Stern stance on social media defamation crucial

The defamation lawsuit by the First Lady, Monica Geingos against Independent Patriots for Change (IPC) Ohangwena mobiliser Abed Hishoono bears testimony to how reckless use of social media in the context of defamation can easily become a social cancer with the capacity to cause irreparable damage to individuals, families and businesses.

For this reason, more concerted efforts and punitive measures are required to fight abuse, hate speech and disinformation in a manner that does of course, not silencing dissenting voices or shutting down one of the only democratic spaces in which Namibians can demand change and accountability from their leaders.

In this current case Geingos filed a N$350 000 defamation lawsuit against Hishoono for producing and sharing a video in which he allegedly made “false suggestions, innuendos, insinuations [or] statements” about her.

In the video, Hishoono alleges the First Lady corruptly influenced the planned liquidation of Air Namibia to protect and advance her own economic interests as she is a shareholder of Westair Aviation and was instrumental in its establishment.  Hishoono further alleges in the video that Geingos has a son with one ‘Hatuikulipi’, who is currently in prison. He went on to say Geingos’ marriage to the Head of State Hage Geingob was arranged by ‘Hatuikulipi’.

Such damaging statements, shared widely, have appeared to be untrue with Hishoono backtracking on almost all of his statements in his testimony at the High Court this week.

While this case is yet to be concluded, we concede to the double edged sword of social media platforms that if not checked, the negative side of the blade would definitely leave deeper scars than the positive side.

In essence, social media platforms are extremely beneficial to the general public as they enable the transmission of key messages, encourage the freedom of speech and facilitate communication on an international basis. However, users should be aware that social media is not private and the misuse of such platforms by sharing any content, statement or image that they come across, is subject to appropriate sanctions.
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Freedom of speech is granted and protected so long as it is in compliance with local regulations and public orders. It is apparent therefore that precautions should be taken by social media users to ensure they avoid attracting liability for statements posted, commented on and shared on the various social media platforms available.

In an ever changing world where technology has developed superior communication tools, the old-age legal principles of defamation have remained true and have become inherently more complicated and magnified in the social media age.
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As people increasingly view social media platforms as reliable news sources, so too must they face responsibility for the content they publish on these platforms.

If courts treat all social media speech as opinion, shielded from liability, disinformation and baseless personal smears will continue to run rampant on the Internet without any effective guardrails.

Abuse of social media platforms to infringe on the dignity of others should warrant stern sanctions, those that serve as an example to potential perpetrators of social media violence.