South Africa, Africa's second largest telecom market after Nigeria, has become the first Southern African country to enact a law that clamps down on cyberbullying, which is rampant in the region.
The law, which calls for sending offenders to jail for up to five years, is meant to protect Internet and mobile phone users from being harassed. In order to track down offenders, the law compels service providers in South Africa to hand over details including the names and addresses of subscribers who have e-mail, mobile number and IP addresses from which bullying messages have been sent.
If a service provider refuses to reveal or hand over information request for a cyberbullying case, the company can be fined slightly over $1,000 and the staff can be sent to prison up to six months.
The South African law, which came into effect April 27, is expected to have ripple effects in Southern Africa, where up to now countries have had no cyberbullying legislation.
Already several countries in the region including Zambia, Namibia, Angola and Botswana are implementing mobile SIM card registration as the first step in tackling cyberbullying and crimes committed via phone.
Most of the cyberbullying messages in South Africa as in other countries in the region are centered on insults, sexual harassment, threatening and false statements, upsetting messages and name-calling.
Zambian President Michael Sata has already warned that the Zambian government will start regulating online media in an effort to put an end to cyberbullying, especially against women, who he said are insulted every day on the Internet.
Sata also said there is a lot of bullying, slander and insults on certain media sites in the country against government officials and members of the clergy.
"The government will do all that it can to regulate this out of existence," Sata said.
Zimbabwe is facing a similar problem, with newspaper reports indicating that cyberbullying is becoming rampant. The Zimbabwean government has threatened to deal with cyberbullying by introducing a law aimed at protecting those being bullied.
The new cyberbullying law in South Africa is expected to spur Zambia and Zimbabwe in introducing laws that clamp down on cyberbullying.
"Cyberbullying is not just a problem in South Africa and Zambia. It has become a regional problem and we expect to see a radical change in policies by governments to tackle the problem though challenges lie ahead," said Amos Kalunga, telecom analyst at Computer Society of Zambia.
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