Speaking in the ACP Parliamentary Committee on Political Affairst, Government Whip and Chairperson for the Standing Committee on Justice, Law and Human Rights and Chairperson for the Public Accounts Committee, Ashneel Sudhakar advised the Committee that the issue on the role of social media and fake news is an important one, not only for large ACP states but also for small island developing states like Fiji.
He advised that Fiji is also facing the problem of misuse of social media with the potential of causing harm to people.
He said there have been cases where nude pictures of minors as well as adult females being circulated together with the spread of hate speech and fake news on social media.
Sudhakar said there have been at least two reported cases of suicides and self-harm by young women as a result of cyber-bullying. The speed and reach of social media shows the potential it has to cause harm therefore there should be laws to control it.
The Fijian Constitution of 2013 whilst providing that everyone has freedom of speech, expression and publication also provides that laws can be made to limit those rights to control hate speech and for the protection and maintenance of the reputation, privacy and dignity of other persons.
Sudhakar said that Fiji has recently enacted legislation known as Online Safety Act (2018) to curb the problem which provides penalties not only against people who post such things on social media but also against online content hosts.
While the critics of the Act have gone on record to say that the Act is an attempt to curtail freedom of speech,Sudhakar reiterated that freedom of speech in no way can mean that the rights of others can be impeded and trampled upon.
He said the harmful content and defamatory material which is regularly spread on social media will
never find space in mainstream media because they are bound by laws.