Dr Surujbally sees need for control of ‘scary electronic media’

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By Bibi Khatoon

As Guyana heads to another general and regional elections, former Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), Dr Steve Surujbally believes more needs to be done to counteract disinformation from spreading on social media.

“I worry greatly of what can happen in very fragile society as ours,” said Dr Surujbally.

He was speaking at a panel discussion on Thursday evening at the Moray House, Camp and Quamina Streets, Georgetown.

“There seems not to be enough laws if any laws at all, meaningfully governing Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp.”

He pointed out that its users “seem to have no control either by their own selves or by a reliable controlling body.”

Addressing media personnel at an event held by the Guyana Press Association (GPA), Dr. Surujbally called for a structured approach to address the problem.

He noted that examples can be taken from the Commonwealth, the Organisation of American States (OAS) and other bodies to address this “scary electronic media.”

It is a known trend in Guyana that racial tensions escalate around elections time. From the last 2015 general and regional elections to now, major political parties have increasingly begun using social media to broadcast their press conferences and share their views on topical issues.

There have also been a number of fake Facebook profiles which are used to portray bias trends and reinforce social division.

Dr. Surujbally alluded to the recent passage of the No-Confidence motion, court cases, protests and other activities which followed. He specifically pointed to the racial remarks which persons posted on social media.

“People must be held responsible,” he noted.

Further, he alluded to a Kaieteur News editorial which demanded that these persons are reined in as they are bent on inciting hatreds, intensifying divisions, and doing so through the extreme of wanton violence.

The former GECOM Chair said: “If you come out with a statement that leads to turbulence, death, bloodletting and you are wrong, then you must be held accountable because that is the definition of treason.”

After being faced with death threats in 2016, President David Granger had noted that the Guyana Police Force needs to pay more attention to what takes place in cyberspace.

Chief Executive Officer of Facebook, Mark Zuckerburg has asked Governments to help control internet content.

“He is asking a lot of our stronger laws around the world to protect the integrity of elections and laws that not only apply to candidates in elections but also to other divisive political issues- in Guyana that means race, instigations and divisions,” Dr. Surujbally noted.

Zuckerberg has faced much criticism for fake news and abuse of Facebook.

Another panelist, human rights activist Lawrence Lachmansingh, called on the media to be “extra vigilant,” as social media tools become more popular.

 

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