We are very concerned by the recent statement issued to press by ID President, Patricia de Lille calling for legislation to regulate internet blogging and MXit. This is, at its essence, a call for censorship. To hear this statement from a respected whistle-blower who has often championed silent causes is a blow to South Africa’s potential to remain a place where freedom of speech is guaranteed.
What is equally concerning, and alarming, is that Ms de Lille took no time to familiarise herself with the technology she is eagerly hoping to control. Regulate blogging? How exactly does she propose this happen? Not even China
with all its draconian legislature and resources is successfully able to censor its populous. This is the power of the internet.
When it comes to her understanding of MXit, there are many misconceptions in her statement. MXit is a mobile instant message platform, which enables registered users to communicate using text based messages – similar to, but cheaper than SMS. MXit also houses a number of chatrooms. It is the chatrooms that appear to have attracted most of Ms de Lille’s ire. Before I defend MXit’s right to host chatrooms and users right to use them I would like to
clarify some facts.
Firstly, MXit chatrooms are limited to seven simultaneous users and conversations are not saved so comments do not have the everlasting quality they do on internet forums and blogs. Secondly, they are purely text-based forums and no images can be shared over this service. Lastly, of the over three million registered users, less than five percent use our chatrooms. The other 95 percent use the service to stay in contact with loved ones, friends and business colleagues at a fraction of the cost of an SMS. Let’s not forget that a large portion of our user base is previously disadvantaged and MXit offers an affordable alternative to services by other telecommunications
What Ms de Lille does raise, and is of great import to MXit, is the role the company plays in protecting its user base, particularly minors. MXit takes the safety of our users very seriously. We have a safety policy and communicate it through every available channel – the website, the forum (http://forum.mxit.co.za) and each and every time a user enters a chatroom. The key to safety in chatrooms is anonymity – keep personal information
We are very aware that predation is an ugly reality and are working to improve our chatroom offering so that it provides safe spaces for our users. New chatroom features with supporting moderation tools are being tested and will be ready for launch by mid-June 2007.
I would also like to bring Ms de Lille’s attention to the fact that there are thousands of chatrooms available on the internet, many of which contain and condone unsuitable material for children. Modern phone technology enables many of the phones that use GPRS and 3G to access these chatrooms via the default web browser.
In my view it is both a right and a privilege in our democratic South Africa to freely exchange views, even some that are not palatable to her, or her senior councilors. If there has been slander, we all have recourse to a robust legal
system and I recommend that the ID take this road to address the Simon Grindrod’s matter rather than introducing wide spread censorship of the public.
MXit remains a communication tool and to ask that the government censor legitimate inter-personal and public communication, so soon after our freedom has been won, seems like a step back into fear-driven past.
I came across a new statement De Lille released to clarify her position. This new release is titled “I am a living example of fighting for freedom of speech“. I wonder …