Freedom of speech is guaranteed (except, I stand to be corrected, in Eritrea where there are no independent media organizations) in most African countries. This extends to freedom of speech on the World Wide Web too where, in theory, you can say whatever you want to whoever you want without anyone stopping you.

However, freedom of speech is tricky.

I say it is tricky because you can exercise your freedom of speech, but, freedom after speech, I don’t guarantee you that. That’s because freedom of speech doesn’t exist in isolation from other rights we have as individuals and other legal entities.

Steve Biko, a South African anti-apartheid activist, once said "I write what I like" and also has a book with the same name that is a collection of his essays and speeches. Source: Steve Biko Foundation

For example, take the defamation case that transpired during 2019 where South Africa’s third largest political party, the Economic Freedom Fighters, lost against former Minister of Finance (Trevor Manuel) and were not only ordered to apologize and delete the defamatory tweet, but also instructed to pay him R500,000. Reading the judgement, one thing stands out, the EFF couldn’t back up any of the claims made in the tweet or present any evidence. In this case, Manuel’s rights to justice (at minimum) prevailed.

As the judgment against the EFF stated, "complete defence to a defamation claim is that the statement is true and in the public interest. The meaning of the words must be substantially true in order for the defence to succeed. The “sting” of the charge that Mr Manuel is corrupt and nepotistic must be proved by the [EFF]."

On the flipside, you have the US State Department now requiring all VISA applicants to submit all their social media usernames so background checks can be performed. Again, you can tweet what you like, but in this case, indirectly, the USA in my opinion, is saying that we reserve our right as a sovereign state to reject entry to anyone who posts negative things about our country. It sucks (and means I will find it difficult explaining my anti-Trump tweets), but they, as a sovereign state, are well within their rights to do so.

New question on their online visa application page.

All this is a good lesson to keep at the back of your mind while surfing the web, especially social media, you have the right to freedom of speech on the WWW, but remember that everyone else also has rights which they can exercise against you at any time.

Share this article via: