The internet, an idea mooted with good intentions, is now rife with abuse. Akua Gyekye, Facebook’s Public Policy Manager for Africa points out that misuse of online platforms constitutes cybercrime.
Young people are particularly inclined to use digital services. But as Facebook’s Public Policy Manager, Akua Gyekya cautions, users should think twice before posting any material – text or images – on social media. According to Akua, once a posting has been done, individuals, with intent, can download and have access to the material for an indefinite period of time.
The youth, opines Halimu Shauri, a professor of Sociology at Pwani University, are predisposed to abuse.
“Teenagers, through all ages, are impulsive. Adolescence primes them to revel; the world is their oyster. In other words, a young person is not as careful as a mature person would be,” Halimu offers.
Ironically, the professor observes, it is young people who commit cybercrime against their peers.
For what, you may ask.
“They have hormones in their blood streams; urging them to do this and that. And they do it with reckless abandon,” says Catherine Mbau, a psychologist.
In Mbau’s opinion, perhaps the whole humanity is guilty when it comes to teenage mishaps.
She says: “Majority of us in hindsight always ask, ‘What was I thinking’?”
Unfortunately, when young people put themselves through such vulnerability, and materials they engage in willingly are used against them, the regret comes too late and could have dire results.
In August last year, Roshanara Ebrahim, the former Miss World Kenya, was stripped of her title after nude pictures of her were leaked online by a jilted lover, Frank Zhalten.
Roshanara sued and in December was awarded Sh1, 000,000 by a court of law, charged on Frank.
She won the case. However, she knew too well that the damage had been done. Now, an unknown number of people around the world could be having access to images her naked body.
At a panel discussion held last year at Intercontinental Hotel, Zebib Kavuma, the country director of UN Women, expressed her suspicion that women are particularly soft targets for humiliation online.
Lakisha, a female student at Multi-Media University, knows exactly what Zebib means.
The young lady had broken up with a boy when she realised that naked pictures of her were being shared via Whatsapp – the social media messenger app.
“This is a man that I had trusted,” she says. “The embarrassment will last a lifetime. Every time I’m in the dining room with my friends, I still feel like everyone talks about that situation.”
Of course she trusted him. But can she be blamed for that?
According to Mbau, Lakisha was just being a young person – restless, thoughtless and naïve.
She could have been more careful. However, the person who posted her pictures for a public audience, depriving her of her right to privacy, is the criminal.
Zawadi Nyong’o, an activist, casts the net wider on cybercrime. She says: “When a video is posted online the person who uploaded that video is to be held accountable. But, those who watch, share and pass it on contribute in the crime.”
According to Mugambi Libuta, an advocate, there is no law that specifically protects against revenge porn: posting of a former lover’s naked pictures or images.
However, he says, one can sue for breach of privacy and for defamation and assassination of character, a charge that does not attract jail term.
In Roshanara’s case, Justice Muriithi, in his rulling, said that one does not waive their right to protection of privacy by taking nude photographs.
“It was clear that she had posed for the taking of the photographs. But she did not publish them or given consent for their publication,” Muriithi’s ruling read in part.
Currently, there exists a cyber security and protection bill 2016, proposed by Nyeri Senator Mutahi Kagwe. If the bill becomes law, offenders will get 30 years in jail, pay a sum of Sh300,000, or suffer both.
Speaking to Hashtag, the senator expressed optimism that legislators will see the conclusion of the proposed bill for it to become law. Should he have his way, the senator remarks that one of the most visible amendments will be hefty penalties for those who err. The international nature of these offenses, according to the senator will also see the Communications Authority of Kenya granted more power an institutional framework to allow it to carry its mandate across borders.
Nude pictures are currently rife on WhatsApp groups. Also, a popular Telegram group that started as Mafisi Channel but constantly shape-shifts to avoid detection has a constant stream of naked images – mostly of women.
Relationship expert Chris Hart admonishes young people to be careful as to how they behave around lovers. This is because there is a tendency for spiteful lovers to share their partners’ pictures on social media after a break up.
Hart further observes that revenge porn is particularly popular among young people who do it just for the fun of it.
Phineas, a student at a popular city university admits to having shown the pictures he has received from girls with his friends.
“Men are loyal to each other and we can keep things to ourselves. I think the only time a man could share a girl’s nudes with the world is when they break up,’’ Phineas says.
“Our attitude has to change,” Zebib Kavuma warns. Men tend to say, ‘she deserves it’, which is wrong.
At the Intercontinental meeting, Joe Mucheru, the minister of ICT, said that authorities need to be trained on digital forensics to be more effective in building cases against perpetrators.
Julie Oseko, a magistrate, advises that if anyone is going to be reckless, they should sign (in agreement) a document that prevents sharing of the material.
“We don’t have any specific laws on revenge porn. In the absence of a non-disclosure agreement, one can only sue for defamation and assassination of character,’’ Oseko says.
Laura, a university student, shared her nude pictures with her boyfriend in jest. The pictures ended up on Telegram.
The best way young people can protect themselves from such online abuse, says Mbau, is by avoiding sharing such content – even with lovers.
“Many will always regret what they did when they were young. But if you are smart enough you will have nothing to worry about as an adult,” Mbau says.
Plus, remember, the internet never forgets.