August 19, 2011
Cyberspace abuses cause controversy

During the past week, virtual storms have erupted, locally and internationally, over possible abuses in the world of cyberspace. In St. Vincent and the Grenadines, controversy arose following an outburst by Press Secretary to the Prime Minister, Hans King, in response to what he considered an abuse of the social networking site Facebook, where uncomplimentary comments, which he said were directed at him, were posted.{{more}} Meanwhile, in riot-hit England, harsh sentences handed down to persons accused of misusing cyberspace to incite riots, are now the subject of heated debate.

In the latter case, renowned jurists have questioned the heavy-handedness of local courts in dealing with persons found guilty of using Facebook to encourage young persons to participate in the widespread riots which shook cities in England two weeks ago. For instance, the Chester Crown Court imposed four-year jail sentences on two men earlier this week after they were convicted on the cyberspace abuse charge. Another youth, 17 years old, from the eastern county of Suffolk, has been banned from using the networking sites for 12 months and also had a 3-month curfew slapped on him, following similar charges.

The relatively harsh sentences came in the wake of frenzied exhortations by some sections of the British press for the Courts to take strong action against those accused of incitement to riot. The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, has also come out openly in favour of such an approach, prompting human rights activists and concerned jurists to warn of undue political influence on the courts. The irony of the whole situation is that it was the same Mr. Cameron and the British media which have been extolling the virtues of the use of social networking sites by young people in North Africa and the Middle East to incite insurrection in their societies. Apparently it is all well and good to take such action in those societies, but not in western democracies!

The row caused by the outburst of the PM’s Press Secretary, has set tongues wagging. Mr. King himself has been embroiled in political controversy before, but seemed to be particularly upset over postings on Facebook, allegedly by a local businessman, which he regards as defamatory. His concern is one shared by many other citizens who have been observing the rapidly growing practice by some persons to post all sorts of comments and allegations, substantiated or not, on Facebook and other sites. The virtual world seems to place some persons in a comfort zone, which they find to be a most convenient launch pad for rumour, innuendo and slander.

Of course, that in no way excuses the Press Secretary’s outburst, for one cannot confront irresponsibility of one sort with a reaction such as that exhibited by Mr. King. Furthermore, persons in public life, especially one charged with such a responsibility as the official spokesperson for the country’s leader, must set a better example.

But this incident, and those wider afield, bring into focus the whole question of the use and abuse of cyberspace and possible regulation of it. It is a very important issue which deserves careful thought, debate and consideration on the part of all concerned. The revolution in information communication technology presents us with new challenges. We must face them with maturity.