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Social media is a double-edged sword

There is no question social media is a double-edged sword. And celebrityville, sometimes, the price of fame is too high, with more industry players falling prey to cyber-bullying, writes Alfayo Onyango

Today, the world marks Stop Cyberbullying Day. This is a day of global positivity both on and off-line, through which everybody can get involved and use the power of the Internet for positive action. After all, the Internet can be a sea full of sharks, as gospel artiste Jimmy Gait, can attest.

“According to World Bank statistics, two out of every three people are cyber-bullied. One out of 100 commit suicide due to the same. People have fun bullying others until it is them being bullied,” intimated Jimmy.

He went on to add,“We are living in age where even young children are tech-savvy. It’s impossible to sheild them from the Internet, when it is readily available. However, it is your responsibility to ensure information they have access to is safe for consumption. There should be relevant bodies safeguarding content,’’ a sympathetic Jimmy shared.

The Furi Furi hit maker recently assembled together a host of representatives from the government, academia, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), private sector,Judiciary, political and religious spheres, for the launch of a programme called Hisiah.

This is a new platform that will touch on cyber-bullying issues and create innovative ways to curb the destructive environment the internet exposes our children to, while reducing risks of harmful content that could have major effects on their lives. The programme is supported by the slogan and objective ‘Before you click, Fikiria’.

The celebrated gospel artiste shared his heart-wrenching experience at the launch of Hisiah, attributing it to his hiatus in the music scene. 

“Last year, I was a victim of cyber-bullying after I did a cover of the song Hello by Adelle. To my surprise,  I was receiving insults and so much hate that I could not even comprehend. My world had come crashing down…I felt like the whole world was against me; I felt alone and dejected.

This had severe impact on me and led me to depression, loss of confidence and loss of appetite. I locked myself in the house for two weeks and could not be able to face anyone as I felt like everyone disliked me and knew how low my mood was.

After talking to some people close to me, I gathered some courage, and with a strong positive attitude, I was back up on  my feet again, got to the studio and released another song which you now know as Yesu Ndie Sponsor.

This song was received with a lot of ridicule, and people said I blasphemed God by calling Him sponsor, going by the understanding of the word sponsor in local social circles. So many memes were created and circulated online with my photo and ridiculing messages. This is when I decided to quit music!”

Jimmy went on to add, “The experience led to a great loss on my part: cancellation of performances, endorsements and friends, mostly due to my dented public image. Of course, given that I wasn’t earning a living, I incurred major debts, and worse, affected me emotionally, spiritually and socially! It was a dark season for me!”  

Hisia, created by Make it Or Make It NGO, is aiming to achieve behavioural change in Kenya’s global village space (The Internet). Together with Help Line Kenya, they have partnered by bringing digital stakeholders and users together.

One is able to receive professional counselling across Kenya by dialing 116 for free, texting 22477, WhatsApp the line 0707777003, or visiting [email protected] courtesy of the platform.

The programme is set to get on the ground enabling the Hisia members to visit schools, churches, and institutions to spread the message of positivity throughout the internet and workshops they will set up.

The gospel star is not the only celebrity to fall victim of cyber-bullying locally. Celebrated female mix master, DJ Pierra Makena, at the launch of Hisia campaign, narrated her traumatic experience.

“After I gave birth I was going through depression and my weight was not adding up. My doctor insisted I eat more because I needed to gain weight. I woke up one morning and I was 64 kilogrammes. You have no idea how that felt. So when somebody posts on social media how I looked terrible with my weight, it broke my heart,” shared Pierra.

The mother of one also intimated cyber-attacks made her lose a Hollywood gig after her Instagram account was hacked.

“One morning I was called by an agency in Hollywood because they wanted to see my profile on my Instagram page, but they could not because it had been hacked, and that is how I lost it,’’ she explained.

Former Machachari actor, Ian Nene, 19, also fell victim to the so-called ‘keyboard warriors’, when photos of the young actor dressed in an eccentric way surfaced on the Internet. Many even labelled him ‘gay’, citing his ‘queer’ dresscode and look.

“People hide behind screens, while they could easily mind their business. When they see you in person, they hardly keep the same energy. So, who is fooling who? I don’t gain anything from hating on another human being, so I pray for those sending shots hoping I will care on social media. We need to focus on building each other rather than destroy,” stated Ian, who is currently in the UK for further studies.

Late last year, radio queen, Adelle Onyango was chosen to be part of the panel at the Children’s Media Global Summit (CGMS) in London. One of the topics covered was impact of social media on future generations.

Adelle has been a victim of cyber-bullying multiple times, the most recent, a distasteful attack by controversial blogger, Cyprian Nyakundi, who sparked uproar when he made a sickening rape comment about the renowned radio presenter.

“How I defeat bullies is by not giving them my power. I think what’s important is to know yourself and know that you’re on a journey to knowing yourself.

It’s also to know that bullying has nothing to do with you — it’s hurting people who hurt others. It’s the bully who is going through issues, not you. Knowing this takes away the bully’s power to control you and to claim you as a victim,” shared Adelle.

Personalities Akothee, Karun, Linda Nyangweso, Larry Madowo, Willis Raburu, Janet Mbugua, DK Kwenye Beat, Avril and Julie Gichuru, join the ever-growing list of celebrities, plagued by this menace.

“As parents, we need to be vigilant. We need to control the content we expose our children to, and to teach them the harm that comes with cyberbullying,” adds Pierra.

The Cybercrime Law Bill was recently signed by President Uhuru Kenyatta. Spreading malicious information that ‘affects’ someone will lead to a fine worth Sh5 million or 10 years jail time. While the Internet advocates for freedom of expression and speech, where should you draw the line?

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