HARARE – Popular American online social media and networking service, Facebook — has assured its Zimbabwean network users that it will not share their private communication with President Robert Mugabe’s government — even if there is such a request as at it takes their privacy seriously.
The assurance comes as media groups, civic society and opposition parties are fretting over the newly-created Cyber ministry which they say is aimed at curtailing freedom of expression and targets social media users.
Responding to Daily News enquiries, Facebook said it was not its policy to divulge private communication between its users and would not bend its rules even in the face of a government request.
“Protecting the security of people on Facebook and the privacy of their information is hugely important to us. We do not provide any government organisation with direct access to our servers.
“We require governments to follow our published guidelines for requesting information from us. Keeping our community safe is critical to our mission, and there is absolutely no place on Facebook for hate speech or content that promotes violence or terrorism,” said the company’s spokesperson.
“Facebook is a global community. We have a set of Community Standards and we enforce them, just like any strong community. Keeping our community safe is critical to our mission.
“Our Community Standards prohibit hate speech, terrorism, specific threats of violence and bullying. As our platform grows, we keep investing in our teams and work with carefully selected and reputable partners to make sure that we apply these standards consistently and effectively,’ added the spokesperson.
Mugabe last month set panic stations among the country’s media and opposition groups when he unveiled a new ministry to deal with social media and cyber security.
The 93-year-old announced this in a shock Cabinet reshuffle in which he demoted former Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa, and appointed him to head the Cyber Security, Threat Detection and Mitigation ministry.
This was despite the existence of the Information Communication Technology and Courier Services ministry which last year led government in promulgating the Computer Crime and Cyber Crime law which is currently at Bill stage.
During the swearing-in ceremony of the new ministers to his Cabinet, Mugabe said he had created the Cyber ministry to deal with abuse and unlawful conduct in the cyber space.
Mugabe deployed his spokesperson, George Charamba, to explain Chinamasa’s new role to the media.
Charamba said Mugabe had described the ministry as a “protective ministry which needs to protect the interests of the State.”
“I have just been talking to the president about the role of that ministerial portfolio and the president was very clear in his mind that he is dealing with an emerging threat to the State of Zimbabwe, a threat that is founded on abuse and unlawful conduct on the cyberspace and a threat which is unusual, which is quite new and therefore which needs a development of a new body of law,” Charamba told journalists then.
“I want you to say it in his own words. The president said the ministry is like a trap used to catch rats. It is targeted at mischief makers who abuse the cyberspace and it needs law development which is precisely why he thought of no other than a person who is legally competent in that area.
“It requires that the incumbent minister must collate from world experience those elements that can be integrated within our own system to ensure that we are able to deal with the threat and deal with it competently. The president made a specific reference to countries like Russia, China and the Koreas who have been facing similar challenges and have done exceedingly well in terms of bringing about order.”
Media groups are worried by the timing of the Cyber ministry’s introduction which comes months before elections which they say could lead to attacks on social media and its users.
Last year, government tried to block WhatsApp on July 6 during the historic Shutdown when civil servants and thousands of impoverished workers heeded calls by cleric Evan Mawarire to stay away from work in protest over the failing economy.
Also in September last year government dusted the law pertaining to the alleged “abuse’ of the national flag, which was used on Mawarire for using the Zimbabwe flag in his campaigns under the #ThisFlag.
The panicking authorities introduced the bizarre law which criminalises certain uses of the national flag, under the Flag of Zimbabwe Act, in what was seen as a desperate bid to clamp down on the #ThisFlag movement.
At the time, the Zimbabwe flag had become a major rallying instrument both at home and internationally, following Mawarire’s resonant patriotism campaign.