Many a stakeholder ––– ranging from government workers, internet service providers, content platforms, business operators/entrepreneurs, domestic and across-the-border Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), and other private sector officials ––– met of late at Merina Hotel, Yaoundé. For two days, they exchanged views on how to bridle the spread of hate speech and fake news, while safeguarding the rights of internet users in Cameroon.
Family picture by participants.
Convened by the CSOs ––– Internet Sans Frontières, and Paradigm Initiative ––– under the premise of, ‘fighting dangerous speech online while preserving digital rights in Cameroon’, the dialogue couldn’t have been more timely, given the present context of the country’s social media landscape, sometimes characterized by malicious language, and/or restricted access to internet by government (like in 2017 where the two Anglophone Regions witnessed internet blackout).
Cognizant that the internet and social media platforms are an indispensable component in building harmony in Cameroon, the organizers of the forum remained upbeat that the different stakeholders ––– be they in their domain of competence and/or collectively ––– would commit themselves to preserving the virtues of peace, resilience, tolerance, and stability on all digital avenues. Besides, it was hoped that participants would form a stronger alliance of advocates for freedom of internet usage during electoral periods, sort out alternatives to avert threats to public order, and resolve to uphold internet connectivity in Cameroon, in keeping with international legal provisions.
Topical of issues conferred during by the different panel sessions were ––– the state of disinformation and hate speech in the country; multi-stakeholder initiatives to fight hate speech and disinformation online; journalism and the fight against dangerous speech online; fake news, hate speech, and network disruption; the ineffectiveness and unintended consequences of network disruptions; etc. At the end, participants took the commitment to combat disinformation, hate speech, and circumvent internet disruptions in Cameroon.
According to Julie Owono (Executive Director of Internet Sans Frontières), the symposium was meant to reflect on current issues of disinformation and spread of dangerous online speech, propose alternative solutions to internet blackout, analyze their negative impact on the digital economy and citizens’ rights. She cited that though some strides had been made by Civil Society Organizations, public authorities and telecommunication operators to safeguard connectivity and internet freedoms, such efforts were still wanting, and needed more attention.
In the words of a participant, Sakah Bernard, ‘[the symposium]…was very timely, strategic, and relevant, considering the current sociopolitical stakes in the country….’
The conveners equally received unalloyed support from partners like: Facebook, Google, AccessNow, Internet Society, Centre for Human Rights and Democracy Africa, AfroLeadership, Global Network Initiative, InterNews, Centre for Youth Education and Economic Development (CYEED), etc.
More pictures on the event.
Photo Credits: Mrs. Sophie Ngassa Fon Nsoh’s Facebook page