Posted by: Khatija on Sep 06, 2011
New media, information and communication technologies (ICTs) and social networking sites allow for the public to become producers of their own content, to share information, pictures, video and audio to users around the world.
With the freedom of the public to produce and share content, it becomes almost impossible to monitor what it is that people are sharing. You can’t stop people from posting rude, discriminatory, racist or sexually explicit material online.
As much as facebook.com allows users to report questionable material and blogger.com comes with a ‘content warning’ if the material is explicit in any way the means to control information passed on the internet is in lack.
Three years ago, a controversial image was posted on Facebook under the profile of Eugene Terror Blanche, a play on the name of the murdered leader of the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB), Eugene Terrre’Blanche.
The Sunday Times published the image recently; they were met with much criticism because of this. Other prominent journalists and media owners such as media24 and Primedia criticised Avusa, who own The Sunday Times, for their recent readership-increasing tactics and story choices in several publications.
This however is not the issue I want to focus on, although generating heated debate over the last few days, what I am more interested in is the power that the internet, ICTs and social networks give citizens with access to these mediums.
There is no form of regulatory system or some kind of ‘checks and balances that monitor amateur journalists, citizen journalists or even ordinary members of society.
Professional journalists on the other hand need to check themselves, they need to guard what they say and always be mindful that they are representing the interests of the organisation that they work for.
A journalist may be fired or face disciplinary action if they publish content that is deemed to be harmful and hateful in any way.
What are the punishments that ordinary citizens face?
Well…yes, now the Hawks have launched an investigation into the image on Facebook in which a white man with a rifle poses over the apparently lifeless body of a black child - like a hunter celebrating his kill, the same image that appeared on the front page of The Sunday Times.
It must be understood that the search is for the person or persons responsible for the picture, for whoever created the user profile, ‘Terror Blanche’ and for those who had seen the photograph but failed to report it.
The authorities have suggested that everyone party to the posting, including those who had seen the picture, could face prosecution and, if convicted, a jail sentence, regardless of whether the picture is faked.
According to a Times Live article, Web and digital media lawyer, Paul Jacobson said the first step would be to identify the man in the picture, he went on the suggest that police could also contact the social network for help.
"This is a clear violation of Facebook's policies and, if put under enough pressure, I am certain (they) will react and assist investigations," Jacobson said.
Local internet service providers could be forced to help track down the user. "It is definitely in the public interest," Jacobson said.
Until next time