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3 Jan 2020

Bitange Ndemo, Business Daily (Kenya)

Opinion: How digital platforms including social media are shaping freedom of expression

"How individual liberties are changing"

The right “to express one's opinions without censorship, restraint, or legal penalty” is enshrined in most constitutions across the world. Increasingly, these freedoms are changing as a few people undermine them for selfish gain. The underlying assumptions were that every person had the capacity to understand both their rights and act responsibly. They also assumed that good ideas would always triumph over bad ones. Not anymore. In their world, there was no Internet, no social media or partisan media, all of them new developments that have undermined the freedom of the people through propagation of narrow and selfish ideals. There are also emerging and acceptable titles like influencers, mentors, experts, consultants, specialists etc. that didn’t exist in the early debates of freedom. Yet they play a key role in either supporting or undermining individual freedoms...

Individual liberties are under siege from all corners so much that we can no longer assure independent choices...Politicians bribe and cajole the electorate to influence political outcomes, evil people use internet platforms to mislead innocent people into making wrong choices, advertisers, consultants and experts use misleading wording to ensure that there isn’t independent decisions and leaders lie to their electorate to effectively restrain their liberties. It is said that you fight fire with fire. The very platforms that propagate false information could be used with better regulation to restore individual liberties. The platforms must be compelled to be accountable for any incorrect information on their platforms. This will mean they must register and authenticate the identity of every person on the platform...

The world is in a period of great change that could see the individual freedoms eroded at the expense of narrow interests. There is need to create new meanings to old definitions of our fundamental rights. Terms such as freedom, democracy, media, journalism, platforms and many more must be redefined to safeguard our individual liberties.