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Ezekiel Mutua now targeting social media users with fake names

A proposal to ban the use of fake names on social media platforms has received the support of some lawmakers and representatives from various law enforcement agencies, the proponent of the idea has said.

Kenya Film Classification Board CEO Ezekiel Mutua says a Bill proposing to compel every social media user to register with their official name will be in Parliament “by end of June” because he wants it passed before the August 8 General Election to tame those who would want to peddle fake news or malign others through social media.

“We want Members of Parliament to debate this thing before Parliament is dissolved. And we are working with their programme, we are looking at what is really urgent,” Mutua said.

Some of the bodies that have supported the idea, he says, include the Parliamentary Committee on Labour and Social Welfare, the National Intelligence Service, the Kenya Copyright Board, the Kenya Film Commission and the Communications Authority of Kenya.

Mutua began the push to abolish pseudonyms with a post on his Facebook account on April 12.

“If you must give your true identity to open an M-Pesa account, why should you hide behind anonymity to operate a Facebook account to insult people or spread falsehoods?” reads part of his post.

Predictably, the responses were divided. The 156 comments that had been made on the post by Monday had a mixture of skepticism, encouragement, doubt and ridicule.

Dr Mutua says the idea arose when he met with members of the Parliamentary Committee on Labour and Social Welfare in Mombasa on April 3.

“They’re the ones who actually brought up the issue, about the insults on social media, the possibility of social media creating chaos or contributing to chaos, spreading of hate speech messages, incitement and issues like that,” Mutua said.

“Obviously, the regulation of the internet and social media is different from the other media platforms; but they are also not beyond regulation. Other countries have their own ways, some of them extreme,” he added.

After the meeting with the Parliamentary committee, whose chair is Matungu MP David Were, Mr Mutua says he met various state players to discuss the matter.

“After we met with MPs in Mombasa, the following day we met with State agencies including NIS, copyright board, Film Commission and the Communications Authority. We invited other state agencies because there are what we call corresponding mandates,” said Mr Mutua.

“We discussed this matter in detail and we’re hoping that when it goes to Parliament now, the powers will be placed at the right place,” he added.

One of the emerging ideas, he said, is that of having a special unit that has powers to prosecute those who misbehave on social media.

Dr Mutua admitted that KFCB, the board he heads, does not have jurisdiction over all forms of behavior on social media but he hoped the yet-to-be crafted Bill will give the government powers to hold people responsible for  their actions on social media.

OFFICIAL NAMES

“What I want to see as a regulator is a situation where, not a prior restraint but when a crime has been committed, I can do something,” he said.

He added: “For KFCB, this is strictly in respect to stopping distribution of content that can injure minors or cause incitement to violence, propaganda to war, hate speech or vilification of individuals.”

Governments world over are keen to have control over what is posted on social media, and because they cannot always tell the identities of those who make posts, sometimes they contact the social media administrators to offer more information.

Facebook, which runs at least three main social media networks, usually keeps a list of government requests received.

“We respond to valid requests relating to criminal cases. Each and every request we receive is checked for legal sufficiency and we reject or require greater specificity on requests that are overly broad or vague,” states Facebook on a page dedicated to such requests.

If all social media users can use official names, such need for information from social media firms will be minimal, according to Mr Mutua.

“At a sensitive time like now, during the electioneering period, I think we should not allow people to create unnecessary alarm, damage people’s reputations or careers or families in the name of freedom. People should be able to take responsibility. If we know it is Ezekiel Mutua who posted, you’re able to call Ezekiel Mutua and ask him, ‘Why did you post this?’

“And if you want him to record a statement, you call him. I think the Constitution, even under Article 33, did not provide absolute freedoms,” he said, adding that it was not impossible to order social media networks do demand for full details.