Words Matter: Hate Speech and South Sudan
“South Sudan terrorists need to be killed in order for peace to reign. Lawful killing has been practised by states since time immemorial.”
These are the words of Gordon Buay, deputy chief of mission at South Sudan’s Washington embassy, as posted on his Facebook page. Buay claims he’s simply defending his government, but some of those working for peace in South Sudan call it hate speech and accuse Buay and other prominent figures in the diaspora of fuelling the terrible conflict in this newborn nation.
But how much influence does angry writing on social media thousands of kilometres away from the fighting actually have in a country with limited internet and mobile phone penetration? About 21 percent of South Sudanese have phones and around 17 percent can get online – but these people are mostly those in towns, leaving rural communities largely excluded from tweeting, liking, and sharing.
Theo Dolan, director of PeaceTech Lab Africa, which works to reduce violent conflict using technology, media, and data, believes words do matter. He says PeaceTech’s research has shown that online hate speech – mainly coming from South Sudan’s diaspora in the US, Canada, the UK, and Australia – is contributing to the violence.