Independent receives online abuse report
Cape Town - Hate speech published in comment sections on online news websites may soon be a thing of the past.
In an unprecedented move on the African continent, Independent Media on Tuesday surged further forward in seeking measures to eradicate harmful user-generated content from being published on its online platforms.
Executive chairman of Independent Media Dr Iqbal Survé set up an advisory panel to look into the matter after intern Kine Dineo Mokwena-Kessi, 16, was subjected to written abuse related to an article she had written for the Cape Argus newspaper in August last year.
The article was published on Independent Online (IOL) and received over 1 200 online comments, many of which were abusive.
On Tuesday, the advisory panel handed a report on User-Generated Content on Independent Media online platforms to Dr Survé.
“The establishment of the panel was a pioneering initiative by Independent in the local media industry,” he said.
“The advent of technology and new media has redefined the way we have to look at and monitor weighty issues in our society, such as freedom of speech and the balancing of various rights, such as the right to speak our minds vis-à-vis protection from hate speech.
“It is a fact that we all have to contend with the challenges which confront us in the online space.
“I’m therefore confident that this report sets the bar for our media industry and will go some way to providing thought leadership on this issue.”
The panel was to enquire into the prevalence of hate speech, personal attacks and defamatory statements contained in comments made by the public.
The team of media experts, which included media attorneys Jacques Louw and Dario Milo, Public Advocate at the Press Council, Latiefa Mobara, political analyst, lecturer and columnist Eusebius McKaiser, Independent Group Executive Editor Karima Brown and its Chief Technology Officer Anthony Robinson, would then make findings and recommendations.
Louw said it was the first time in Africa that a venture of such relevance had been undertaken.
Some of the recommendations the panel made include:
* In the interests of freedom of expression, it is desirable to host online comments;
* However, the constitutional rights of readers and members of the public should not be infringed by such comments;
* It would be preferable to moderate comments prior to their publication online;
* If effective pre-moderation cannot be undertaken for any particular reason, Independent should consider closing its comments section.
“It is up to Independent to take this further. We hope the report will serve as a catalyst to further engagement in the industry,” Louw said.
Dr Iqbal Survé said: “We will study the recommendations and advise on our approach and implementation,” he said.
Council member at the Freedom of Expression Institute, Raymond Louw, said while monitoring online feedback from the public might be necessary, it could also be dangerous.
“There is definitely a need for it, but it could also be dangerous if freedom of expression is flouted,” he said.