Your Hatred for Blade Ndzimande missed his “trolls” comments

Do not let you hatred of Blade Ndzimande cloud your judgement over his comments about what needs to be done about trolls of the likes of Politicsweb and News24.com. Neither should you disregard his comments because they were said by no-one else but him.

When SACP’s Blade Ndzimande said the following during Joe Slovo’s 20th Anniversary since his death on 5 Jan 1995 on 5 Jan 2015:

“The SACP is deeply concerned about the internet and online media outlets for being carriers of some of the worst racist and sexist expressions, including hate speech. This is known as trolling, and many other countries in the world have decided to criminalise this, including, of late the UK. Trolling is defined as sowing discord by posting inflammatory, off-topic and extraneous (including racist and patriarchal) messages on internet or in an online news outlet that allows comments, or sending any content of a similar nature via SMS to current affairs programmes on radio, internet, newspaper or television. These are sometimes simply read even without any disclaimer. Some media houses also allow such comments to be posted or published directly in their online news outlets. This includes comments that are derogatory, infested with hate speech, or deliberately contain false information about or seek to malign the character of other people. The SACP calls upon all media that uses the internet as one of its outlets to take responsibility for the content posted onto those platforms. It is surprising that the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) and the Press Ombuds appear to be indifferent to these racist and sexist crusades which are carriers of some of the most vicious of hate speech. These closet racist trollers often use pseudonyms to carry out their acts. If these media institutions are to be believed that they abhor racism, they must act on the racist rants carried through their platforms, and we call on them to act and do so decisively. The SACP wishes to use this occasion of commemorating one of the greatest champions of non-racialism, Comrade Joe Slovo, to call upon the South African Human Rights Commission to investigate and recommend appropriate action on Internet trolling, including possible criminalisation and other legislative measures. This must include studying what other countries are doing in this regard. We cannot allow media outlets to let this criminal and offensive behaviour to go on unchallenged. It is important to emphasise that while our country’s constitution guarantees freedom of expression, it expressly prohibits propaganda for war; incitement of imminent violence; or advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion, and all that constitutes incitement to cause harm. The constitution further protects the dignity of all our people!”

… I understood him to mean that (or at least what I think he means is this context – or do you want him to clarify his comments?) that:

  1. Online news publications or any online publications cannot publish comments that are racist, sexist and hate speech and hide behind or under the disguise of “Freedom of Expression” when it is in fact such comments published that infringe on others’ freedom and are rights that are limited as per the South African Constitution,
  2. It is the responsibility of these publications’ editors, including their Administrators, to ensure that such comments cannot and should not see light of day. Ever!,
  3. This is because these are comments that none of the publications concerned would allow to be printed on their print editions (if they have any), For example, these are comments that neither City Press, Sunday Independent Online – www.iol.co.za, Mail & Guardian, The Daily Maverick, Times LIVE, etc, (including publications that are outside of South African) would print in their daily/weekly print editions. Of course these also include comments especially on Politicsweb and News24.com, among others, that often racist, sexist and hate speech,
  4. These publications – in the South African context – do not publish these comments in their print editions (if they have them) because they know they could be taken to the South African Press Ombudsman and or the South African Human Rights Commission by the concerned complainants (or whichever is applicable). Or worse, they could be sued for allowing and or publishing such comments Blade is referring to.

It is only through enforcement of the Comments Policy/Guidelines that these trolls should and can be dealt with.

I know Mail & Guardian (and its Thought Leader blog) has great Comments Guidelines (which indicates, among others, an editorial team keeps a close watch on legal matters too: defamatory comments, for example, will be deleted and that all unacceptable comments will be deleted without notification), and so does CNN’s Comment Policy which does not tolerate obscenities, threats, hate speech, material that’s ethnically or racially offensive, abusive comments and spam, etc.

News24.com also has a Policy (under Terms and Conditions) that governs these trolls. Its policy states that  “You [User] are prohibited from posting or transmitting to or from the Website any material: 5.2.1    that is threatening, defamatory, obscene, indecent, seditious, offensive, pornographic, abusive, liable to incite racial hatred, discriminatory, menacing, scandalous, inflammatory, blasphemous, in breach of confidence, in breach of privacy or which may cause annoyance or inconvenience…”

Business Day, too, has one of these guidelines that do not allow publication on its web site of any content that “may be considered, amongst others, abusive, obscene, defamatory, pornographic or illegal” or that may be “Off-topic content, or the same content in multiple forums”.

It is however evident – as noted by Blade – that these Policies and or Guidelines are not effective or that they are not being enforced by these online publications’ editors and or administrators and that the worst culprit, in my view, when it comes to South African trolls are found at News24.com, followed Politicsweb, which, too, has a guideline on trolls, but does not enforce it (which indicates that, among others, that “Comments submitted by readers that are defamatory or deemed, by the editors, to be racist, offensive, off-topic or obscene constitute abuse will be deleted from the database. Trolling on, or the hogging of, the comment section, is also regarded as abuse, and such comments will also be removed once brought to the attention of the editors”).

This is my understanding of Blade’s comments in that context. So, do not let you hatred of the man cloud your judgement or disregard his comments because they were said by no-one else but him. Blade is telling the truth – jump all you like…

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