Tagged: digital

Re-Imagining Social Norms on the Internet

(iHub Research’s session script from #FIFAfrica2018)

Since the mid-1990s, the Internet has had a revolutionary impact on culture, commerce, and technology, including the rise of near-instant communication by electronic mail, instant messaging, voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephone calls, two-way interactive video calls, and the World Wide Web with its discussion forums, blogs, social networking, and online shopping sites.

With over 4 billion people on the internet, this number is only set to grow, especially with the age at which users are getting online steadily decreases.In Africa we have over 464 million users, with more male users than female.

Before we proceed let’s take a closer look at culture.

Culture is the totality of socially transmitted behaviour patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought.  The internet’s genesis may not be African, but the very essence of having Africans on the internet, makes the internet African. Our unique identity marker, being african through our African culture, naturally spills onto the internet, making it unique to our own African reality.

What is African culture? How do we define it for ourselves?

Africa, a continent of 54 countries and over 2,000 tribes and languages spoken boasts a diversity unique, the world over. Clearly, Africa is not a country. However, our culture brings us together. Central to African culture, is the existence of values. A value here being a point of view or conviction; to live by and even in some cases die for. If we look at African values, they fall in different categories:

  • Social Values
  • Moral Values
  • Religious Values
  • Political Values
  • Aesthetic Values
  • Economic Values

Culture is passed on from generation to generation. The acquisition of culture is a result of the socialisation process. Culture is not static, it is dynamic, over the years coming from external as well as internal influences and humankind progression, as development occurs. If we look at African culture today, it has definitely expanded and contracted to accommodate the people we are today.

Cultural norms should seek to include rather than exclude people from participating in it, and hence the reason why these norms evolve over the years as people do across generations.

The year is 2018, African culture today is an integral part, when it comes to online interactions. The conversations had by Africans online, are for the most part informed by our culture. This is exhibited by the languages used, discourse on religion, arguments regarding gender roles and even enjoyment of art amongst other topics.

In our research conducted on Kenyan Women’s experiences online, we found out that:

  1. Women of different profiles experience the internet differently
  2. Women of different profiles get harassed online
  3. Women of different profiles respond differently to harassment online
  4. Women of different profiles need different support to be safer online

Another very important hypothesis that we validated from our research was that, women are harassed just for being women and this unwarranted abuse, often takes an ugly sexual turn. Patriarchal systems (those controlled by men) are pervasive in our schools, in our workplaces, our churches and even in our homes. So it it only natural that the internet wasn’t left behind.

But how does this serve us? Apart from preventing women from participating online and reducing the potential of connecting the next billion?

Negative and harmful traditional practices that dehumanise people and portray them as unimproved and backward people without future, should as a matter of urgency be discarded since culture is an adaptive system together with values that play a central role in giving the society its uniqueness. (Idang 2015)

This is what patriarchal systems do, they dehumanise and portray women as less than.

Using the example of FGM, this was a part of african practises, it is a practise that has been abolished because it risked the lives of women and took away their autonomy over their own bodies. Our beliefs regarding Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) evolved, why can’t we re-imagine our position when it comes to other cultural norms and practises that harm rather than add value to our collective identity?

In this room we have a group of digital rights stakeholders, keen on securing internet freedom for all, regardless of sexual identity, age, religious beliefs and occupational identity. Our goals are pretty audacious, realistic, but audacious all the same:

  1. Connect the next billion?!
  2. Close the gender gap online?!

Cultural norms are inhibiting us from reaching our goals as digital rights stakeholders, so how are we addressing that? Beyond increasing infrastructural coverage, digital literacy, policy reform how are we fixing the disconnect between our cultural norms and digital rights goals?

At the iHub we are taking the time to address these cultural norms that are inhibiting our progress online one user at a time, by providing young people with informal spaces to challenge these beliefs.

#NotTheCost: Violence Against Women in Politics

Political violence can be experienced by people of all genders, involved at any level of the political process, it can happen online as well as offline and to individuals of different spectrums of experience in the political landscape. However, violence against women in politics is meted specifically against women because of their gender and has the following distinct characteristics:

  • It specifically targets women because of their gender
  • It can present as gendered, this is by the use of sexist threats and sexual violence
  • Its impact is to discourage women in particular from being or becoming politically active

Between the dates of 19th and 21st of June, NDI ran a workshop whose objective was to equip key civil society groups working on women empowerment, on how to understand and tackle violence against women in politics. In the course of the workshop it became obvious the inseparable aspect of violence offline and online and just how violence against women specifically in politics looks like.

Unlike many other workshops that are overwhelmingly theoretical, this 3 day workshop was unique in that there were significant activities and technical aspects of the agenda. This culminated in a key task focused on contextualising VAW in politics specific for Kenya, by building a lexicon that exhibits abuse and harassment in our Kenyan context.

The workshop also introduced the opportunity that technology, lends to such work, enabling the study of phenomena relating to online violence especially in instances where analysis of vast amounts of data is required, as in this case which involves the analysis of online abuse on social media platforms such as Twitter.

As women make advancements towards equality in politics, there is an evident pushback both online and offline against women participating in the political process and even in any discourse relating to politics. Unfortunately, the impact of this is women avoiding participation and experiencing apprehension when venturing or existing in Political spaces. Kenya is no stranger to violence against women in politics, with prominent women politicians facing the biggest brunt of violence especially online. In Kenya, women form 52% of the population and just as the Twitter hashtag #WeAre52pc achieves to communicate, having women adequately represented in parliament is not only about equality, fighting historical political bias against women, but also required by our Constitution that stipulates the 2/3rd gender rule, thus rendering the current parliament unconstitutional because it fails to achieve this.

Article 81 (b) states: “Not more than two-thirds of the members of elective or appointive bodies shall be of the same gender”.

As we fight for more women to be represented in Kenyan political discourse, systems and structures it’s more important than ever to ensure that women can be politically active without experiencing any form of discrimination, harassment or assault. Violence is NOT the cost of politics. #NotTheCost

What Next?

In collaboration with NDI some representatives from the workshop delegates will be supporting the #NotTheCost project to bring a human aspect to the computational methods being used to study online violence, by analysing (coding) a surfeit of data that will be in form of tweets in order to produce accurate evidence based research to better understand violence against Kenyan women in politics.

Find here preliminary findings by the NDI from pilots in Cote d’Ivoire, Honduras, Tanzania and Tunisia on Analysing Violence Against Women in Political Parties.

This work is also in line with our #InternetFreedom project that is supported by the Ford Foundation where we are working towards enhancing the experiences of women online.

In the Aftermath of Ifikie Wazazi: Social Media, Safety and Consent

The hashtag Ifikie Wazazi (I will not link it in order to avoid affording any more visibility to the hashtag) whose objective was to expose young Kenyans, mostly minors to their parents in order to instil discipline upon them, albeit in this convoluted mechanism, recently rocked our social media timelines and still dominates a lot of conversations offline with the theme “Where are the Youth of our country really headed?”. This will not be a ‘morality’ (whatever that means to you) post, there’s hundreds of hot takes online that do that justice, this post will however cover issues on consent, privacy and online safety.

A quick summary of the hashtag and its contents:

On 11th April is when the first tweet under the hashtag appeared, which consisted of screen grabs from Whatsapp of sexually provocative images of young kenyans presenting as couples in various states of undress. The images even though some didn’t reveal the faces, were albeit tagged with the handles of the subjects. It seems that the individuals sharing the images are mutual friends who had access to those captioned and chose to share them with the wider public with words like: “kasongee mpaka kanisa yao” let it reach even their churches; “Iendelee kapsaa ifikie husband to be” let it continue until it reaches their husband to be; “Hii ifike mpaka ancestors” this one let it reach the ancestors. This “ifikie wazazi” momentum seemed to have began on Whatsapp.

Whatsapp

According to a 2017 report released by Nendo, Whatsapp has over 12 million monthly1 active users1 with this figure set to grow as levels of internet penetration in the country continue to increase. As with most cases of increased connectivity the increase of cybersecurity issues tend to also follow suit as more and more people get online, especially without the adequate education as is the case with many Kenyans who are not aware or overly worried about issues relating to privacy, security and safety online.

Whatsapp is in comparison ‘private’ as compared to Twitter, because of the very reason that you can only view someone’s status (Snapchat’s story function encrypted clone) if you are mutual contacts, with the other person as long as that they have not hidden their story from you. It is evident Whatsapp wasn’t giving the hashtag the life it needed to actually ‘fikia wazazi’ aka reach the parents. On Twitter is where the hashtag got injected with the steam it needed to permeate all our social media timelines and even the television screens in our homes.

The Law

For this section of the post I will outline Section 26 through 28 of Part IV of the Cybersecurity and Protection Bill 20162 and why in this case ‘Ifikie Wazazi’ dangerously infringed the law or where infractions casually came too close for comfort.

  1. A person who, through any computer system or network, proposes, grooms or solicits to meet a child for the purpose of engaging in sexual activities with the child, commits an offence and shall be liable upon conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding twenty five years or to a fine not exceeding two hundred and fifty thousand shillings or both.

If we made the assumption that the subjects in the photographs were minors, or where one was a minor and/or the one taking the photographs was an adult this could be an instance where some type of solicitation or grooming took place to create sexually provocative scenes and images. This setting if not illegal could very well pose risky in the event minors are in any way involved.

  1. A person who intentionally transmits or causes the transmission of any communication through a

computer system or network to bully, threaten or harass another person, where such communication

places another person in fear of death, violence or bodily harm, commits an offence and is liable on

conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding five years or a fine not exceeding two hundred thousand shillings or both.

  1. A person who transfers, publishes, or disseminates, including making a digital depiction available for distribution or downloading through a ‘telecommunications network or through any other means of

transferring data to a computer, the intimate image of another person commits an offence and is liable, on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding thirty years or fine not exceeding three hundred thousand shillings or both.

The very nature of the hashtag, which was either uploading and/or sharing (via the Retweet function) pictures of young kenyans which we have already established were sexually provocative (whether they were minors or not) with the intent to shame constitutes bullying, threatening and harassment with the intent to embarrass and invoke punishment by the guardians of the subjects. Furthermore, as a result of these pictures these subjects faced an inordinate amount of threatening, targeted harassment for the mere fact that they took these pictures and were now available for the entire of Kenyans on Twitter to critique.

As I have mentioned in several of my blog posts on the iHub website, women online face more harassment than men and even by perusing the comments on the hashtag there seems to be more negative sentiments and comments targeting the women as compared to the men most definitely attributed to the patriarchal nature of Kenyan culture.

Aftermath

Reports in the media have reported that police officers stormed Nairobi Michuki Park where several teenagers were arrested while engaging in illicit activities including taking nude and semi-nude images. Beyond these repercussions of jail time, there is other elements that the subjects of these pictures have had to grapple with since the hashtag surfaced.

We may not be willing to acknowledge this but one of the more common effects of cyberbullying and online harassment, especially on this scale and targeted at minors is emotional degradation that may even result in lifelong scars especially if not addressed by seeking professional health.

We all know “the internet never forgets” and unfortunately, the images and names associated with the Ifikie Wazazi hashtag have been immortalised by the internet and this presents the subjects with an impossible situation considering the compromising pictures that will probably plague them into the future when trying to establish both professional and personal relationships.

Conclusion

According to the Internet Users statistics the African continent contributes just over 10% of the global internet users, with this number set to increase as well as the impact of the digital economy, this is not the time to discourage more users getting online (especially the youth who consist more than half of our populations), but encourage more to get online albeit with the necessary education of how to do it safely and most effectively.

Many users online have weighed in on their opinion of the hashtag as well as its aftermath. However, in my opinion one thing remains extremely evident is that Kenyans both young and old and especially those who participated in the hashtag whether willingly or without consent need to be equipped with more resources to educate them of their rights online and how to protect themselves online in the face of highly charged state of social media platforms in Kenya.

As I come to the end of this post I would also like to question how exactly the Cybersecurity and Protection Bill 2016 is currently being enforced, is it protecting users? Was it crafted with Kenyan’s rights in mind? Is it being used for intimidation or any unlawful actions? Is it ambiguous? All these questions when answered effectively, can steer us closer to having an ideal policy that protects its users while also prioritising the sustainability and freedom of online spaces in Kenya.

iHub through the Research initiative recently launched their online safety workshops, the first phase specifically targeting young women enrolled in tertiary institutions. In the event you are interested in attending or replicating similar trainings for members of your institution please reach out to us on research@ihub.co.ke

1State of the Internet in Kenya Report 2017

https://www.ifree.co.ke/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/State-of-the-Internet-in-Kenya-report-2017.pdf

2Cybersecurity and Protection Bill 2016

http://www.kenyalaw.org/kl/fileadmin/pdfdownloads/bills/2016/CyberSecurityandProtectionBill_2016.pdf