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Hate Speech a threat to social cohesion

Cameroon has experienced a sharp increase in the spread of hatespeech both online and offline. This is disseminated either offline on a one on one basis or on social media platforms such as facebook, whatsapp, or Twitter. Hate speech is any abusive or threatening language or writing that expresses prejudice on the basis of ethnicity, religion, or sex. When dropped/shared on social media platforms, surfers in a bid to defend their sex, culture, or roots become violent. It has become one  of most commons ways of spreading divisive rhetoric on a global scale thereby threating peace, inciting violence, diversity and humuman rights. It also undermines social cohesion and living together.

The rise in hate speech most especially online in Cameroon emanates from the socio-political crisis plaguing the two speaking regions in the country. Opposition parties in the Anglophone crisis have used the social media as a tool to spread false information which has led to animosity on the online space transcending offline.This has gone to the level of where people  have either been termed "black legs", "terrorist" and a host of hateful names.

Social media which has given people the opportunity to give their views on different issues in the form of text, audio, video and images has caused more harm than good. Cameroonians spread hateful messages, fake news under the pretext of of it's freedom of speech.

Comedians and influencers in Cameroon have been noted for using their page unconsciously and consciously to share hateful message pitting communities against each other which has led to more division, violence that transcends to division among ethnic groups offline
Petuih Frederick Tandah is a social media user.

He believes many youths use social media for the wrong reasons.

"To me, as a social media user, I have come to realize that most of us especially the youths are not responsible when using social media. Most youths have not understood the main use of social media. It is meant to strengthen relationships and a sense of solidarity with others.

Unfortunately youths use the social media to fight each other, expose others, and mock people, because of their religion, tribe, background which is very bad."

With just a hundred francs and a phone, anyone can access social media in Cameroon.  These surfers have become journalist themselves spreading news that are not true.

Frederick Tandah says creating awareness is the first step to combating hate speech.

"I think we can combat first of all through awareness. Most people just post things online because of the availability of technology and cheap assess to the internet, they are excited without knowing the implications of their posts. We need to educate them what these actions can cause and how dangerous it is to our Development, as well as security both at the National, community, and Individual level."
Laurata Fouli is another social media user. She says hate speech brings out the inhuman side of a person.

"Hate speech oftentimed removes the inhuman side of people targeted. It makes them angry, violent and for some they become traumatized. For someone who knows you caused her trauma, he/she wouldn't want herself or family to be around you. That's affects the concept of living together or per say social cohesion in the community."

To Laurata Fouli holding people accountable on social media by reporting them to the authorities will go a long way to mitigate hate speech.

"I think we can combat hate speech by holding people accountable. If  people are being imprisoned for hate speech, others will stop  because they fear going to prison."
The Cameroonian law outlines punishment for any propagator of hate speech. As in Law No 2019/020 of December 24 2019, to amend some provisions of Law No 2016/7 of July 2016 in relation to the penal code states penalties for those guilty of hate speech crimes. The law is intended to promote peace and social cohesion as sanctions are meant to keep citizens in check. 

By Tantan Patience

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