Last evening Kenya’s retreated to their homes to the news that a 27-year-old, Brenda Akinyi, originally from Tanzania, committed suicide. Hers, just like several others, is one of the Internet instigated suicides that we as a society can do nothing to stop. Brenda’s was a case of Facebook cyber bullying after she went online to seek help regarding the defilement of her three-year old daughter by her ex boyfriend. Instead of offering her help, the group members of the Buyer Beware, in comments exceeding two million, decided to bully her. To her, ending her life was the best recourse.
Earlier this month we heard of Jamie Njenga, a form two student who committed suicide after completing the last task in the online game Blue Whale Challenge. As The Standard reported about the incident, the Blue Whale Challenge”has 50 challenges and the player is considered the winner when he or she goes through the last challenge, which requires the person to commit suicide.”
In September 2015, Daily Nation reported about the suicide committed by a 19-year-old Ms Mercy Bundi. According to the report, Ms Bundi was lured by a foreigner to Mombasa who assaulted her. The ordeal was too much for Ms Bundi so she decided to commit suicide. She was traumatised after the man, who identified himself to her as Marco Ritz, threatened to post her naked photos online for the whole world to see, Ms Bundi explained as much in her suicide note.
The stories of Internet instigated suicides especially those occasioned by Cyber bullying are all over the Internet, with the website NoBullying.com summarising the cases of top six unforgettable cyberbullying cases ever. As the dates of those top six cyberbullying cases imply, suicides that result from Internet-based interactions are almost as old as the world-wide web itself.
Internet Instigated suicides is therefore 25 years old, and in the past 25 years, the society seem to be witnessing increasing cases of Internet instigated suicides in spite of the measures that have been put in place to address some of the causes of the deaths, including but limited to cyberbullying. In Kenya for example, the government banned Blue Whale Challenge immediately after the news of James Njenga committing suicide had spread, but this does not mean we will never witness a suicide or death resulting from some kind of online game. This is because online games have variety of ways of killing their players, including the occasional inability to stop playing.
In the wake of Brenda’s suicide, there are those who are now calling for groups such as Buyer Beware to be banned. This reactionary mentality is to expected, as the case of Brenda tells us the type of harm strangers who don’t give a damn about what some other stranger is going through can cause. But banning the groups, or even banning Facebook, or any other social media or online interaction forum, cannot take away cyberbullying.
What we can do to at least attempt to redress the challenges of Internet Instigated suicides is to enact and implement effective and efficient cybercrime and cyberbullying laws. These laws already exist, and as was explained by lawyer Stephen Kiptinness in a 2013 CIO article titled What does Kenyan Law say about cyber-bullying, current laws deter individuals and groups from “unauthorized access to computer data, access with intent to commit offences, interception of computer service, modification of computer material, denial of access, unauthorized possession of data, electronic fraud, and publishing of obscene information”.
By April this year, TechWeez reported that the Cabinet approved the Computer and Cybercrimes Bill 2016 which among other things intends to raid on those who commit computer fraud, cyber stalking, practice child pornography, and obtain access to unauthorized systems. According to TechWeez, “the government and relevant enforcers aim to protect citizens from instances of online crime that range from cyber bullying, fraud, among other social ills.”
In as far as curtailing the spread of Internet Instigated suicides is concerned, the already existing and the yet to be passed and implemented cyber criminal laws can do as much. However, just like suicide in the motor and brick society, no law can stop any/all forms of Internet instigated suicides. No law, for instance, can stop cyberbullying and when cyberbullying occurs, there is nothing the laws can do to stop the affected from taking their lives.
If we agree that there is nothing we can do stop Internet instigated suicides, the question we should ask at this point is, what can we do to protect ourselves and our loved ones?
As a culprit and victim of cyberbullying in the now defunct Mashada.com, I can say that the only sure remedy is change of attitude in regards to online interactions. In the past decade when I was a fresh graduate and online communities were taking shape in Kenya, I was a bitter online participant. I used to take in any demeaning comments towards my character and personality very seriously, very deeply. I then took to Mashada.com to call all who did not agree with my point of views as idiots. And my life stagnated. I couldn’t sleep. I was always on Mashada.com to reply to any idiot who dared call me names.
Then I grew up. The close of Mashada.com after the 2007/2008 elections violence helped me sober up. I realized that the demeaning words that the strangers directed towards my character had zero value. These were people who had no knowledge to my upbringing. None knew my friendship cycles. None knew my temperament, my likes and dislikes, or what dreams I had shortly before the KSCE results were announced – and the new dreams I had after completing my bachelors degree.
The consequence of my sobering up was the decision to maintain only those individuals whom I had come to know in real life in my online life. I took down several of my fake online accounts, deactivated my Facebook pseudo-accounts – and tried to maintain closely guarded online life. I imposed the same conditions on my wife to be – and largely my family has been free from online influences.
This is one thing many of you can try to implement. I am not saying that you shouldn’t interact with strangers online, as through interactions with online strangers was I not only able to get my first job – an International job putting me in charge of Africa region – a job I was able to get even before graduating from college, but was also able to meet my wife. What I am saying is that you need to guard how you interact online – how you take in the myriads of online comments and content – and how you personalise any demeaning remarks made by strangers towards your character.
And you should be able to guide your friends and relatives to also be able to soberly relate to online interactions.
Then there is the issue of what to do when someone defames you online. What do you do when a true picture of your shortcomings are posted online, not by a stranger, but by a close friend, neighbor or relative? In one of the top six cases of cyberbullying cases that led to suicide mentioned above, one of the victims who committed suicide was bullied by a lady neighbor who posed as stranger gentleman who liked the victim. The victim committed suicide after the neighbor told her that the world would be better off without her. The neighbor knew pretty well that the victim was living with low self esteem due to her weight problems. The thing to do in such cases is to involve the police. Take screen shots of such real-life defamation, and let the legal system take its course.
The thing is, cyberbullying and other Internet instigated crimes can effectively be dealt with only through personal proactive measures. It is only upon yourself to protect you and your loved ones online. The legal recourse can be in place, certain social media outlets can be banned (Mashada.com was banned after the PEV), but the Internet lives on. As long the Internet lives on, cybercrime will lives on – and many more will die as a result.
In this world, you really don’t know what will kill you.