Defamation: hate speech is not a part of my language

Besides so many other things, I am a writer and activist. I have edited news content and contributed to many news platforms over the years. I put all of this on hold since 2016, and just never returned to it, focusing my energy on the things that matter to me.

In December 2013, the war broke out while I was in Juba, South Sudan. This is when I started to participate more and more in citizen journalism. I became concerned by the level of fake news and hate speech that I was witnessing among South Sudanese on Facebook. This led me to document the hate speech, in case it would ever need to be addressed in the future.

Fast forward to July 2014, I was co-headlining a conference, South Sudan Inside-Out: Rebooting the Peace #DefyHateNow, in Berlin on the 8th of July, the eve of South Sudan’s third independence. There, I discussed hate speech on social media and showcased some anonymised examples of it to the audience. I was very passionate about this project because while I was in South Sudan when the war broke out, I realised how damaging and inflammatory hate speech and fake news was to people on the ground. I also realised that there were many biases among foreign journalists when they reported the war in South Sudan. Some of them were in fact, quite insensitive as to how to report the crisis. This resulted in myself, and a few other South Sudanese on Twitter, to really push for better reporting on the conflict. Al Jazeera recognised this, and published this, South Sudan and the media of conflict.

So naturally, I criticised quite a number of these foreign journalists and called them out on their biases on Twitter. One of these journalists is American Jason Patinkin. Jason was quite resistant to corrections and suggestions, and seemed to inch closer and closer to a war with some of us on Twitter.

Because of my previous background of fighting hate speech on social media, Jason approached me to help him with an article for Buzzfeed on South Sudan and hate speech. He was seeking my perspective on the topic. This was my response to his email:

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I was clearly concerned… and looking back, I had every right to be.

We proceeded with the interview, and I gave him an overview on hate speech among South Sudanese on social media and gave him a bit of insight on what I did for #DefyHateNow in 2014. The article was published, and to my surprise, it really wasn’t about my perspectives at all. The interview and article was just Jason’s opportunity to tarnish my reputation by tying me to hate speech and the government of South Sudan. All because I have openly criticised his work.

It wasn’t long before well known propaganda-filled South Sudanese news websites (notice it isn’t the professional and well-established news sites such as EyeRadio and Radio Miraya) picked this up, and started tying me to pro-government propaganda and hate speech. This was incredibly surprising to me. How can I possibly be tied to two things that I truly dislike?

Just to clarify two things though, from the Buzzfeed article by Jason.

  1. The Dawn Newspaper. During the interview, I gave an overview of the kind of work I have done before. I mentioned having done work for The Dawn. I worded it wrongly. I have never been on the payroll of The Dawn Newspaper, but I have contributed to The Dawn on numerous occasions. One of my most recent contributions is this article. As for The Dawn being so pro-government, I am not quite sure if that is really the truth. The Dawn newspaper has been blocked from publishing either the entire newspaper or sections of their paper, numerous times. This clearly goes to show that The Dawn has tried to report on ‘government sensitive matters’ on numerous occasions.
  2. Retweeting Ayuel Atem. I retweeted my friend and journalist, Ayuel Atem. I trusted his judgment on the news he was sharing on Twitter (check news article again). Does retweeting it make me a pro-government influencer? Or is it because I am allegedly a ‘pro-government influencer,’ I retweeted the tweet? And if several others also retweeted Ayuel’s tweet, does that mean, using the same logic, that they are also pro-government?

Besides that Buzzfeed article, I was never mentioned in any other kind of report trying to implicate me in hate speech or paint me as a pro-government agent. Including any type of UN report (look it up and I promise you). This whole situation also led me to reach out to Edmund Yakani, the executive director of CEPO. Edmund was shocked about the situation and advised me to visit him in his office in Juba for further discussions.

Either way, it has been several years since this has happened. However, I found it important to still address this. This one article that tries to tie me to pro-government propaganda, resulted in defamatory articles on two South Sudanese news websites. I know that some people may find them, and start making assumptions about me and my work. I just want to clearly state that I have been targeted for standing up for authentic narratives from South Sudanese (by Jason), targeted for some of my opinions and viewpoints, and targeted for being one of South Sudan’s top influencers. I cannot commit myself to hate speech, of which I have seen the impact of, or the promotion of the government of South Sudan, which I have also seen commit major failures in development, and maintenance of peace in my country. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, but sharing this does not necessarily mean the person is trying to promote an entity, a stance or a point of view. I am not tied to the government of South Sudan, neither am I a beneficiary of the government, so to suggest I am a pro-government agent or influencer, trying to use my influence to support the government, is a moot point.

Hate speech is not my language.