Social media has its pros: ease of communication, quick dissemination of ideas and creation of new connections. It also has its cons, such as opening doors for those with malicious intentions to attack, demean and victimise as they hide behind user names and the anonymity that the internet affords them.
More recent is the use of social media to publicly call out aberrant behaviour. If used wisely, it helps create awareness and even change policies but more often than not it remains a channel for aggrieved parties to seek emotional redress.
Worse still are the red flags it raises when it comes to teenagers online, with nude pictures and videos now quickly circulating beyond one’s school or neighbourhood.
In most of these cases it is the victim and not the perpetrator who receives the short end of the stick.
Earlier this week, a well-known male journalist was accused of allegedly sexually assaulting a woman at a private residence. News of the assault broke on Twitter, with the friend at whose house the alleged assault took place naming and shaming the journalist in question.
The story was quickly picked up by online gossip blogs, and mud-slinging - with the said journalist disparaging the accusations- ensued.
By the end of this week, the story had developed into something more serious. The matter was reported to the police station and a civil rights lawyer retained was by the complainant. Meanwhile, the journalist says he will be suing for slander and defamation.
'NEVER GET ANOTHER JOB'
More telling of the kind of society we live in were the countless trolls who came out of the woodwork to take sides and attack the character of the victim.
Bloggers had a field day adding their two cents. Tor those on the complainant’s side it was an opportunity to highlight sexual assault on Kenyan women, be it groping on public transport or rape, while those on the journalist’s side resorted to the oft overused ‘feminists are evil’ trope.
More worrying were posts dripping with ignorance, such as this one: “Women must stop using their skirts and sexuality to bring men they can’t beat down”.
The above case mirrors an incident involving a waitress, Laura Ramadei, and hedge fund manager, Brian Lederman in New York. Ramadei, who was at the receiving end of a surreptitious grope on her behind coupled with a casual, sexually-loaded suggestion, hit back at Lederman by posting her story and his receipt on Facebook.
The post went viral but did not result in a public apology; in fact, Lederman denied the assault and added insult to injury by resorting to sexist remarks and vowing that the waitress would never get another job.
Today, Google searches on his name bring up his LinkedIn profile and unflattering links about his dining habits. In the virtual boxing ring known as the Internet, Ramadei is lauded.
Earlier this month, a Facebook group and website dedicated to shaming parents who have absconded from parental duties was the talk of Nairobi. The subjects, whose pictured appear alongside the stories, are mostly men, and from all backgrounds, be they high-flying investment bankers, local celebrities or matatu drivers. On Deadbeat Kenya they are all the same - deadbeat.
While it is possible to follow up child support cases in a court of law, Deadbeat Kenya seems to provide quicker emotional payback for the aggrieved parties.
There have been repercussions, of course, with a Kenyan member of a local county government reportedly suing the group's founders for defamation.
This has not slowed the group’s popularity, with membership numbers of over 100,000 people and continuing daily posts about those failing to support their children.
Further afield is the case of professional American football running back, Ray Rice. CCTV footage of him punching and later dragging his half-conscious fiancée sent shock waves across the American sporting arena and the world at large.
VULNERABLE TO RIDICULE
The video was released by TMZ and consequently posted and reposted on social media. Rice received an indefinite suspension, while the National Football League (NFL) faced increased scrutiny over domestic violence cases involving its players.
The public outcry has since forced a policy change by the NFL on how it deals with domestic abuse cases.
When it comes to highlighting social ills such as domestic violence and assault, it seems social media can effectively draw enough attention to a situation, resulting in change, more-so when there is photographic or video evidence.
On the other hand it can give opportunities to trolls and those driven by their own agenda to rapidly disseminate damaging information. More worrying still is the trend of social media users demanding and exposing the identity of sexual assault victims, leaving them vulnerable to ridicule and further emotional and psychological damage.
It is a double-edged sword that should be handled with caution, but one that nonetheless continues to mirror the kind of society we live in.
Naliaka Wafula is a writer, blogger, social media commentator and a Sub-editor at Nation Media Group.