Local internet content that is deemed racist or xenophobic is planned to be taken offline as part of a call by the Ministry of Telecommunications and Postal Services.
Last week Wednesday, the Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services Siyabonga Cwele met with executives from 24 public and private organisations in the telecoms industry to discuss solutions to xenophobic attacks plaguing the country.
Organisations represented at the meeting included the likes of Sentech, the South African Post Office (Sapo), Telkom, Neotel, Vodacom, MTN, Cell C, Ericsson and Huawei, according to a statement from the department.
However, this week technology news website TechCentral reported that the ministry has asked South Africa’s Internet Service Providers’ Association (Ispa) to exercise a mandate to respond to ‘Take-Down Notices’ lodged for content that is deemed racist or xenophobic.
“The commitment that was made by Ispa arises out of a provision in the legislation,” spokesperson for the Ministry of Telecommunications and Postal Services, Siya Qoza, told Fin24.
“There’s a legislation called Electronic Communications and Transactions (ECT) Act. In that act, there’s a provision for service providers to take down offensive commentary both online, on social networks,” Qoza told Fin24.
An Ispa spokesperson told Fin24 over email that a complainant would have to notify Ispa of unlawful content – such as hate speech – which is hosted on an Ispa member’s network.
Ispa then notifies the internet service provider of the take-down notice and awaits a response. It then takes five days for the content in question to be removed.
Ispa reiterated to Fin24 that it does not monitor online content, but that it relies on complaints for it to investigate and potentially act.
The offending content also needs to be hosted in South Africa for Ispa to activate a take-down notice.
“The ECT Act – and thus Ispa’s mandate – covers any unlawful activity, and isn’t limited to hate speech or xenophobia. The most common type of take-down notice is a copyright infringement notice, with two-thirds of accepted take-down notices in 2014 relating to copyright or trademark infringement. In comparison, Ispa classified only 7 – out of 96 – of last year’s take-downs as ‘defamation, harassment, hate speech or invasion of privacy’,” Ispa told Fin24.
More broadly, the Ministry of Telecommunications and Postal Services has also called on the telecoms sector to act in other ways.
“The sector has some of the most widely used, popular communications platforms. So that was the basis for us calling everyone to come to the meeting,” Qoza told Fin24.
“And all of those sub-sectors made a specific commitment in terms of what they can do to help minimise hate speech on social platforms,” Qoza said.
Regarding hate speech or xenophobic content that could be posted on sites such as Facebook – which are hosted on servers outside of SA – Qoza said there are options to work through other channels to remove this type of content.
And when asked about whether enforcing the take-down mandate with xenophobic content could be a precursor to possible further censorship of other online content, Qoza said that this is not the case.
“We’re not trying to censor any content online,” Qoza told Fin24.
“What we are trying to do is to remove inflammatory commentary.
“This process is going to rely on the participation of society for it to be successful,” he added.