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The dark side of the internet 

Business

Mohloai Mpesi

As the world adjusts to technology, the accruing digital threats and cyberbullying behaviour have become a new norm in the cyber space, posing serious problems for unsuspecting users.

Although it is an undoubtedly important tool for accessing information and communication, the internet can also be misused.

Social media-based cyberbullying has seen some people taking their own lives or changing their behavioural patterns for the worst.

HIV/AIDS activist TÅ¡epang Maboee, an is one the people who has experienced cyberbullying following her announcement of her HIV status on social media in 2017.

She said she received a series of negative comments on social media to a point she where found herself contemplating suicidal.

“My experience on cyber bullying started when I first started talking openly about my HIV status,” she said.

“People were always opinionated about everything that I posted to an extent that they ended up bullying through their expressions. I would overlook some of their comments.

“My other experience was in 2021 when I had cut my hair and dyed it in pink. I uploaded my pictures and then logged out of Facebook, after couple of minutes I received calls because usually when something happens on social media that involves me, I get calls from people who care about me.

“I logged in and realised that I am being bullied because of my hairstyle; they were ridiculing me, criticising me about how ugly I looked.”

The bullying did not end here.

“Two months back I posted a screenshot of my conversation with my boyfriend, it was a screenshot showing incoming calls not outgoing calls, which is something that people do most of the time. But just because it was shared by me people had to ridicule it,” she continued.

According to Maboee, many people are having a hard time dealing with cyber bullying as it affects them emotionally and mentally.

“It affects people in different ways, most of the time people who are cyber bullied want to prove a point that they don’t care and all those things do not make impact in their lives, but the point that he or she feel they have to prove a point is a signal that it is affecting them.

 â€œI have experienced suicidal thoughts, especially when I started going public about my health status in 2017. Luckily all the attempts failed and now I am at a point where I cannot allow myself to go back to that dark space of feeling like committing suicide.”

According to Simon Kemp, an analyst at Datareportal, an online library of reports exploring people’s evolving digital behaviours, there were 1.11 million internet users in Lesotho at the start of 2023, with internet penetration at 48 percent.

“Lesotho was home to 489.5 thousand social media users in January 2023 equating to 21.1 percent of the total population,” he said. 

“29.1 percent of the eligible audience in Lesotho uses Facebook in 2023.  Facebook’s ad reach in Lesotho was equivalent to 42.6 percent of the local internet user base (regardless if age) in January 2023.

According to the Fourth Industrial Revolution: Cyberpsychology and Well-being book by Rani Sheilagh Dunn, while digital penetration is on the rise, there is almost no knowledge of cyber psychology, nor implementation of digital well-being or cyber education programmes in Lesotho. Sadly, as a result, cybercrime is thriving.

“The digital landscape in Lesotho is suffering and as such opportunities are potentially limited. Violation of human rights, including crimes against children, woman and men of extreme acts of violence, bullying, rape and abuse circulate on social media. Victims are further traumatised in these digital spaces and trauma spreads to anyone who has intentionally or unintentionally viewed these disturbing images online,” the book reads.

“There are also on-going incidents of cyber bullying, cyber stalking and scams. Unfortunately, due to limited resources and lack of cyber education and infrastructure these issues remain unaddressed. More so, with the absence of cyber psychology studies and research in Lesotho data related to these activities is minimal and inconclusive. As a result, police task teams and the national security services are unable to carry out extensive investigations to identify perpetrators of these crimes.”

There is no appropriate legal framework to provide protection, support or treatment while concerning reports of unethical digital use and unaddressed cyber challenges in Lesotho go unnoticed, the book said.

“The lack of technological cognisance of the Lesotho government to implement an effective cyber security and cybercrime bill with buy-in from all stakeholders appears incompetent on the global stage and has left its citizens, residents and visitors especially vulnerable on social media and cyber platforms. However, to successfully address cyber challenges, Lesotho has a wealth of organizational capabilities and is experienced through its fight against the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

“Government policy and operational mandates successfully used four domains to create a national response to act; prevention, treatment, care and support. The insights and skills gained from meeting these past challenges can be harnessed, along with the adoption of cyber psychology actions and the promotion of digital well-being, to rapidly achieve a cyber-competent society in Lesotho and has applications across the entire continent of Africa, as well as making meaningful contributions to cyber knowledge within the wider global community.”

An independent online survey on 96 people by this journalist under the headline “Understanding Digital Hygiene”, revealed that 95 people responded and under the question that sought to know how often people log out of Facebook, 19.6 percent do not often log out of their emails and social media accounts, while 57.6 percent said they do. 22.8 percent said they were not consistent with it.

Some of the interviewed people said they log out because they fear being hacked while some don’t know why they log out.

Some indicated do not log out simply because they are afraid they might forget their password.

Advocate Mpho Theko, a human rights lawyer from Women and Law in Southern Africa (WILSA)-Lesotho, described cyber bullying as a form of harassment made through the use of social media platforms; Sending hurtful, abusive or threatening messages, images or videos via messaging platforms as well as impersonating someone and sending mean messages to others or the use of fake accounts.

 â€œCyber bullying is another form of gender based violence (GBV); technology intensifies gender-based violence and makes it easier to perpetuate it. Consequently, Women and girls are often particularly targeted, and especially so if they are politically outspoken, identify as LGBTQ+, or have a disability.”

“In relation to the cyberbullying, a number of Convention articles are engaged – such as: the right to life, survival and development (article 6); the best interests of the child (article 3); protection from harm (article 19), participation (article 12); privacy (article 16); information (article 17); freedom of thought (article 14); the highest attainable standard of health (article 24); and education (articles 28 and 29),” she said.

Regarding the pending Computer Crime and Cyber Security Bill, 2022, she understands that in its current state, the proposed act potentially has a chilling effect on the fundamental human rights inclusive of the right to freedom of speech, expression, privacy and other freedoms.

The advocate however noted that, “…in a positive light, the bill seeks to protect any form of violence that occurs within the cyberspace and imposes punishments for cyber bullying.”

Section 40 (1) of the Bill stipulates that ‘a person who intentionally, without lawful excuse initiate any electronic communication, with the intent to coerce, intimidate, harass, abuse or cause emotional distress to a person or initiates offensive and obscene communication with the intention to disturb the peace, quiet and privacy of another person whether or not a conversation ensues commits an offense and is liable on conviction, to imprisonment to a term not exceeding three years, or a fine not exceeding M500 000 or both.

Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) Public Relations Officer, Senior Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli revealed that they usually receive cases of cyberbullying which include insults and harassment.

Mopeli indicated that the absence of Cybercrime law makes it difficult for them to classify cyberbullying cases reported at the police services. 

“It is difficult to accurately act on such cases because we don’t have a law on cybersecurity, however, if it’s threats as a threat then we look at the explanation of a threat is regardless of the platform,” Mopeli said noting the police do not have statistics of cyberbullying.

He revealed of all social media platforms, Facebook was a predominant platform for attacks.                              

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