Understanding Online Harassment

Understanding Online Harassment


Picture this. A female media personality critics the President of Kenya for being indecisive and in the same breath laments the lack of a better possible alternative to the President. The article goes viral. A blogger miffed by the insinuation that his candidate of choice has been taunted inadequate goes on a revenge mission. In part he wrote: “…She thrives on shallow penetration and below the belt operation. Don’t ask me to expound. That’s why despite regular penetration by P akiaang’oa, she couldn’t give birth…” This and more examples are what constitute online harassment and hate speech.

Women Journalist’s Digital Security’, a report published in May 2016 by the Association of Media Women in Kenya (AMWIK) in partnership with Article 19 defines online harassment as the use of cyber space to intentionally intimidate and embarrass an individual or groups of people. It includes but is not limited to, receiving any threats or being insulted using the new media/social media.

The report highlights the prevalence of online harassment meted on journalists on the different social media platforms. Facebook led with 39.7 percent of online harassment, WhatsApp with 19.1 percent, blogs-16.3 percent and Twitter with 10.3 percent.

Smear campaigns against women arise from gender insensitivity, ethnicity, perceived political affiliations and sensitive subjects that cause disputes. Njoki Chege, a female Kenyan columnist has received brutal reactions from social media platforms for her often candid and controversial articles. In one of her articles she likens political bloggers to call girls. This did not augur well with the bloggers community who went on a rampage and lynched her online. In a rebuttal tweet, one person posts a picture in which young boys are holding machetes and calls for talks with the writer.

Society has also become tolerant of online abuses. Name calling, disparaging remarks and insulting comments have been accepted as the norm, hence crying foul over such incidences may show one as being ‘petty’ and too sensitive. It is not uncommon for sparks to be kindled online and become consuming fires after sometime. With hashtags and sharing mechanisms on social media people get caught up in the moment and the mob mentality fuels greater discord and hatred online. In the midst of such, it is important to find the sobering voice that will call out the madness for what it really is. We need sober voices that will propagate peace for our own good.

Sadly enough, prosecution of cybercrimes on social media platforms faces the challenge of jurisdiction because of the borderless nature of the internet. Within the national border different laws are applied, hence it is difficult to prosecute attackers from different borders. The organization of police units and their capacity to handle these crimes at county level are some of the issues that hinder timely reporting. A respondent from the research said that after reporting a case to the District Criminal Investigations Officer (DCIO) he was told that the issue was to be handled by the Cybercrime Unit which was in the capital, yet he stayed in Kisumu.

Getting justice for cybercrimes may prove a herculean task, but nonetheless we should speak up against online harassment and only then will people start taking notice and before we know it our society will be more informed on the issue. Then we will have better policies and implementation mechanisms.

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