Sunday, December 5, 2021

Striking a balance: Freedom of expression and hate speech

Social Media has made the bold even bolder. Under the guise of freedom of speech and the discretion of a virtual reality in which your face and real name can be obscured from the masses, most people believe they are not responsible for whatever it is they say or do through these mediums. Obscenity, nudity, abusive language and racial slurs are a daily thing in the digital world of social media. When it comes to the issue of rape jokes, some see it as harmless fun under the condition that it remains a joke; not the act itself. However, there are some people who view the jokes as one of the factors that normalise rape and violence.

In the wake of two recent incidents in which two men clumsily stated their desire to rape minors on social networks, some people reacted with outrage while many shrugged it off as innocent statements. The first occurrence went viral and caused uproar when a man proclaimed his longing to rape a beauty pageant contestant who is a minor. The most recent — involving a man who stated that he was in the process of raping a child caused the most outrage and the man is now under police investigation. Both men dismissed their statements as mere jokes and were not apologetic.

A few radio programs discussed this complexity of discerning what should be tolerated as a joke and what should be taken as a serious indication of criminals hiding behind social media. A number of callers stated that these men were simply joking and must be left alone as police officers have more pressing matters to attend to than chasing commentaries made on social networks. On the other hand, others were livid and utterly disgusted by such remarks, saying these men belong in jail cells. On facebook and twitter, a variety of opinions are still being expressed to date concerning this issue.

Over the years, we have seen some people in other countries being fired over prejudiced opinions, people locally being sued for defamation and celebrities losing endorsements over comments made on these social networks.

Facebook itself has regulations regarding hate speech and offensive views. Should rape jokes be considered as a form of hate speech or must they be seen from the perspective of those who say they are simply amusement?
This is what some people had to say about this issue.

“Jokes like these make rape acceptable and a light matter. Rape jokes are detrimental in the way they normalise rape culture. They make it something not to be shocked over, something acceptable,” said Tshepo Moyo, who founded Higher Heights for Girls, an organisation that seeks to empower girls.

“People can’t laugh at anything anymore as everyone wants to take everything seriously. Those men were joking, nothing more,” Thobo said.

Ratanang Mosweu, who works in gender-based violence survivors programs, said rape is a very serious matter that should not be used as a way to amuse as it leaves a negative impression on those that have been victims. “I have worked with rape survivors and I know rape is a reality. I understand the pain that comes with it. Someone’s pain cannot be made a laughing matter,” he added.

Tulani Tau, a local comedian, encourages people to be open to adult humour but he also stresses that comedians must do it in a way that is respectful with no need to offend intentionally.

Police statistics continue to indicate the frequent rise in rape and gender based violence reports. Rape culture is indeed prevalent in our societies; it’s in some songs, some ‘jokes’, and even some belief systems. We must always remember that our freedom of speech carries with it the responsibility to be answerable to its implications. We must not abuse this privilege but use it to reduce these statistics we see rising each year.

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