MONROVIA: As stakeholders continue to call for peace and harmony going towards the crucial general elections, the Ambassador of the United Kingdom to Liberia, Neil Bradley, ECOWAS Ambassador to Liberia Madam Josephine Nkrumah, the South African Ambassador Prof Iqbal Jhazbhay, the United Nations Resident Coordinator Christine N. Umutoni and other top diplomats in the country have urged Liberians to shun hate speech and engaging social media attacks via hateful and inflammatory contents that will undermine the hold of a free , fair and peaceful general elections and challenge all stakeholders in the polity including the government, the various political parties, civil society groups as well as the citizens to make interventions to avert anything that will serve as hindrance to the democratic process.
Speaking at the end of a two a day Capacity building workshop organized by the Center of Humanitarian Dialogue, Liberia, Ambassador Bradley speaking on social media and its impact on political activities with emphasis on the ensuing general election said social media is an interactive engagement which offers a space for sharing and connecting with the expectation that one’s action will be observed by others, “so it has an impact and that could be good but it can also be bad.
Ambassador Bradley said social media brings huge challenges to electoral integrity, involving misinformation which he defined as sharing of misleading content without necessarily any intent to be deceived, describing it as an “innocent act but it still has negative impact while on the other hand he defined disinformation as sharing of misleading content with the intent to deceive.
He stated that disinformation contains inflammatory content or worse still hate speech, a challenge that may intensify as the country gets close to the general election.
“So first of all, it weakens public trust in the electoral system, in your election institution, in the democratic process and that undermines the integrity of your elections.
“it can amplify the existent prejudices and that polarizes the society. It erodes the quality of information the citizens have to make informed choices. It can lower the turnout of the election that could be due to fear of election violence and brings out a notion in the citizens that they do not trust the candidates so why should they vote.
“And if that happens, it reduces the legitimacy of the election outcome”, Ambassador Bradley said.
Speaking further on the adverse impact of hate speech, the British Diplomat who has been on duty since 2020 said it does not only increase the risk of violence, but it also creates barriers to inclusion of women and historically marginalized communities and that will lead to less inclusion in government and legislation.
He said research shows that hate speech has a particular impact on whether women are willing to stand in elections or participate in elections.
“But there are interventions that we can make to tackle what we call ‘information disorder’ that have harmful content and to uphold the integrity of your elections including stakeholders especially the traditional media engaging in fact checking or raising awareness around us”, he said.
He said such initiatives must be inclusive where at the level of the civil society organizations, measures such as fact checking, content labeling, training of journalists to publish balanced stories with trusted sources and collaborating with similar organizations to work on common front against hate speech and harmful social media contents.
He also called for effective partnership among civil society groups, the National Elections Commission (NEC), the government, political parties and international partners to work on programs such as workshops as a way of seriously combating hate speech.
Speaking later, ECOWAS Ambassador to Liberia Madam Josephine Nkrumah said Liberia is approaching a crucial part of its history where the country will be conducting the fourth electoral cycle since the end of hostilities in 2003 which was followed by a general election in 2005 and two others in 2011 and 2017. She said this year’s election is special in a way that it marks the 20th anniversary of peace and the first time Liberia will be going to the polls.
“It has taken 20 years since the end of the Liberian civil war, and we continue to talk about consolidating the peace, we talk about the fact that the peace is fragile, but the important thing for us is to realize that peace just does not happen, peace must be intentional, it must be deliberate and total and we are grateful that the Liberian experience could be used by others as a lesson for peace and harmony”, she said.
She said as Liberia approaches the crucial elections this year, those who are regular social media users especially the bloggers and influencers to ensure that their contents work towards peace and building on the gains of the 20 years of peace the country and its people have enjoyed over the years.
“I say this as much which means whatever we do as influencers and as young people, before you put your fingers to your laptop, to your tablet or to your phone, you should think carefully about what it is that you are putting out there. You should know that what you are putting out there is to the whole world, especially contents that will negatively impact the country”, she said.
The Ghanaian born ECOWAS Diplomat cautioned political parties and media institutions as well as citizens to be mindful of where the country came from during the dark days when thousands of citizens lost their lives and properties worth millions were destroyed. “So, I am sure that even those who were not born during the war must have been told what it did to the country and I do hope no one will want to return to those horrible years”, she said.
For her part, the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Liberia, Madam Christine N. Umutoni said she was excited to be at the program and expressed the hope that the workshop which was meant to create awareness about the impact of social media during elections will go a long way in helping to curb some of the issues that could trigger violence in the society.
She said over the years the UN has supported Liberia’s peace efforts and will continue to do so especially now that the country will be going through another electoral cycle, the fourth since peace was restored in 2003.
The South African Ambassador to Liberia, Prof. Iqbal Jhazbhay who said he was at the program to “listen and learn”, said it was important that the social media users, majority of whom are the young people should be able to use the platform to promote peace and understanding in the country, stressing that as the nation goes through a major election, it is expected that those who are involved should make sure that the process is not disrupted by tendencies that are influenced by social media users.
He said South Africa has being supportive of the peace process in Liberia during the turbulent time of war years where the former South African president Thabo Mbeki spearheaded the negotiation that led to the resignation of former President Charles G. Taylor in 2003, paving the way for the end of the civil war and subsequently the general election of 2005
He however said that giving the right opportunities to the young people to excel could be another way in mitigating some of the causes why some of them who are into social vices could be brought on board to effect positive change.
Also speaking at the occasion, a representative of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) said her institution has always been involved in the democratization process of the country over the years and has immensely supported every projects for peace and development and hope that the participants will seize the opportunity not only to learn new things but also to implement what they learn so as to positively reflect on the country’s democracy and consolidation of peace.
The program which was held under the project title “Delivering Peace Dividends in Liberia” has as its theme, “Reinforcing youth Declaration for Peace through the Use of responsible social media to promote social cohesion and community dialogue in Liberia”. It is among a series of other programs being executed by the Center for Humanitarian Dialogue with funding from its partners including the United Nations System.
Several media institutions and social media influencers and civil society organizations participated in the two day workshop held at the Boulevard Hotel in Monrovia from July 11-12, 2023.