Of revenge porn, cyber bullies, and privacy

Fungai Lupande Court Reporter
A few weeks ago, a local non-governmental organisation, Katswe Sisterhood, petitioned Parliament to enact a law barring revenge pornography to protect individuals from having their nude pictures or videos published without their consent. In the petition, the young women-led movement raised concern at the growing breach of privacy through publishing of explicit images and video footage to humiliate, intimidate, dehumanise and degrade people’s lives in general and women’s lives and livelihoods in particular.

Revenge pornography is defined as the distribution of sexually explicit pictures or videos of an individual without their consent mainly done by a scorned ex-lover to seek revenge after a relationship has gone sour.

Social media has become a dwelling place for haters where they say damaging statements.

It has seen the birth of gossip blogs and Facebook groups that generate frivolous and scandalous stories.

People post pictures and texts of their ex-lovers and those they hate without their consent accompanied with derogatory messages.

Social media gives people freedom of expression but others are using that freedom to blackmail, torment, threaten, harass, humiliate and embarrass their ex-lovers and people they hate.

Recently, a malicious post on a blog, Musvo Zimbabwe alleged that a Harare model Tafadzwa Mushunje, injected her boyfriend’s two-year-old son with HIV-infected blood.

Pictures of the model and her boyfriend were circulated on WhatsApp groups accompanied by the damaging story.

She was later arrested and cleared by the court.

This is not an isolated case. Another Harare man, Rashid Mahiya has seen his fair share of the ruthlessness of social media.

Mahiya’s pictures are being circulated on WhatsApp groups accompanied by a message which suggests that he caused the death of a student at a polytechnic college.

The message goes on to say Mahiya has ringworms all over his body and is targeting young women.

Whether it is true or not, it is illegal to parade someone’s HIV status without their consent.

These offensive social media posts are aimed at upsetting and damaging people’s reputation.

On several occasions the police have dismissed salacious social media reports as false.

A recent post was of a Hatcliffe man, who is alleged to have kidnapped a little boy and killed him.

The man was said to have been arrested at Chirundu Boarder Post on his way to Tanzania to sell the boy’s body parts for rituals. It, however, turned out the picture originated from Nigeria.

The police have warned people against circulating false information or risk arrest.

Sadly, no one has been arrested yet.

People who have too much free time on their hands and some who tend to lose out if a relationship ends are doing tremendous damage with just a mobile phone.

Some even go further and blackmail their partners and threaten to leak sex videos or text messages if they do not provide what they want.

Women usually suffer in silence as it is taboo for them to cheat hence having such published reduces the “value” of a woman and society also frowns on them.

Celebrities and the rich also fall prey to these cruel posts.

Some imposters set up profiles in the name of the victim just to spite them.

In South Africa, Muvhango actress Phindile Gwala also fell victim to a Facebook imposter.

An unknown person created a Facebook account using the actress’ name and pictures then started hurling insults to her fans and acquaintances.

Then, dethroned Miss Zimbabwe, Emily Kachote had a nemesis.

An imposter created a Facebook page in her name and started posting nude pictures.

She reported the matter to Marlborough Police Station.

Being abused on social media is not only an African problem, even the most famous celebrities like Beyonce Knowles have not been spared.

One Beyonce fan had no kind words for a man who posted on Tina Knowles’ Instagram threatening to assassinate the music superstar.

The cyber bully, Instagram user Aviante4921 wrote, “I’m going to assassinate your daughter. Master plan I could only imagine what that blood smells like that movie Carmen she played in is coming back to haunt her.”

Beyonce’s fan responded on Instagram, “I have your account reported to the FBI @aviante4921. Never think that because you are posting anonymously that you are anonymous from the authorities. This is a very heavy thing to say and you will be in custody maximum of one week from today.”

Not only people but also corporate entities have fallen victim to malicious messages on WhatsApp.

In February this year NMB bank had its worst nightmare after WhatsApp messages urged people to withdraw their money because the bank was under threat of curatorship.

The messages went viral.

However, NMB dismissed the messages and reassures its depositors that the bank was on sound financial footing.

Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) moved in to clear the chaos confirming that NMB Bank is financially safe and sound with no threats to its liquidity

Besides social media being interactive, making information accessible and connecting people worldwide, it has its evil side.

An Information Technology expert, Liquid Telecom Managing Director and Group Executive Southern Africa Mr Wellington Makamure said it is difficult to trace the owner of online blogs or websites.

“Details of the source or owner cannot be revealed by the hosting companies especially outside Zimbabwe,” he said.

“We are only able to trace up to the domain registrar. It is easy to trace a .co.zw <http://co.zw/> domain registered in Zimbabwe as registration details are locally kept by the Zimbabwe Internet Service Providers Association (ZISPA) which is an association of all Zimbabwean Internet service providers ISPs and Internet access providers IAPs.

“However, tracing can be done with the assistance of the international hosting companies wherever necessary.”

Mr Makamure bemoaned lack of legislation in Zimbabwe that overrides the right to privacy.

He added that tracking cyber bullies is a painfully slow and expensive process which requires a lot of patience especially when dealing with social media providers such as Google, Facebook and apple.

“There is need for local service providers to install monitoring software but which then tend to go against customer privacy,” he said.

“We do not have legislation in Zimbabwe as do other countries like USA, which overrides the right to privacy.

“Monitoring software installed by ISPs may be expensive to acquire and in the absence of forcible legislation, business in its quest to minimize cost will tend to avoid such costs.

“It is possible to enact laws that explicitly include electronic communication forms of any type. Terms and conditions of various internet platforms which include websites and social media sites should clearly outline cyber bullying and misuse.

“Monitoring, therefore, tends to hold better when carried out as a state activity for the greater good of society.”

Mr Makamure emphasized that cyber bullies are not untouchable.

He added that even without laws specific to cyber or internet related crimes, cyber bullying cases can be addressed using other existing laws which infringe any person’s rights within the constitution.

“It is possible to reduce cybercrimes by promoting fair user policies by Internet service Providers, content providers,” he said.

“Awareness campaigns on using social media, blogs and internet sites are also useful.

“There is need to educate citizens on our responsibilities and consequences of information publishing on social sites.

“Proper use of the social media education should also be promoted in schools, colleges and in the media.”

Harare lawyer Ms Tambudzai Gonese said we need a law that is specific in dealing with cyber crimes.

“The existing law makes it difficult to gather evidence and track the offender,” said Ms Gonese.

“Cyber crimes are usually committed by people who do not stay in Zimbabwe making it difficult to regulate the internet.

“Most WhatsApp users register their accounts using foreign countries mobile number while they are in Zimbabwe. Which makes it difficult to know where exactly that person’s location is.”

Another lawyer Mr Wellington Pasipanodya said the country is still lagging behind in terms of information technology.

“Cyber crimes had been there for the past 40 years but in Zimbabwe we started embracing information technology in the last 15 to 20 years,” he said.

“We lack the skills and advanced technology to track cyber bullies.

“According to the Telecommunication Act if a person says or writes anything defamatory she/he is criminally liable.

“The matter can be reported to the police but the biggest challenge is to find the perpetrator.”

However, Mr Pasipanodya said it is easier to track Twitter and Facebook cyber bullies using the computer Internet Protocol (IP) address.

“Every computer has a finger print. It is possible to trace from which computer the message was sent.

“Whatsapp is a different platform because it is based on anonymity, there is no filtering system and no administrator like Facebook.”

No one is safe from cyber bullies and as some say “in life everyone might encounter that evil day.”

Pin It