The unimaginable dangers that lurk in the blogosphere

As I pen this article, there are over 200 million blogs in the internet today with new ones being created every second. A weblog is defined as a frequently updated personal journal chronicling links at a Web site, intended for public viewing.  Before the 90s the only means of getting news or gossip was from magazines and tabloids, or listening in to gossip by men over a bottle of beer in bars, or over Ajua game under some old fig tree in some backwater markets or from women in salons.

In 1994 Justin Hall while still a student at Swarthmore College is said to have become the first person to create the first blog called, at that time they weren’t called blogs, and he just referred to it as his personal homepage. Then like the magazines and tabloids, the voice of blogging was limited and singular, read only by those who had access to internet and were able to find them. It is one man called Jorn Barger who was credited with coining the word weblog (A Web Log) in December 1997. It was not until mid 2000s when everyone from small country towns to large multinational companies took to running their own blogs.  From the personal journals, the weblogs took a new direction and covered all sorts of topics from bedroom gossips, to politics of State house.

According to the rise of blogging is attributed to an event when bloggers in the US focused on the comments U.S. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said regarding U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond in 2002. Lott, while praising Thurmond, stated that the U.S. would have been better off if Thurmond had been elected President in 1948. The mainstream media didn’t pick up on the comments and their potential implications until after bloggers broke the story.

In Kenya too, the mainstream media takes ages before picking on exciting news; but where they do, they still have to tweak it to suit the taste of their chief editors and their political bosses in high places. Still in  Kenya, the rise of blogs can be attributed to the politics during  the 2007/8 post election violence and the famous case of the alleged hacking of the ICC mail servers by Dennis Itumbi, now the head of  the digital wing of Kenya’s Presidential Strategic Communications Unit (PSCU) at State House Nairobi. Then boom, Robert Alai's Kahawa Tungu landed the blogosphere took a life of its own from then.

Granted bad news sells even when it is false, the news travels so fast so that by the time the veracity of the matter is confirmed, it has created sensation among internet users and the general public for anyone to care much thereafter. Rather than just sit there and be left behind, Kenya’s main stream media have also employed the services of bloggers, though a keen look at their blogs and online news show more of plagiarism from other blogs.

It is often said that the Jubilee coalition managed to marshal top notch bloggers on their side ahead of 2013 General elections who with dexterity, were able to deliver lethal propaganda messages to the public much more effectively than CORD’s lackadaisical traditional way of trying to look like statesmen and champions of democracy- an old school mentality that if they continue to carry into the 2017 elections, they would still be beaten. The same PR Juggernaut has continued 3 years into Jubilee’s reign even when they are down ten nil against the opposition.

All over the world including Kenya, Bloggers have over time received praise and criticism in equal measure. Pro bloggers say the blogosphere has been very  instrumental in providing voices and documenting stories of the marginalized and the voiceless, thus blogs have been credited with preserving and nurturing minor and diminishing small language groups; bringing together survivors of rare illness and providing unsolicited advice and support to anyone who is seeking it.

The most recent example is Biko Zulu’s blog about a 22-year-old Emmanuel ‘Jadudi’ Otieno. The story titled ‘That Thing in Jadudi’s Head’, appealed readers to help raise Sh1 million and within a few days, Sh5 million was raised. We later had the 'baby Fidelis Muthoni’s internet fund drive' which raised Sh2.8million before the fund’s manager Joseph Wanjau, aka Alejandro Wanjau of Hope Foundation took off with the money meant for the treatment of the young girl. He was later smoked from his hideout but only a paltry Sh.200, 000 had been left in the account. Wanjau proved to be the ultimate Lord of Poverty!

We have also had human right issues ranging from police brutalities, children rights and cases of corruption brought to light via the internet. This has had its most avid sentinel in the form of Kenyans on Twitter a.k.a KOT and the Kenyans on social media –KOS. Blogging has also made it possible to have a direct dialogue between author(s) and audience, allowing for a more intimate connection and current communication exchange much easier than would be with the main stream media. Blogs provide decentralized information dissemination over a wide range of opinions.

Bloggers have often been able to go beyond the face value with which the main stream media reports issues. This formulae has been used to effectively ege out mainsteam media. When the Kenya government became adamant about the sugar deal with Uganda, bloggers were able to dig into the archives and came up with some clips purporting to quote a Ugandan minister confirming the existence of a signed deal between Kenya and Uganda over sugar importation.

Whether it is authentic or not, the main stream media has been left clutching on straws over the sugar debate since for most internet users, the principle is, ‘it is not true until the Government denies it.’

However critics point at a scenario where there seems to be a new breed of bloggers operating like sharks ready to pounce at the opportune moment.  Bloggers have been accused of wreaking marriages, relationships and businesses or just simply creating a tempest over a matter only to turn around to blackmail the-would-be victims. Writing elsewhere in the Saturday Nation Kinoti Gatobu, posited: "There’s money in writing, but only for smart writers."

The blogosphere in Kenya seems to be predominantly run by middle level college graduates, college dropouts or the kind of fellows that have been classified as Persona non Grata in some universities, I need to do a research on that next time.

The dark and ugly side of blogging in Kenya came to the fore with the leaking of an audio clip in which two self-styled Twitter bigwigs, Arthur Mandela, and Cyprian Nyakundi (@C_NyakundiH), were accused of allegedly extorting money from Bidco, a leading manufacturer of cooking oil and soap in east Africa. If the clip is proven to be true, it would be a glimpse of  just how blogging in Kenya has mutated into a more sinister activity.  This criminal activity has not spared small businesses either. Now if you thought Mungiki was ruthless, welcome to the world of cybercrime!

While politicians are out to score some cheap political points, the bloggers often threaten to release incremenating evidence to the mainstream journalists just to get some pocket change.

The only other group known to use such a devastating line of intimidation are the street urchins holding feaces on your face to give them money or they splash you with the smelling stool. They sometimes make good their threat if you become reluctant. Just before the Bidco extortion saga, there was an alleged sms tiff allegedly between Robert Alai and Governor Kidero doing rounds alluding to an extortion claim.

Bloggers can be very intrusive, their posts range from true stories to the outlandish River road type of insinuations that can sometimes cut deep into a man’s privacy. Blogging in most countries operates as a non-regulated publishing profession, with articles filled with spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, factual biase and a poorly structured arguments. It however goes without saying that there are positive roles many have played in bringing the desired changes in the society by use of blogs. Especially in the case of Biko Zulu’s That Thing in Jadudi’s Head.

It is good to embrace technology but avoid the malicious behaviour.