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The Days of Silence on Cyber-bullying Are Over

Sometime last year, I wrote about cyber-bullying. I still recall the agitation I had when Cheryl Kitonga’s story first broke and as I wrote that post, my only hope was that that was the worst that could possibly happen before we tackle this trend which was fast becoming rampant.

So I wrote, “We don’t need to wait till we hear suicide stories for us to start addressing this issue. The more we give this kind of shaming content clicks, the more we make it acceptable and become numb to the feelings of the parties involved.”

Little did I know that worse could get to worst.

As I watched NTV News last night, one story stood out. That of Brenda Akinyi Waru. Since then, her story has gone viral but in a nutshell she was a 29-year-old lady known pretty much for her online presence on various platforms. One of those platforms was Facebook group Buyer beware Kenya.

Brenda had a 3-year-old daughter who had been defiled by one of her friends. When she sought help from the police and none seemed to be forthcoming, she decided to post the story on the group maybe in the hope that there she would find a shoulder to lean on. Little did she know that all hell was about to break loose.

Instead of the consolation that she was looking for, she became the subject of ridicule and scorn. There was only the much that her cup could hold and as soon as it ran over, she committed suicide by throwing herself into an oncoming vehicle near Kabete Police Station.

A series of factors contributed to her decision to commit suicide. But the ultimate one was the cyber-bullying.

Many were shocked about the extent of the vice in this country. But many forget that we’ve been here before.

Just a couple of days ago, we watched Jimmy Gait shedding tears on national television as he narrated how painful and isolating it can be.

Brenda Akinyi Waru’s case just goes further to confirm that cyber-bullying is now a monster.

That whereas this digital revolution has connected us in great and unimaginable ways, made information easily accessible and seen the launch of great revolutions, it also brought with it this monster.

In a flash, we become the masters of sharing nasty jokes and memes creating what Nicolaus Mills calls ‘a culture of humiliation’ where we not only give thumbs up but also reward those who humiliate others.

If we stand silent as others are cyber bullied, someday we will be forced to recall the words of German Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemöller about the cowardice of German intellectuals in confronting Nazism. And here is my paraphrase:

First they came after DJ Creme De La Creme, and I did not speak out- because I’m not DJ Creme De La Creme.

Then they came after Cheryl Kitonga, and I did not speak out- because I’m not Cheryl Kitonga.

Then they came after Jimmy Gait, and I did not speak out- because I’m not Jimmy Gait.

Then they came after Brenda Waru, and I did not speak out- because I’m not Brenda Waru.

Then they came after me- and there was no one left to speak for me.

Before you share that joke or meme ask yourself, can I walk a mile under that person’s headline?

Only then will we create a more compassionate online space.

Rest In Peace Brenda Akinyi Waru.

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