Cyber-bullying surges in Zim lockdown:By Kennedy Nyavaya
By lunch time on Friday, a local Twitter user under the handle @ShadayaKnight had once again become a leading trend, eclipsing politics and information about the global coronavirus plague, on the micro-blogging site.
With over 40 000 followers on his account now, the controversial character’s claim to fame had been sparked by a demeaning rant in response to radio presenter Samantha “MisRed” Musa’s tweet on Thursday night.
“To those who didn’t see my worth, thank you for setting me free….” @iMisRed had captioned her picture in a skimpy blazer dress before Shadaya charged:
“More than one baby daddy and you still think men are the problem,” he commented accompanying his words with facepalm emojis.
Naturally, his comment has attracted an assortment of views from across the social media divide with some criticising him heavily while others gave the thumbs-up.
This was not the first time he has courted controversy, as he sparked the ire of many in the international community following a sexist thread on the same platform in January.
At face value his submissions appear to be one of the many casual comments that take place on the cyberspace except they are more than that and amount to cyber bullying, a recurrent enigma in the country.
With a spike in users and yet no regulations, the internet has become a hard hat area as was proven by the aforementioned’s harassment and retaliation over the same matter.
Cyber-bullying can be defined as the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) to harass, threaten, embarrass, or target another person.
Perpetrators usually achieve their ends by spreading sensitive information, rumours and falsehoods via platforms like emails, texts, Facebook and Instragram among others.
In this instance, not only did Shadaya assume MisRed had been talking about men, but he also sought to use public information about her to sarcastically insinuate that there is something wrong with having more than one child with different fathers.
Surprisingly, he was not alone if some of the derogatory and mocking comments that followed, validating his claim, are anything to go by.
Of late, perhaps as a result of the 21-day lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19, there appears to be a lot more energy invested online and this has seen a surge in forms of online abuse including trolls, revenge porn and stalking, among others.
Local lawyer and trustee of the Zimbabwe Anti Cyber-bullying Trust (ZACBT) Takunda Gombiro said the lockdown could be the reason there is a spotlight on the contentious issue of cyber bullying.
“With a lot of time on people’s hands, naturally social media is an easy escape, but unfortunately others are taking the opportunity to lower their moral compass and cyber-bully in the process,” said Gombiro.
According to him, cyber bullying has redefined the public perception concerning fundamental rights exposing the absence of reciprocal respect as well as lack of balance among most people online.
“There is disparity in the exercise of rights such as freedom of conscience, freedom of expression, access to information and inhuman and degrading treatment,” he said.
“Specifically the behaviour of citizens appears to cling to one right at the exclusion of the others and there is significant lack of balance and mutual respect.”
True to his sentiments, the ardent use of communication devices, especially smartphones, and subsequent rise of social media users has resulted in the creation of unrestrained communication channels between people from different places and backgrounds.
In most instances this is done to amass more followers, likes and attention with Shadaya, who has ironically complained of being bullied too at some point, getting all this and praises since Friday.
Essentially the absence of punitive regulations has created an environment where hate speech and intimidation of all sorts can thrive and women are seemingly the hardest hit.
Anti-cyber bullying activist and founder of ZACBT Tafadzwa Mushunje said while anyone is a potential victim of the phenomenon, women constitute a larger chunk of those on the receiving end.
“Women are affected the most. “However, this does not mean that men are always the bullies and women are the only ones who are being bullied, but there are clear gender differences in online harassment itself,” said Mushunje.
“Men are to a larger extent attacked for their opinions, whereas women receive comments related to their gender and appearance, but all of it is wrong and should stop.”
The rich, famous, poor and even dead have all been victims in the malpractice that everyone on and offline is vulnerable to.
While MisRed may have been compelled to respond politely to the abuse, she recently admitted to being susceptible to such attacks.
”I have a lot of people who have a lot to say [on social media] and you have people that think they know me,” she explained her ordeal with bullies to media owner Trevor Ncube on his online TV show in February.
“…I go out and say my truth in the hope that someone else can bring out their truths and maybe share and resonate with the story, but it has been hard, people are just cruel.”
Meanwhile, research shows that hate speech, insults, threats and revenge porn, among other expressions, are dominating social media causing domestic violence, suicidal tendencies and social withdrawal amongst the victims yet the law is not doing much, says Gombiro.
“The computer crimes and cyber-crime bill is still to be made law and the current laws are not being enforced with meaningful vigour to send a message so enforcement mechanisms are seriously depressed,” he said.
Local statistics remain unclear on its impact, but cyber bullying could be causing more psychological, emotional and physical damage than is imagined in the country.
Many are guilty and sometimes recklessly fuel it without noticing, but one should picture it happening to themselves or those dear to them to understand why it is both unnecessary and uncalled for.
Whereas it is hard to bring perpetrators to book because of lax laws and complexity of finding evidence, the potential harm cyber bullying could cause should be enough to compel any sober-minded individual to avoid being the perpetrator or complicit facilitator