Hate Speech Is Threat To Democracy, Security, Social Cohesion – EU Official

Sébastien Bergeon presenting keynote address at start of conference

By Nformi Sonde Kinsai

The Interim Chargé d’Affaires at the European Union, EU Delegation to Cameroon, Sébastien Bergeon, has stated that ever since the introduction of the internet in Cameroon in the year 2000, the number of people connected is estimated today at 9 million, and is on the rise with a majority of them using the social networks.

He said the evolution has opened individuals to the world, connected them, but has also led to the proliferation of fake news with the pre-occupying aspect being the spread of hate speech. A phenomenon that, he observed, is a real threat to democracy, national security and social cohesion, as it hampers confidence of citizens’ vis-à-vis information conceived from the onset as a key tool for development.

Bergeon was speaking while opening a conference on fake news on behalf of the EU Ambassador and Delegation Head to Cameroon at the Yaounde Hilton Hotel on May 30, 2022. The conference whose theme was “All Against Fake News” organised by the EU essentially for active civil society organisations was just a first step in a process that would also eventually have government officials, media practitioners and international partners drilled on the dangers of fake news and the need to combat the ill.

He noted that disinformation and misinformation are on the rise across the world, in the African and European countries exacerbated by the omnipresence of mobile phones and social networks. “With a phone, each individual has become a self-proclaimed media platform, and since we are training journalists, such individuals must equally, at a given moment, be conscious of the impact of what they write or transmit on social networks. In other terms, they have to acquire a form of deontology.

“As such, the civil society as well as governments and the journalists, have a key role to play in the regulation of the practice on social networks. That is the reason why you are here for the exchange and discussions,” Bergeon noted.

Aside stifling information meant for development, fake news marked by hate speech also threatens physical and mental health of persons as it raises anguish and fear, the Chargé d’Affaires said.

“It exacerbates socio-cultural tensions in our country and opens the way for increase in violence. It is therefore urgent for Cameroon and its partners to reflect on ways of stemming the phenomenon,” he added.

Bergeon said the conference would dwell on the dynamics surrounding the practice (fake news) on social networks; analysis of nature of relations between social networks and socio-political actors; and the sensitisation on the means and methods of dismantling fake news. He added that the occasion was also an opportunity to exchange on concrete examples such as health crisis, elections, war in Ukraine, sporting events, the economy and so on; and bring out recommendations that could be implemented by the civil society.

He rhetorically questioned on the type of pressure that could be brought to bear on companies dominating the digital market; what actions on legislation; justice and on the citizens themselves. He said everything that reduces the influence of fake news is beneficial to the evolution of the society.

Bergeon noted that for EU, it is the issue of developing tools and approaches susceptible to guaranteeing access of citizens to information whose veracity is established by putting at their disposal the means of identifying fake news or in limiting its spread.

“Progressively, it is creating a favourable environment for the development of these social networks and protecting citizens from the abuse. The EU is determined to protect the society, citizens and fundamental liberties against these new threats.

 “The European code on good practices against disinformation vigorously denounces information that is fake or misleading, that is cumulatively created, presented and diffused for profitable reasons or with the deliberate intension of deceiving the public, and which are susceptible in causing public prejudice,” he stated.

The conference, whose overall goal was on how to combat fake news in the digital milieu, saw a number of presentations followed by question and answer sessions. Prof. Thomas Atenga of the University of Douala presented on fact-checking as a solution to exploit; Barrister Balbine Manga, an Expert ICT Consultant on cyber-criminality, cyber-legislation and internet governance, talked on consequences of what awaits authors of defamation and fake news on social networks.

Other speakers included the President of Bloggers Association of Cameroon; Dania Ebongue, who also expatiated on how to combat fake news through fact-checking, while a Consultant at #defyhatenow spoke on the weight of fake news in the economic and political destabilisation in the world.

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