Recently the Minister of Home Affairs, Senator Michael Fahy, made the following comments concerning online commentating:
“It’s only a select few fanning the flames of negativity, but it only takes one or two individuals for the comments to eventually snowball into something that translates into Bermudians being perceived as anti-foreigner,” he said.
“Some of the comments I’ve heard and seen have been completely unacceptable, and regrettably we don’t have suitable mechanisms in place to properly police some of these anonymous rants.”
Now, to be clear, I do agree that the xenophobic comments that one does indeed encounter on some online sites, be they blogs, forums, or traditional news media with online comment options, are something that should be criticised, and that it is unfortunate that they exist.
Whether or not they damage our island financially (directly or indirectly), they display a social problem and undercurrent in our society that should be criticised and challenged. There is always the chance that this ideology of hate may form the foundation for physical actions of hate – be they graffiti or acts of violence.
My concern however is with the latter part of the Minister’s comments, concerning policing the internet.
These comments are something that should rightly disturb all online commentators and advocates of free speech.
What does Mr Fahy mean by ‘policing the internet’?
Is the OBA developing mechanisms to restrict free speech online? If so, what are these mechanisms?
What regulations and policies are they implying with this comment?
While blogs should indeed be responsible in moderating comments, and there are mechanisms for reporting offensive comments (especially on the news outlets), the best way to challenge these offensive comments is through tackling the ideology of hate they represent, and tackling the social tensions in our society which give momentum for these hateful and xenophobic comments.
One of the first steps that the State could take to reduce xenophobia in Bermuda is instituting a living minimum wage and cracking down on employers and landlords who are exploiting foreign workers.
I ask that the OBA Government clarify the comments of their Minister of Home Affairs concerning policing the internet.
Alternatively, I ask that they retract their comments on this matter and issue an apology.
If the OBA does not intend to ‘police the internet’ then they need to clarify the statement by Mr Fahy.