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Bullies ruining lives at the click of mouse

By -GARDY CHACHA | May 11th 2013


The mention of a bully paints the picture of a ruthless school or neighbourhood boy out to terrorise other children and make their life miserable. GARDY CHACHA, however, found out that bullying is much more than that

Her name was Mirfat, or so we presume. Her entry into the public stage was through the famous relationships programme, Tujuane, which features on KTN. Her mistake? Captioning her first impression of a fairly eligible bachelor, George, as ‘pathetic’ and sanctimoniously bragging that she doesn’t eat fries (chips), as she isn’t that ‘cheap’. Ruthlessly discrediting a son of the land proved to be a big mistake.

Having angered an affable percentage of TV watching Kenyans, Mirfat had to face up to a blitzkrieg of online travesty.

Postings — risqué, abusive and scathing — did rounds alongside pictures of her (frozen from the clip) in social media, drawing ire and sophomoric humour alike. Even though the sullying that took place online couldn’t put a dent on her supple and admirable light skin, the avalanche of whimsical jokes must have terrified Mirfat. Rumour mill had it that she went into reclusion as a result.

character assassination

The overnight fame created a swirl of punditry with her employer — a famous female news anchor — coming to her defence while another female anchor supported her, posting that the online bullying Mirfat was being subjected to was unfair and unwarranted. Welcome to bullying in the age of information technology: Fast, furious, abrasive, exposing and most of all, despicable.

“Bullying could include verbal abuse, snide remarks, character assassination, isolation, discrimination, humiliation, slander and surveillance. However, the bullying Kenyans are acquainted to is what happens in schools,” says Dr Lilian Kimani, organisational development specialist director at St Paul’s University.

“It continues even at work place and in other sectors of life. Anyone, irrespective of personality or ability, can be bullied. The victim often feels helpless and unable to defend himself or herself,” she adds.

Many dread bullying of any kind. Renee Odera, who lives in Nairobi, says bullying portends lethal effects to a victim. Talking about Mirfat’s case, Renee says that however much she stated something that was perceived as vile, she didn’t deserve to be attacked in that manner. According to her, cyber bullying is propagated by cowards who have psychological issues; individuals who can’t show face because they are afraid of facing the same fate.

She adds: “When people you don’t know post uncanny jokes about your sexuality, family, moral standing and values just because they saw you on national television in a 45-minute programme, then it goes into your head. They have never met you or sat down with you to understand who you are. So, it feels creepy and humiliating when you open your page and read insults towards you.”

Even so, many personalities have been easy targets from individuals masquerading as public prosecutors behind computer screens. A group page celebrating the ‘death’ of Caroline Mutoko — radio personality known for her nail-on-the-head-bareknuckle approach to issues — is just an example. Avril and Kaz, both local artistes had to deal with the hot air of shame swiveling around them when their nude pictures circulated on the Internet, parading them to all and sundry. Humiliating comments like “she is just a f***ing b***h just doing her thing” were posted by individuals with anonymous profile names and pictures too.


Cyber bullying, it seems, does not even respect authority as Chief justice Willy Mutunga found out recently: People who seemed not amused by his ruling after the presidential petition, bayed for his blood and he appeared to swallow the bait by replying back to wild allegations of bribery. This only brought forth more Internet hoodlums with not so kind words for the studded respected member of legal practice.

Wycliffe Onyalo, an IT specialist understands how bad technology can be misused by narcissistic people to vengefully vent at a person who, from across a computer interphase, can do nothing to seek recourse.


“Internet connects people worldwide,” he explains. “Therefore, when I do something in Kenya, it can be accessed by anybody anywhere, as long as they are connected to the Internet. You become exposed to the whole world and the experience could be traumatising.”

Wycliffe states that cyber bullying is a phenomenon that hitherto not many Kenyans understand, but with Internet percolating beyond towns and electronic gadgets becoming increasingly available to many, it is important that people understand how to deal with it.

Kate Gitahi from Nakuru can’t imagine how painful it would be to undergo a public crucifixion like what Mirfat went through. She equally agrees that it is wrong. How would one handle it?

 “As a believer, I would pray about it and try to talk to close people when I feel overwhelmed. I won’t allow myself to sink into an abyss when I am certain that I know myself more than the bullies think they know me,” she says.

Catherine Mbau, a psychologist and director at Arise Counselling Centre captures how the mind of a bully works.

“A bully thrives on the weaknesses of a victim. The bully makes it difficult, if not impossible, for their victim to find a fair forum to argue her part. This eventually damages the self-esteem, self-respect, dignity, reputation as well as the health of their victims,” she says.

Catherine notes that bullying does not take place in confined spaces, but rather as others watch either to enjoy the spectacle, or because they are afraid of being attacked, too. This means by spectating from the side, even the public becomes part of the problem. She lists various tools a bully harbours to hurt their victim: Lies, manipulation, control and abusive language.

While many might discredit the magnitude to which cyber bullying affects a person, Catherine admonishes that danger lurks in the shadows.

“The victim will likely go through denial that numbs the painful experience. They can even start blaming and hating themselves for the whole scenario. This, however, would just be in the beginning,” she says.

Just like the psychologist, Lillian says that a victim can become angry with him or herself and may project anger issues towards the people they love, and also with themselves. She, however, explains that the anger is the result of internalising what the bully posts and slowly falling for the trap as the victim believes more and more that they actually are “stupid, dirty and loose”.

Psychosomatic disorders

“The victim becomes angry to the label of being immoral. After burn out, chances are that the target will develop psychological stress, which might lead to depression or manifest as psychosomatic disorders due to the anxiety and pent-up emotions. Frustration, anger and helplessness become part of her misery,” says Dr Lillian.

She adds that apart from psychological problems, physical symptoms such as constant headaches, insomnia, lethargy, heart palpitations, panic attack, hypersensitivity and loss of appetite follow suit. If the symptoms are not addressed, says Lillian, they progress to full-blown depression and feelings of suicide or radical reactions like running away from home.

Like Kate, Renee thinks that the best way to handle bullying would be to rise above their claims, walking with the head held high and realising that the bullies cannot hurt one beyond the computer.

Lily Velasquez, dubbed the ugliest woman by cyber bullies because of her life-long illness that doesn’t allow her body to manufacture fat alongside a raft of other effects, told Dr Drew Pinsky of America’s HLN: “These are just words from people afraid to show their faces. I won’t let them hurt me.”

Since cyber bullying is just beginning in Kenya, we could borrow a leaf.



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