Cameroon’s government Spokesperson and Communication Minister, René Emmanuel Sadi, has expressed deep concerns over what he says is a growing trend of citizens spreading falsehood using social media platforms to tarnish the image of public officials or sabotage government action. Sadi has warned that those who continue to propagate such information on social media platforms risk facing the heavy arm of the law.

Speaking alongside his fellow cabinet colleague of Posts and Telecommunications, Minette Li Likeng, during a press conference on 13 July 2020 in Yaounde, Sadi also indicted some journalists in the country for using social media platforms to spread misinformation, ethnic and tribal divide, false death rumors concerning some top officials of the state, identity theft and invasion of privacy just to cite a few.

Cameroon's government spokesman and his cabinet colleague of telecoms lashing out at abusive use of social media by Cameroonians.

Punishment for propagators of false information on social media

Cameroon currently has no specific legal framework governing social media use, but it has some very harsh punishment for propagators of false information using the networks. In the Central African nation, one can be jailed for up to three years and fined up to USD 3,500 (XAF two million) for sharing false or unverifiable information which is likely to injure a public authority or tamper with national unity, as per Section 113 of the penal code.

Another law – the 21 December 2010 law on cyber criminality, in its Section 78, also prescribes up to two to five years imprisonment and a fine of up to $17, 500 (XAF 10 million) against anyone who designs and propagates false information of any kind.

Pernicious use of social media in Cameroon

Sadi lamented what he called the “pernicious use of the social media” which has become a tool to “disseminate fake news, launch personal attacks, disrespect secrecy of private and official correspondences, and violate the basic rules necessary for a healthy and tolerant social life.”

According to Sadi, such misinformation has taken roots in the country especially at a time when the government is battling to ensure effective and honest communication regarding the coronavirus pandemic. Most false information in Cameroon, like elsewhere on the continent, is propagated using platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook, and Twitter – which are, in that order, the three most popular networks in the country.

“I would like, without going into excessive detail, to mention among other issues, the case of the coronavirus pandemic which our country has been facing for the past five months. Many denigrators have, under fake social media profiles, tried to vilify the national response strategy being implemented under the auspices of the Prime Minister. Most of them have questioned the statistics published by the Ministry of Public Health on the state of the pandemic, challenged the preventive measures, and even campaigned against the decision of the Head of State to reopen schools on 1 June…,” Sadi said at the press conference.

“Social media were not created to destroy the order and values of the world, but rather to build, threaten, and use them for the development of humankind and society. Such a drift in their use, therefore, puts them at odds with their primary mission – that of allowing virtual constructive dialogue and interactions thanks to the virtues of digital technologies,” he added while calling on citizens to “refocus on the initial ideals of these formidable communication tools which have been made available to all thanks to the expansion of the Internet.”

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