'Parlons-en!': free speech for all in DRC
With almost 17,000 members, the Facebook group Parlons-en! (‘Let’s talk!’) gives young Congolese a platform to enjoy their freedom of expression and contribute to democracy in the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo).
Eugène Buingo created the Facebook group Parlons-en! for his fellow young compatriots. It primarily targets professionally active young people with easy internet access. But raising awareness among the youth through online discussions comes with its own set of challenges for the group’s administrators.
“We are constantly thinking about ways to make the topics more interesting. We are calling each other regularly to discuss the quality of the content,” says Passy Amani, one of the administrators.
The group’s efforts has however paid off as the membership increased considerably in just a few months, thanks partly to the power of chain reactions. “Every time someone joins the group, they invite on average more than five people,” says Passy. The Facebook group currently has just under 17,000 members.
The group’s members instantly share any piece information they may come across, often without verification. For example, the death of South African anti-apartheid struggle icon Nelson Mandela has been announced on several occasions.
In such circumstances, the news is corrected by other members of the group. “When someone posts incorrect information, other members check it and then inform the rest of the group,” explains Passy.
In order to prevent excesses, the administrators established rules of behaviour to follow so they can delete posts that are deemed discriminatory or insulting in nature.
Such regulations are obviously frowned upon by some members, especially since the platform was originally created to allow the expression of all views.
The group’s rebel elements are particularly outraged whenever a member specialising in defamation is deleted from the group. “I often receive phone calls asking me to add back people who had been removed,” says initiator Eugène.
Eugène also finds himself under other forms of pressure. In particular, the Congolese authorities are rarely delighted when they are openly criticised for poor governance.
“On several occasions, someone close to the governor tried to persuade me to shut down the group or risk losing my job,” says Eugène.
Regardless, the administrators continue to take pride in their contribution towards freedom of expression in the DRC. “Parlons-en! is like a school where the Congolese people learn to exercise their democratic rights and, most importantly, to understand them,” says Eugène.