutilation in some communities, where despite heavy regulation, the practice is till rampant in many places. This is because you cannot change culture through an act of parliament.

In the same way, the government needs to come up with real solutions to the problems that ail Kenya, including the problem of fake news, misinformation, privacy and abuse of digital platforms. These are complex problems that can be solved if we use reasonable means. We need to educate people on how to navigate the digital world responsibly, and find a balance between regulation and stifling innovation. Maybe we need to take our social sciences more seriously, as opposed to focusing on engineering and STEM.

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