#SMWiCitizens Panel Discussion – “Defining citizens rights online”

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At the first ever Social Media Week (SMWi) Nairobi, Brian Mung’ei had the privilege of moderating the session that brought together different professionals and industry experts to discuss how best the rights of citizens can be defined online.

Defining Citizens Rights Online

THE PANELISTS

a)  Zawadi Nyongo, Director – 7th Sense Communications. Zawadi is a digital media strategist and a feminist who is passionate about harnessing the power of social media for social change. She has spearheaded and supported several feminist online campaigns such as #WaremboNiYes, #NereasVoice, #TakeBackTheTech, #BustTheMyths and #1BillionRising as well as the highly successful #1MilliForJadudi crowdfunding campaign.

b)  Fred Sagwe, ICT Master Trainer Digital Literacy Programme, Computer Studies – Tabaka High. Is a Kenyan educator, teaching computer science in a public-sponsored school, Tabaka Boys’ High School. He also Works part-time with the Ministry of Education Research and technology as an ICT integrator in EdTech and is a volunteer with Kids Comp Camp,to help young kids in the marginalized areas in Kenya to get basic digital literacy skills and knowledge, a volunteer with Akirachix to help women in tech, bridge the digital gap.

c)  Florence Akara, Lawyer. Florence is a law graduate from the University of Botswana.  With experience in international law with expertise in both the Roman–Dutch and British Common Law systems. She is currently involved in Corporate, Commercial and Conveyancing law.  She is focused on the discovery and demystifying of current and emerging laws that having socio-cultural impact.

d)  Kelvin Njihia, Human Rights Activist. Kelvin is a training Lawyer and a human rights activist. Founder of Starehe Youths for Change a community based organization in Starehe constituency that advocates for youths empowerment. Previously I served as a legal assistant in I.N.Nyaribo Advocates and Afri Claims limited. He has thrown his hat into the political ring by announcing that he will be running for the Starehe Constituency Parliamentary seat in next year’s elections

THE DISCUSSION

The way citizens consume public services is undergoing a profound change due to the growing popularity and mass adoption of digital channels. Governments across the world need to prepare themselves to respond to this change with more efficient and citizen centric delivery of public services and public education initiatives.

This shift from traditional to digital channels is a win-win proposition for both citizens and governments. For citizens, benefits include better user experience, convenience, speed, personalization, and affordability. Governments in turn can take advantage of lower cost of service and improved citizen outreach.

While governments have steadily increased their digital footprint including usage of social media, much of this is in areas of marketing and communication related services. Transactional sensitization and awareness campaigns continue to be provisioned traditionally, at least in Kenya.

One of the best practices of utilizing digital media by government is through making access to legislative publications such as constitution, government gazette and other documents that are necessary for educating citizens about their basic human rights. Fortunately in the promotion of access to information, Kenyan constitution is available online.

Below is an overview of some of the discussion points that we indulged in. We will share the full video of the discussion once it’s uploaded on the SMWi Nairobi YouTube page.

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In the meantime, we would also like to hear what your thoughts are on the same. Feel free to leave a comment below and continue the discussion.

Part 1 – Governments, Digital Media and Human Rights/Legal information

  1. Is Kenya’s increasingly mobile workforce, able to access high-quality digital government information and services anywhere, anytime, on any device? Is the public aware that this information can be found online? 
  2. Has the government done as much as it should to ensure all the laws that affect its citizens are made publicly available online? Is all public information available through digital media for citizens to access it? Based on this, do you think anyone should claim ignorance with regards to the law?
  3. Has there been a concentrated effort by the government or rights activists to education citizens on the availability and accessibility of this information?
  4. Are we, as citizens, just ignorant about understanding our rights or is the information not well disseminated on digital media? Do you think the government can do more to effectively use digital media to reach out to its citizens?
  5. What is the role of activists in disseminating this content? How can they assist or work in hand with the government to get as many citizens as possible educated about their rights through digital media?

Part 2 – Freedom/Abuse of expression, intellectual property rights and activism

  1. In 1996, there was a landmark case between the US Attorney General vs American Civil Liberties Union, where the US Supreme Court ruled unanimously to specifically extended the First Amendment to written, visual and spoken expression posted on the Internet. Should we be enacting legislation to govern freedom of speech online, or should it just be a social contract between a social media user and other users?
  2. We have heard of cases bloggers disappearing as well as accusations of the government (and corporates) trying to gag bloggers, media houses and even individuals online. As a basic human right, does the Kenyan government fully extend the freedom of expression to its citizen online?
  3. You’ve heard it or have seen it posted, Someone saying they can say whatever they want, post whatever they want and no-one can do anything to them. How does free speech and social media fit?
  4. More and more, we see accusations that there are people who are on payroll or “guns for hire” online with the mandate of attacking others and at times, under the guise of freedom of speech or even human rights. Are the current Kenyan Laws sufficient to cover such social media offences? #cyberbullying and defamation
  5. Most “cases” online tend to last as long as the hashtag and then they are forgotten! If there is no follow up through the proper judicial process, is there any impact?
  6. Most people think that online activism is, at the end of the day, just noise. The perception is that as is, it all relies on hope that these campaigns will catch the eye of the President or someone in power who might/can act. Is there a proper process of the handover between digital media initiatives and the legal/legislative process?
  7. What can corporates (or individuals) do in case they feel that their rights have been infringed online? What are the correct judicial/legal channels to take?
  8. Are social media platforms such as Instagram and Twitter etc governed by the laws of Kenya if they do not have an office within the country? From a legal standpoint, can I sue my employer for firing me over a social media update on an account that I claim is not mine?
  9. Isn’t social media a ‘personal’ space? Should people be arrested or fired from their jobs because of what they post online?
  10. What can corporates (or individuals) do in case they feel that their rights have been infringed online? What are the correct judicial/legal channels to take?
  11. Maybe we need to look it from a different angle, is the problem facing companies similar to the ones facing activists? i.e conversion. I will expound further on this; businesses need to know how social media affects their bottom line. Therefore, in all the activism we see online, are there legal options being pursued concurrently in the justice system of are we just raising the issues online yet no cases can be legally heard online?
  12. What are our collective responsibilities in ensuring that we create digital spaces & cultures that are safe, respect and uphold human rights, even within the context of freedom of expression.
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