Author: Thompson Chengeta
European Research Council Fellow on Artificial Intelligence Ethics and law, University of Southampton
Across the globe, there is a general increase in online hate and sharing of hateful messages on online platforms. The past weeks saw hateful and xenophobic hashtags trending in South Africa. As noted by some commentators, online hate “can pollute civic discourse, inflict harm on targeted victims, create and exacerbate social divisions, and erode trust in the host platforms”. Online hate should not only be dealt with in terms of the law but also afro-digital ethics. With increased internet penetration in Africa, advent of smartphones and digital platforms, many people spend most of their time online. In this digital age, the virtues of our lives are beginning to be shaped and influenced by our virtual lives. Yet, not much has been done to guide our lives – particularly those of young people – in this new virtual world. The African saying “it takes a village to raise a child” denotes communitarian ethos relating to duties of the elderly in the community to instil African ethics in young persons. But does such an African village exist online? While digital technologies are undoubtedly impacting our African utopias or dystopias on what it means to be humane, the elderly who usually enforce and instil African ethics and morality in young people are offline. For parents who are online, they rarely have access to their children’s online platforms for many reasons including the use of ghost accounts. I also contend that a failure to respect African ethics online is a result of the breakdown of African communitarian ethos in the real world. For example, the spread of hateful content against fellow Africans has its genesis in economic failures of African leaders, most of whom are selfishly and corruptly enriching themselves.