“The Internet is considered a safe place for women to communicate but at the same time, the same anonymity, the same safety is also offered to those who use it to commit crimes and abuse [against] women.”
Social media last year was awash with photos and diabolical attacks of radio personalities, Lynda Nyangweso and Kalekye Mumo. Why? Because of what some said they were ‘big’, ‘fat’ and other derogatory remarks about their weight. Then there was Mirfat Musa or Susan of Tujuane who after participating in a local program Tujuane was made fun of, poked at and after a series of tasteless jokes was discarded like a broken toy.
As I was writing this article, I stumbled upon this conversation on my timeline. It was a picture of Anne Kiguta anchoring news and on her upper right hand there was a scar that was, sadly, concluded to have been a Norplant scar. The conclusion? She was having UNPROTECTED Sex. Yes, a tiny little scar with that huge unconfirmed conclusion. What bothered me was not really about the scar but that it turned out into a sexual attack.
These are just few cases where women have had their names, reputation and even esteem dragged in the World Wide Web muck.
Cyber-bullying has been defined as the use of electronic communication to bully a person, by sending messages of an intimidating or threatening nature. It can be through emails, tweets, threats of leaking intimate photos and actual phone calls.
According to Alice Wanjira-Munyua, Project Coordinator for Catalyzing Access to ICTs notes: “increased use of ICT tools such as SMS, blogs, twitter, Facebook, and email mailing … exposed women to more abuses...social networking sites such as Facebook…for instance… are providing a single hub where people can integrate all of their information …This type of networking can be very enjoyable and beneficial… as long as they are not used to spread gender based hate messages.”
Times have shown us how Kenyans online have ganged up, at the comfort of their homes, behind their mobile phones and computers to stalk, abuse, intimidate and humiliate others and in most cases-women. Interestingly, this is done in the cover of proxy names thus no digital proof of their existence. Therefore, cases of misogyny, hate speech and homophobia have taken root and risen through social media.
Unfortunately, this has been made possible due to the anonymity characterizing an online identity; where creating an email is as easy as picking a fancy name, guess up a date of birth and in no time, use the email address to create an array of accounts. Coupled by the lack of specific legislation to curb the menace, victims of cyber attacks have been left scarred with no retribution.
And this scarring destroys reputation, esteem and spirits of the victims. As was with the case with Mirfat Musa who was said to have contemplated suicide! S-U-I-C-I-D-E. Sad. This is not to say that lives have not been lost, they have in their numbers.
After being crowned Miss Kenya 2013, Wangui Gitonga, received a-not-so-pleasant acclamation online. Jeers, innuendos and nasty remarks crisscrossed social sites, which cast a shadow over her new crown. However, her warm personality and optimism stood this test and with her head high, represented Kenya in Indonesia and bagged Kshs22 Million from an auction of a crane bird bronze gift during the contest. Indeed, the vitriol spewed her way did not dampen her dreams.
People respond differently to attacks but clearly, cyber violence limits young women from fully exercising their right to communicate through the Internet platform. This reduces women’s ability to use the service for development and in rolling out their duties.
Here, Rachel Shebesh comes to mind. Despite weeks of posts online that tarnished her name and of a fellow leader, she did not take her battle online in a bid to clear her name. Neither does she share her plans for the women of Nairobi on social media where most of her electorate is. Ms Shebesh she shares that “Cyber crime is targeting everybody. I am a politician and I know we get targeted and that is why I keep off…”
The Business Daily Africa reported that the Kenya’s cyber security is one of the weakest in the world evident when some government websites were hacked. These glaring loopholes right from the top tell of a worrying fact that logging in to one’s social account is like going to war. Only this time, you are unarmed and you may just get shot at by a stray bullet.
For a long time, Kenya’s laws are unable to effectively prosecute cyber crime and online hate speech. However, the Kenya 2009 Communications Amendment Act decrees that people can now be prosecuted for sending abusive text messages or emails. Article 33 of the 2010 Constitution of Kenya notes that everyone has the freedom of expression but it is limited in matters of incitement to violence, propaganda for war, hate speech and advocacy of hatred.
In February 2013, the National Cyber security Strategy and Master Plan (NCSMP) was launched with a purpose to come up with a guide on how to tackle cyber security issues in Kenya. Also, the Kenya Internet Governance Forum Steering Committee (KIGFSC) is pushing for the draft Cyber-Crime and Computer Related Offences Bill 2014 to Parliament in March. Furthermore, the mandatory SIM cards registration is perhaps a commendable step in ensuring that all mobile users are known by name hopefully it may deter (cyber) crimes.
Slowly but surely, the Government has seen the changing landscape of Information Technology and are acting appropriately, although more can be done and achieved.
I am no expert in matters of the Internet but my advice is: “Do not put online what will come to haunt you later. There is an invisible line between what is online and what is offline, actually that line in some cases is nonexistent.”
Also, we need to talk about online violence with the same vigor used in tackling issues of FGM, AIDS, poverty and empowerment. I think cyber bulling is a weighty matter that should be discussed about. Otherwise, the trivialization of online violence in light of the pervasiveness of the practice only puts more and more young women at risk.
About the attack on Anne Kiguta, I confronted the guy (cyber bully) who had put up the photo and I am glad I did. I do not know Anne, neither does she know who I am, but that was a fellow woman who deserves respect and I stood up for her. It could have been me.
Indeed, previously violence against women meant sexual assault or battery, but now violence of a similar nature is occurring online. A comment, an update and a click at a time.
- Women and Cybercrime: the Dark Side of ICTs.
First Published here: