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Jail beckons for Facebook bullies

Publishing Date : 17 October, 2017


Government plans to adopt an aggressive law to counter cyber-bullying especially on social media. The Minister of Justice Defence and Security, Shaw Kgathi has confirmed to this publication that he has Gazetted a cybercrime law aimed at addressing a number of concerns emanating from the abuse of social media by some users.

“From the several kgotla meetings I have addressed Batswana welcome the law and we are hopeful that Parliament will pass it in November,” he said. Kgathi should be smiling already because from social media postings, a number of legislators have already expressed support for the proposed law. This is how others define cyberbullying: “Cyberbullying is the use of the Internet, cell phones, or other technology to spread hurtful or embarrassing pictures and messages about other people. Cyberbullies use social media, blogs, and texting to harass and spread hurtful messages and pictures about other people. Cyberbullying is in the top five offenses most experienced by young adults.”

Kgathi said he hopes that the law gives the police and other law enforcement agencies a weapon to fight anyone who posts intimate pictures of others without their consent. Furthermore the Minister pointed to the now common phenomena of people arriving at accident scenes, taking pictures and posting them on social media, “This is hurtful to relatives of those involved in these accidents, and this one issue that people have raised in the various kgotla meetings I have addressed. They want this act to be criminalized so that we put controls on this kind of behavior,” he said.

Images nude women and men have been shared on a public websites without their consent. And in most cases the victims of this cyberbullying have no defined recourse, it may mean a lengthy court process but Kgathi is confident that the proposed law spells out the crimes and the penalties for acts. He said: "It makes it a new offence to do a number of things with videos or photos of a person in an intimate setting without that person's consent — including publishing, distributing, transmitting those images."

Sharing on social media in support of the proposed law, the Member of Parliament for Gabane-Mankgodi, Major General Pius Mokgware wrote: “It is important that most of us should familiarise ourselves with the new Cybercrime laws which are coming to Parliament this November. I will share them here from next week. They cover amongst others issues like; Sharing information which is not true even if you took it from someone, taking pictures in accidents and posting them on social media, posting nude pictures or pictures of people trying to tarnish their image, posting untruths about people on social media, posting information on social media with a view to defame or scandalise a former lover or someone. I will support this bill in order to bring sanity and order in the social media.”

Minister Kgathi said they are concerned at the level of abuse of social media by some people in the country and they want to try and address the challenge. Parliament will convene on November 6th this year starting with a State of the Nation Address by President Lt Gen Ian Khama. "This new law applies no matter what the age of the person," Kgathi said.

A Gaborone based attorney explained that he expects the proposed law to define certain terms such as an intimate image as being one in which the subject is nude, partially nude, or engaged in explicit sexual activity. He said in other countries with similar laws, "The definition is that at the time the photo or video was taken, there was some circumstances that led to a reasonable expectation of privacy, at least in the mind of the person in the photo or video."

There has sporadic posting of evidently private pictures on social media in Botswana whose aim has been to potentially embarrass the victim or lower their estimation in the eyes of the public. "The key difference and or functional word in the proposed new law is ‘consent’ for distributing photos or videos of another person— the consent of the person in the photo or video," the attorney emphasized. If found guilty, those indicted on charges could face up to five years in prison while summary convictions could carry a six-month jail sentence and monetary fines.

Although laws against cyberbullying vary, cyberbullying legislation generally includes the following: Harassment via computer, telephone, cell, or text messaging device; Any verbal, textual, or graphic communications that would cause fear of physical harm, intimidation, humiliation, or embarrassment to another person; Any threatening communication sent electronically to another person; Any explicit pictures intended to harm another person; In addition, sexting is often included in cyberbullying legislation.



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