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OPINION: Twitter and Co need to also account for SA unrest


After a week of looting and violence in South Africa, the question remains: What should be done about Twitter and other social media platforms that fuel misinformation and and are used to instigate violence?

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JACK Dorsey, the co-founder and CEO of Twitter, was the only witness in a US House subcommittee hearing to say that his social media platform played a role in the Capitol riot in Washington, DC.

On Thursday, Dorsey spoke about the role that the popular social media site had in the insurrection during his congressional testimony. His remark became the first time a top social media executive publicly acknowledged their position in the riot. After the deadly riot, Trump was banned from Twitter and Facebook to prevent further violence from taking place. The developments on January 6, 2021 at the US Capitol should have taught Twitter how to handle similar incidents from ever occurring again. Sadly, South Africa has experienced a similar and even worse incident which was partly inspired by Twitter and other platforms.

In reaction to the insurrection in the US, social media giants banned the former US president from social media platforms. The US Congress grilled leaders of social media companies on their platform roles in the insurrection and more accountability measures may be implemented in the future.

Now that Twitter’s role is known in the chaos that took place in South Africa after former president Jacob Zuma was arrested, what should be done about Twitter and other social media platforms that fuel misinformation and are used to instigate violence?

In other countries Twitter would have been banned by now, this however is not an ideal approach to deal with the current misinformation challenge.

Countries need to come up with more innovative ways of dealing with platforms that are used to distribute misinformation that fuels violence.

One way of doing this would be to establish accountability measures for leading social media platforms. Currently, such accountability measures are designed for other crimes, however, misbehaviour by social media platforms is left unchecked. In the long run, there’s a need for countries to work together in establishing accountability structures that are global in nature. In the short run, countries need to establish their own accountability measures for social media companies to account for their platforms.

It should no longer be acceptable for US social media companies to account only to the US Congress. The impact of these companies is felt across the globe and they need to be held accountable by the global community at large.

It’s time to invite Jack Dorsey (Twitter) and Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) to account to South Africans about their role in spreading misinformation during this period of unrest.

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