Social media has radically changed the Maltese landscape, none more so than in the political sphere, with politicians gaining access to the nation’s citizens on a massive scale. The magnitude of their current influence has created a worrying grey area.
Now, lawyer Joe Giglio is looking to change all that by submitting the first-ever social media charter to the Nationalist Party.
“I took this initiative because I felt the need that candidates and party officials, whether contesting for leadership or for the general election, should try to ensure that posts on social media follow a particular ethos and ideally also encourage their supporters to use social media in line with the principles set down in the charter,” Giglio told Lovin Malta.
Giglio’s received positive feedback from PN Leader Adrian Delia and his challenger Bernard Grech on the proposal. It was presented to Delia yesterday, who told Giglio it was a valid first step in regulating social media behaviour. He is waiting for Grech to get back to him so he can pass it on to him and discuss it with further.
Social media use has been under the microscope in recent weeks, with Malta’s entire Cabinet currently under investigation for allegedly misusing public funds and resources on social media.
The PN is not immune to similar issues. Beyond concerns over the blurring of lines between personal and party pages, PN MPs have received criticism from Delia over certain social media posts.
However, Giglio believes that the proposals will empower freedom of speech online rather than limit it, and could be the start of a significant shift on the issue.
So what does the social media charter entail?
At its core, every communication made over social media or any other online channel must be in line with PN values and its statute. Candidates, the charter says, should adopt a centred approach to online communications. That means candidates must understand that technology is not “an end in itself, but a means to provide better quality of life”.
“Candidates will use social media tools efficiently for communicating, reaching out, and understanding citizens’ needs and ultimately to drive the necessary societal changes,” the charter reads.
Fighting fake news and championing accuracy should also be at the forefront of candidate’s social media use and they’re encouraged to fact-check any information shared. The charter also makes it clear that the candidates must take action to combat disinformation whether it stems from their own supporters or otherwise.
They must also “discourage, dissociate and if necessary ban any profiles, pages or groups that promote or use vulgar language, injurious actions, or other unethical behaviour”.
The charter makes a strong drive toward fostering healthy debate online, making the use of fake profiles strictly prohibited from candidates and supporters alike.
“Supporters are encouraged to embrace the freedom of agreeing or disagreeing with ideas but to never personally attack any other candidate, party or organisation representative, or any citizen.”
“While candidates do not have control over supporters’ online behaviour, candidates will encourage supporters to engage in a healthy dialogue and strongly discourage divisive behaviour and discussions which do not lead to mutual respect,” it reads.
You can read the full charter over here..
Giglio’s iniative marks the first real step to regulate the widespread social media use of party members and its supporters. It’s well needed with private citizens sometimes subject to public attacks on online platforms.
The public inquiry into the Daphne Caruana Galizia has exposed this issue head-on. Hopefully, this could be the start for a radical shift in the field.