Fake profiles hampering ERC crackdown
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A depiction of a unified Guyanese society being portrayed by Guyana’s contingent in a performance at the last CARIFESTA (Photo by Vishani Ragobeer)
A depiction of a unified Guyanese society being portrayed by Guyana’s contingent in a performance at the last CARIFESTA (Photo by Vishani Ragobeer)

–on racist rants on social media

By Gabriella Chapman

FOR decades, racism has been a plague on our Guyanese society, and of recent times we have noticed an upsurge in racist remarks being peddled through social media platforms, most of which are attributed to the current political climate.

And even though the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) is the designated body that functions to monitor, investigate and assist in reprimanding perpetrators, several Commissioners have said that it will take a countrywide team effort to foster the national unity.

Given the dynamics of social media, members of the investigating team in the Commission said they are critically challenged to curb the social media attacks. Lloyd Smith, who is the head of the investigation unit, told the Guyana Chronicle that the process is not a walk through, but they are trying as much as they can to keep it at a minimum.

“We face a lot of challenges in conducting the investigations of people who use social media to air their racial annotations. We have several instances where people put up things, and by the time we are made aware, they take it down, so there is no evidence. A lot of them use pen names, and have incorrect information on their profile; no address, no contact number. And some people pretend to be other people, and some people have said that they were hacked. So it is very difficult to find perpetrators when we have all these technical challenges,” Smith said.

However, he noted that it is easier when these remarks are made by way of a video, referencing recent cases such as the teen from the University of Guyana and the woman who went on a racial rant from her hammock last week. It is easier since the person’s true identity is attached, so they can find them and apply the necessary punishment to the individual.

He explained that their efforts are guided by the Racial Hostility Act and the Representation of the People Act, and that persons ought to know that their misguided actions are considered a very serious offence. Smith also said that even though one person may make a racist post or comment, it is the thousands of others who share and spread that one post/comment and make it viral that causes the division to spread. Because when one group of people starts to attack, another will come in and defend, and the hate spirals.

He referred to this as ‘mischievous acts’.
“These things go viral and get a lot of traction, not from the person, but the mischievous acts make the posts go viral. The offender is the one who posts it, but the mischief-maker is the thousands of other people who share it and spread it across the country. So now what was intended for educational purposes is now a platform for mischievous people,” Smith said.

He agreed that instead of persons making racist posts go viral, they should report them to the Commission, so that the author could be dealt with, given that there are laws that cater to persons who denigrate other people by race.

Barrington Braithwaite, an ERC Commissioner who is also part of the investigative sub-committee added that in light of COVID-19, their efforts are even more problematic.
“There are still some very serious ones that we haven’t been able to meet as yet, because as a result of COVID, we have to communicate by Zoom. So there’s a disjointed period right now; we are not on the ball as we usually are. But we would usually investigate cases, gather a perspective, evaluate, then locate persons and ask them to come in. But, of course, a lot of these people do not use their real names, and they are especially the political ones,” Braithwaite said.

The Commissioner representing the Islamic Community, Roshan Khan said that he and the other commissioners are concerned about the unity, goodwill and harmony of this country.
He, however, explained that the ERC’s protocol is that on behalf of the Commission, the Chairman or Deputy are the ones allowed to comment. As such, he shared his remarks in his personal capacity, since he is also the Chairman of the Muslim core group of the Ministry of the Presidency, Department of Social Cohesion, and the National Chairman the Universal Peace Federation Guyana Chapter.

Khan said that he is very disturbed about anything that fosters hate in any form, and in his opinion, most hatred stems from politics. “Hate boggles my mind on where it comes from, and from my humble opinion, it is something always to do with politics. Politicians need to mature and grow, because you would find these things always happen during the political seasons. The most recent with the woman making the lewdest remarks to critique people of African descent is very sickening; it eats my heart,” he lamented.

And even though an apology was issued by the woman, Khan believes that her excuse is not valid.

“When you already fired the gun, you can’t stop the bullet. Even though she offered an apology, saying that she has an African grandson and son-in-law, and she was drunk when she made the video, you can’t go to court for killing someone and use being drunk as a reason the get off; you can’t be excused from such action. It’s good that she offered an apology, but there are others; those threatening to kill the president, and I’m very depressed about the future about our country,” Khan said.

He also holds the view that when these posts get the large attention, it worsens the situation. “These posts, I believe, reflect the contingence of their character, and these maniacs will start attacking each other. The third-party commentators are the ones exacerbating this thing.”

But as it relates to his role in the ERC, Khan said that it is indeed difficult for them and they cannot work independently to fight this scourge, the ERC, he explained, cannot arrest people, but has to go through protocols and systems.

“We are not an enforcement agency. We are appointed through Parliament, and when we get these cases, we have to go to the police and the police too have their protocols. Even in crime, there is a due process. We are not a dictator organization, we can’t call the police and say go and arrest this person, and so despite the recent increase, it is very difficult to investigate and arraign these offenders,” Khan said.

But everyone has a responsibility to foster a unified society, and the entire Guyanese society should work along with the Commission to achieve this.
Efforts to get a comment from the Chairman and Deputy were futile, however, the contacted commissioners confirmed that their team is working assiduously to play their part.

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