How Social Media Bullying Discourage Young Prospective Women from Joining Politics and the Public Sphere?

By Hafiz Bakhit, Arua One fm

Internet and social media promote the right to freedom of expression enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and protected by several international and regional treaties, however just like any other tool, if misused, can have a devastating impact, and can restrict speech.

This is manifested in the increasing Internet or social media bullying, harassment, and hostile speech.

In Uganda, top Female Political leaders and public figures are increasingly being targeted through cyberbullying and fake News.

High Profile Cases of Cyber Bullying.

The third most high person in the leadership Hierarchy in Uganda, also the most powerful woman in the country, the Speaker of Parliament Annette Anita Among, the state minister for Investment and Privatization Evelyn Anite, the minister for East African Affairs, Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga, Kabarole District Member of Parliament, Sylvia Rwabogo, and several other female entertainers, and Public figures are among millions of Ugandan women who have faced the wrath of social media users who always spend much time propagating harmful and degrading information that does not only take a psychological toll on the victims but believed to be instilling fear among young women who dream of becoming a top Political or Public figure.

Photos of the Speaker, and degrading posts about her, among others have all made rounds on Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, and TikTok ever since she assumed the topmost position in the Parliament of Uganda.

The pictures of her skin complexion (alleged Bleaching) and her marital affair have all been thrown into the public domain.

Some Photos seemingly artificially generated have been used by Social Media detractors and these have always attracted all sorts of degrading Comments and responses.

Evelyn Anite the state minister for Investment and Privatization has also many times tasted her share of Bullying by Netizens.

A couple of Photos she posts on her Social Media Pages have on several occasions been turned against her by the online Bullies.

Images comparing her present and past and many others circulated by the Bullies are typical examples of ill intentions.

Recently, an AI-engineered photo portraying her with protracted lips in a photo that showed her kissing her husband was followed by a barrage of all sorts of abusive comments.

However, the Minister is well known for taking on the bulls by the horns. Unlike other prominent politicians, she does not think of dragging online bullies to the police for “disturbing her peace” but instead fights back on the same platforms.

On her Twitter now X Account, she once wrote that it is a tit-for-tat game.

She also one time took to the same platform to thank her husband for the exciting romantic holiday but a Twitter user commented saying “I can feel the pain this man is feeling; it will end in tears.”Minister Anite Immediately commented that her man married her when she was only 25 years old with 25 cows and 40 goats.

Recently, on Twitter, she revealed that “Nothing can defeat a big smile”, a post that attracted several negative comments with one user commenting “I hope you’re saving some of our stolen taxpayer funds for exile and not spending it all on pretty clothes and shoes,”The minister promptly responded, “You mean the one your father took from Ugandans.”

Minister Anite has also assured a cyber-bully that she doesn’t need him because she already has a lover” after he commented “I can’t love you nyabo,”In response to her hit back, another Bully commented “If ugly was a person”.

The minister instantly clapped back saying “That would be your mother and your girlfriend,”Another online user tried to body-shame the minister for allegedly having no hips when she shared photos of herself and her husband on holiday in Dubai.

Minister Anite hit back that she didn’t need a big behind and wrote vulgar words.Former Speaker of Parliament, now the first Deputy Prime Minister of Uganda and also Minister for East African Community Affairs, in the Cabinet of Uganda-Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga, has had her share too.

Images of her allegedly emerging out of the shrine of a traditional healer went viral towards the end of her tenure of office as speaker, followed by a couple of her unpleasant images.

For the Kabarole District Woman MP, the Battle between her and a 25-year-old student who was accused of Cyber Harassment and offensive communication ended in Court.

The student was convicted of misusing a Computer for sending love messages to a Woman Member of Parliament,Stories of a Vlogger charged with cyber harassment and insulting the modesty of a woman after posting messages and videos on his Facebook pages referring to Juliet Zawedde a Ugandan social entrepreneur and musical artist based in America as a Prostitute, Fraudster, Sex Worker, Fake Dollar Boss and other obscene words full of vulgarity, all confirm the painful experiences Ugandan Public figures or celebrities have gone through in the hands of cyber Bullies.

Another Ugandan Celebrity Desire Luzinda now based in California, USA, after being bullied online started using her story for the young generation to make the right choices when chasing their dreams.

This is through a campaign to fight stigma and depression that can affect girls’ self-esteem.Perspectives/View Points.As the list keeps rising, the question is, why are more women becoming the Victims of Cyber Crime?

Violet Akumu, a gender activist with a local Community Based Organization strongly believes, this simply is an extension of Patriarchy ” a social system dominated by men which women have suffered from right from the start.

“We have seen women relegated and sidelined to the lowest level way back, a lot of efforts have been made to weed out such attitudes and socially constructed norms but still we witness some Violence against women, these have been going silently in homes, and hidden spheres, so what is going on in the hidden sphere is exactly being reflected in the Public domain, especially on Open spaces like the Social Media” Akumu adds.

Impact Peter Werike, a psychologist, reveals online abuse and harassment of women leaders can have a serious implication on the well-being of women and their representation in politics.

“Women in general, including the leaders who experience online Abuse can feel discouraged from running for office, which results in a lack of women’s representation in Politics,” says Werike.“This is also a serious demotivating factor for very young prospective young women who seek to Join Politics and public offices” he adds.

According to Werikhe, nasty Online experiences can greatly affect women’s mental and emotional well-being leading to stress, anxiety, and depression which has made many leave the platform hence curtailing their freedom of free presence on Social Media.

Maurine Acibu, a third-year Law student concurs with the view.“Many of us feel scared and worried seeing women leaders and public figures going through all sorts of abuse.

I ask myself, is this the attention I will attract and pressures I will go through when I become a female leader?” she says. The Complex Situation.

Uganda’s Parliament in 2022 passed the Computer Misuse (Amendment) Bill, which imposes tough penalties for cybercrimes.

The law prohibits the sending or sharing of information that promotes hate speech.It states that a person who uses social media to publish, distribute, or share information, prohibited under the laws of Uganda or using a disguised or false identity, commits an offense.

The law refers to social media as a set of technologies, sites, and practices which are used to share opinions, experiences, and perspectives, and includes YouTube, WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, WeChat, TikTok, Sina Weibo, QQ, Telegram, Snapchat, Kuaishou, Qzone, Reddit, Quora, Skype, Microsoft Team and Linkedin”.

A person who commits the offense under the clause in issue shall, on conviction, suffer either a fine of Shs16 million, five years in jail, or both fine and imprisonment.

However Right activists condemn the law as a ploy by the Government of Uganda to suppress freedom of speech and expression.

The arguments signify how complex and delicate the fight against Cyber Harassment can be.

Digital Rights Champion Maggie Fiona Kayitesi States, that though the laws provide for freedom of speech and expression, Violating the rights of others while enjoying a right is not an acceptable Rule globally.

“You cannot claim to be enjoying a right or freedom of speech by Bullying others. This is an excuse to sidestep the actions of the bully, instead of addressing the impact of bullying” She adds.

The 2021 Amplified abuse report by Policy Org, indicates that the cases of women leaders in Uganda facing online abuse and harassment are rising.

The report cites Various forms of online abuse such as trolling, hoaxing, body shaming, and Cyberbullying among a host of Cybercrimes.

Possible SolutionsA cross-section of Ugandans spoke to believe the Government Should strengthen and enforce Digital laws that protect Citizens Online and hold online abusers and Violators to account.

Victor Iceta, an IT expert advises users to always update their Digital protection skills.“Internet users have to Learn about the privacy settings of their favorite social media apps for their protection online.They can also report hurtful comments, messages, photos, and videos and request they be removed.He says victims can also ‘unfriend, or completely block and restrict abusers.

“One can delete posts on their profile or hide them from specific people” he adds.John Amabe, an advocate for free speech says, there is an Urgent need to Curtail cyberbullying but overall, every individual needs to think twice before sharing what may hurt others. “We need to be kind to one another, he stresses.“We, including the women, also need to be wary of how to jealously guard our personal information from being used to manipulate or humiliate us on social media ” Amabe Says.

He urges every Social Media user to think twice before posting or sharing anything on digital platforms because it may be used to harm them later