Make digital marketplaces fairer and safer

World Consumer Rights Day (WCRD) celebrated every year on March 15, is an important annual event to mark the global solidarity within the international consumer movement. WCRD is our chance to make the biggest impact possible.

Such platforms give us the opportunity to bring to the world’s attention on crucial consumer issues and seek reforms where needed.

This year’s global theme is “Making digital marketplaces fairer and safer” this is an issue that needs global and national attention.

The Internet has come a long way and has changed our lives and the way we work. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has noted high growth rates in internet use in developing countries surpassing that of developed countries.

Fiji, internet accessibility has increased substantially over the past decade, due to the policies and investments made by the Fijian Government. Mobile cellular subscriptions are over 116 per 100 inhabitants.

It is indisputable that the majority of internet users in Fiji access websites and social media sites through their mobile phones. And this trend will continue as 4G and 4G plus network coverage continue to increase.

With a growing number of consumers in Fiji using the internet on a daily basis, it is imperative that everyone is aware of their digital rights and responsibilities.

Social media has far wider reach than mainstream media such as newspapers, hence what users share or talk about online is guaranteed to reach a bigger audience.

More people are spending a lot more time interacting online via social media platforms, with increased mobile and internet use, it is not surprising that more people seek out and consume news from social media rather than mainstream media.

Misleading information and incorrect information on social media is becoming a major concern and has many social and even economic costs.

The extensive spread of incorrect information has the potential for extremely negative impacts on individuals and the society. Consumers who mistakenly accept the information as legitimate news run the risk of making bad or harmful personal or family decisions. In addition cyberbullying is now a major issue in many countries and law enforcement authorities are taking this matter seriously. In some countries such as, United States, laws have been passed to address cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying involves threats, harassment and humiliation against individuals or groups on the internet, primarily through social media. Cyberbullying is common among teenagers, children or adolescents both as victims and perpetrators.

With the ITU estimating that 70 per cent of the world’s youth are online, it is understandable that youth and children are the most vulnerable to cyberbullying exposure.

WCRD 2018 is an opportune time to bring these two critical issues — fake news and cyberbullying — to the public agenda and raise awareness on their negative impacts. The Fijian Government in 2016 introduced the Cybersecurity Strategy and is currently reviewing laws and looking as the introduction of appropriate laws that can provide protection to the Fijian people.

We can put in place good policies, laws and regulations to address cyberbullying, but these would not be enough without our collective effort.

All stakeholders, users of internet, parents, community leaders, youth leaders, to name a few, should work together address to ensure that especially our children are protected from cyber related crimes.

As users in this digital age, consumers have digital rights and responsibilities. We consumers have the right to fairer and safer digital marketplaces. But we also have an equally important responsibility to contribute to fairer and safer digital marketplaces.

Our individual responsibility not to succumb to fake news easily is very important.

In addition, we have a greater responsibility of not click on and sharing online information or actions designed to harassment, torment, threaten or bully other persons.

Making our digital marketplace and online communities fairer and safer requires the collective effort of all — consumers, telecommunications service providers, businesses, social media providers, Government/policymakers and civil society.

I thank the Consumer Council of Fiji’s effort in raising awareness on this topic and I am confident that all stakeholders will take time to seriously think of the issues raised today and effect change so that digital platforms are made fairer and safer for everyone. It is my pleasure to wish you all a successful World Consumer Rights Day 2018.