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CITY GIRL: Why the new cybercrimes law is just what we need

Mostly using fake names, a crop of Facebook users is making life miserable to a section of Kenyans through posts packed with wild allegations. PHOTO | COURTESY
Mostly using fake names, a crop of Facebook users is making life miserable to a section of Kenyans through posts packed with wild allegations. PHOTO | COURTESY
The freedom of expression crusaders can say what they like about this new law that criminalises the publishing of false information, but looking at it from the prism of freedom alone is a selfish way of looking at things.

On Monday, a photo of a woman was posted on social media, with a caption suggesting she was the person who had been shot dead at City Park the previous day. At the time of the post, Kenyans had not yet seen pictures of the victim of the Sunday morning shooting.

Turns out, the photo posted on social media that Monday evening was that of a different Ms Wangui Waiyaki, a public relations professional.

The clueless amateurs who had posted it had no doubt earlier searched the Internet for the name “Janet Wangui Waiyaki” and landed on the LinkedIn profile of “Wangui Waiyaki”. In their ignorance, they decided that she must be the victim of the shooting and they posted the picture.

As far as they were concerned, she fitted the profile. She was pretty enough to catch the eye, a married woman — enough to spark controversy — especially since police reports suggested that the victim and the young man were caught in a compromising situation. It was the perfect recipe for a viral post.

The bloggers had done the worst they could. They had killed an innocent woman. They also posted a picture of her husband on their wedding day.

They even noted the company she was working for, her previous workplace and dared to link her “death” to business rivalry between two PR companies.

Her friends who are on social media — God bless them — tirelessly fought back the bloggers and pressured them to get their facts right. They said the Ms Wangui Waiyaki they knew was safe and sound, and was in fact, in traffic, headed home to her family.

The blogger — knowing too well that nothing would be done to him — asked Ms Wangui’s friends to be quiet or produce a picture of the woman shot by police… as if it was their duty to do so.

CHARACTER ASSASSINATION

By Tuesday morning, when the Daily Nation released the photos of the victim, Janet Wangui Waiyaki, the damage had already been done.

Today, if you search the name “Wangui Waiyaki” on social media, you will not find her personal profile, but instead posts by her friends frantically telling people that she is not dead.

Because of a couple of misguided bloggers, the professional reputation that Ms Wangui Waiyaki had worked so hard to cultivate over the years had been put in jeopardy.

This is why I totally support the 2018 Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes Act. The freedom of expression crusaders can say what they like about this new law that criminalises the publishing of false information, but looking at it from the prism of freedom alone is a selfish way of looking at things.

As someone who has been a victim of digital mudslinging and online character assassination, I can tell you there is no greater pain than being accused of nonsense that you are innocent of by bloggers who are clearly being used by rivals or people who just don’t like you.

The Internet and social media, at their inception, provided a much-needed avenue for public discourse, even democratising news and information by enabling citizen journalism and user-generated content. They did this by making audiences co-producers of content.

Social media is particularly an interesting animal in enabling public discourse because it has the capacity to become a Habermasian deliberative space — a term coined after German sociologist Jürgen Habermas.

ONLINE BULLYING

Social media, for all intents and purposes, was meant to be a “digital agora” where citizens or “netizens” could come together for deliberations that could result to public action. However, it has morphed into an Amazonian jungle, riddled with all types of idle and cantankerous animals.

Social media today — especially in the Kenyan space — has become a dangerous, toxic space where bloggers line themselves up and sell themselves to the highest bidders.

Today, you cannot do your job well — and step on some toes in the process — without finding your name soiled on social media. All because your enemies commissioned a slanderous post.

The result is a horrifying trail of Kenyans who have been victims of online bullying. Mothers have been branded “prostitutes”. Fathers have been called “paedophiles”. Innocent men have been accused of rape. Young women have been shamed. Relationships have been broken. Families have been torn apart. Careers have been destroyed and reputations damaged.

Destroying people’s lives has become as easy as clicking the “post” button.

This is why we need the new law, and especially in this case, section 22 and 23.

I hope Ms Wangui Waiyaki reads this and gathers courage to take legal action against the bloggers responsible for the false and malicious information posted this week.

Ms Waiyaki deserves an apology. More importantly, she deserves the satisfaction of seeing those deplorables brought to justice.



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