A Transformation from a villain to an ambassador against cyberbullying

By Caroline Boyani

“I was just fresh from high school, naive and Internet illiterate and only few years down the line I got to understand the magnitude of my actions, “says Brenda, not her real name. Brenda is twenty-three years old and studies Mechanical Engineering in one of the universities in Kenya. She was an online abuser who didn’t take note of the magnitude of her actions.

Online violence is when someone uses electronic or digital devices  to cause, facilitate or threaten violence against individuals that may result in physical, sexual, psychological or economic harm. Statistics show that in the United States of America 59% of teenagers have experienced cyber bullying, 14.5% of children between the age of 9-12 being survivors of online bullying but 66.3% of teens tried to help survivors of cyber bullying. Cyberbullying includes sending, posting, or sharing negative, harmful, false or mean content about someone else.

Brenda elaborates how petty she thought cyber bullying is. ” I thought that joking about people’s body was alright and insulting someone on the Internet did not warrant consequences,” she said. She would see a meme about someone being fat and comment on with a person she knew who that way and she was got away with it. For her she never considered what the other party felt or the consequences of her words to the other party.

All this worsened when she started hating on her former primary school classmate. They had fallen out and when she saw her on Facebook, her malicious side was awoken. ” I remember I didn’t know how to delete a comment from Facebook then, I just thought it will disappear after twenty-four hours like Whatsapp status.” she narrates. ” Being new to Facebook I didn’t know the difference between replying privately and publicly to a person, I just insulted her and only later  realized it was public,” Brenda said.

When you are not the affected party this gives you a certain sense of satisfaction but after you reason it out you find that you have caused harm not just to the other party but to yourself too. ” Later on, I learnt how Facebook works and I apologized to my former classmate though I couldn’t take back my words but I regret my actions,” Brenda expresses. This is a story of many that found themselves on the wrong path but fortunately found a way to redeem themselves.

In Kenya cyber bullying is punishable by law. This offence can attract a 20 million shillings fine or a 10- year prison sentence or both according to section 27 of the Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes Act,2018. Most people have not recognized cyber bullying as a real threat and rarely report it to the authorities. Platforms  like KOT(Kenyans on Twitter) have normalized online violence as other countries and individuals have to think twice before attacking Kenya online because of the responses of Kenyan ‘ keyboard warriors’. Various organizations have tried their best at sensitizing the public on the dangers and consequences of cyber bullying and a notable change can be seen.

Cyber bullying causes fear, shame and sometimes leads to suicide.” I came to learn about cyber bullying through a talk we had at a certain conference, and it really hit me  that I could’ve led to serious consequences.” she said.” This is even worse when you tell people that you were an abuser, they stigmatize you and call you all sort of names,” Brenda explained. The world views you from the abuser perspective rather than from the point of view of a person who changed her ways” she elaborated. We mostly do not give people second chances to see if they really changed. In most cases, we judge people from past mistakes

” I am now an ambassador of cyber security. Cyber bullying is a vice and should be eradicated,” she said. She called upon the government and public to put in place regulations to protect everyone from cyber bullying. She also called on the public to embrace those who were once perpetrators but have now “seen the light”  and are seeking redemption.” If we do not show them that we now trust them and are glad they changed there is a possibility of them going back to their old behaviours,” said Brenda.

Brenda says that people should understand the new technology leaves a footprint of your actions.” The Internet never forgets,” she said. When you tweet about something, 20 years later it could still be there. Other people  such as your children, family or even employers will be able to see it. No matter how you feel about something, do not use a rude way to express yourself or revenge but instead use appropriate methods.” In the conference we were told employers these days ask for your social media handles so make sure you are on the safe side,” said Brenda. Idris Muktar, a CNN producer is an example of someone who lost his job because of a post he tweeted when he was 15 years old.

Cyber bullying is  real and it happens to people daily, we should not continue to be ignorant and arrogant. Let’s hold hands together and fight it the same way we fight terrorism. It’s always better to prevent than cure. I believe spreading love than hate will go a longer way in making the world a better place. Sensitization of people to understand what cyber bullying is and how one can avoid it is key to making our online spaces safe for all

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