The prevalence of Social Media has meant that ‘online violence’ has become an issue that needs to be grappled with. Wits hosted a discussion to find a tactical way of handling and countering this.
Wits Transformation and Employment Equity Office hosted a discussion focusing on online spaces as platforms for ongoing violence yesterday afternoon.
It was necessary for a discussion about violence on social media because it is becoming a common problem at Wits, according to transformation manager Pura Mgolombane.
“Wits University is not sure how to deal with these kinds of situations.”
The discussion panel included Professor Tommaso Milani, Thoko-Jean Chilenga representing #TransformWits and Nyx McLean a co-editor of HOLAA.
The line between online violence and freedom of expression was discussed as Milani argued that “absolute freedom of speech doesn’t exist as there are laws that prevent it.”
Mgolombane explained that Wits encourages the Bill of Rights and its limitations on freedom of speech. “We cannot allow people of Wits to insult or discriminate, but we can do more to clarify the lines between free speech and violence,” said Mgolombane.
“People are scared of online spaces as it can fall over to private physical space,” said Chilenga.
According to Chilenga, who met with the Black Students Movement (BSM) from Rhodes University during the #RhodesMustFall protests earlier this year, when BSM posted on social media they received threats. “People should be held accountable for things they say and do online as much as you would want them to be held accountable in a physical space,” said Chilenga.
McLean argued that social media is not just a platform for resistance, but it is also for people looking for “affirmation of existence.”
“People do serious emotional psychological harm if someone attacks someone who can only use pages [social media] for interaction and support,” said Mclean. She continued explaining that people keep looking over their shoulder when receiving a threat as there is no way of knowing whether or not to take it seriously.
Mgolombane believes the problem won’t be necessarily solved by rules, but value systems that people ascribe to such as students and staff who take up the values of Wits when they join the university.