I had a conversation with Betty last weekend. Yes, THE Betty, the one who got the Government Spokesman all up in a bunch over THAT article. The evil Government Spokesman has gone, but Betty still remains.
Anyway, we were deep in conversation about her article. She’s gotten too many follows and friend requests. Others think she’s the greatest thing to come out of Kenya since the wildebeest migration, while others hold some views that would not be published even on my blog. But that’s not it.
She was talking about the hate she sees online; of how people never read her article and jumped straight into conclusions based on her gender or her last name; of how word by retweet trumps word by mouth; and how she’s finding it hard to navigate these streets. The Price of Fame.
That was the week that Twitter UK decided to clamp down on online abuse, as women received rape threats, bomb threats, and death threats for having an opinion online, and, oh, because they are women.
But that is every day on Twitter Kenya, where light-skin = good, dark-skin = bad, and light-skin =foolish, and dark-skin = plain ugly. This is the place where you criticize a “socialite” “twerking” and you immediately get labeled as “jealous”, if you’re a woman, “I mean, you don’t have a butt/boobs like those, is that why you’re busy hating?”, and if you’re a man, it must be sour grapes, because “you couldn’t hit that even if you tried.” You also get lumped into Team Morals, while you’re at it, and ain’t nobody gat tahm for those.
This is the place where you can’t tweet about what you think: you see, the first rule of Twitter is that you’re not allowed to talk about it (your opinion, I mean). You have to find all the cool kids and validate their opinions, to be accepted. It’s a collective exercise in groupthink.
“I never liked his music anyway (I never listened to it anyway). I was told it’s uncool, so, no…”
“Catch me dead going to such a ratchet event.”
“Let’s boycott that eatery. They’re racist.”
Display a contrary opinion. Dissent is swiftly crushed, with put downs ranging from “Oh, so you think you’re an expert? Twitpic your degree,” to my absolute favourite, “You have less than 1000 followers and you think you know everything? Come back when you’ve got more Klout.”
If you still haven’t learnt your lesson about being there to be seen and not heard, it’s more brutal than a scene from 300. It becomes personal, your looks, your size, your name, your bank balance, your gender, your political affiliation, your religion: anything goes for the bloodthirsty mob of keyboard warriors, and smart-phone mercenaries.
“Huyu nani ana umama mingi sana.”
“Someone has won a Nobel Prize/ earned 100 million dollars and you’re just here tweeting, telling us what to do with our twitter accounts.”
“With you looking like that, no wonder you’re so bitter about her shaking her ass. Is that why you don’t have a picture of yourself? Hebu go find a man who can accept you for all your ugliness/big size/weave. Oh wait…”
“Jina yake inaanza na O? No wonder he can’t say anything positive about this government. What a sore loser. Can’t he just accept and move on?”
“That person is a traitor. Criticising our people, when it’s our time in power. It’s our turn to eat.”
When you complain about it even more, or when it gets out of hand because, there’s an outcry, or big words like “cyberbulling” and “legal action” have been thrown about, the tune changes.
“But it’s never that serious on twitter.”
“It’s all harmless fun. When will you learn to grow a thick skin? People will always talk.”
“You can always unfollow and block. Your twitter, your rules.”
Much has been written on this. Yes, it is your twitter, your rules. Yes, you can post whatever you like, like an acquaintance that has this maddening compulsion to tell us about how super wasted he is, how many women he has /is planning to sleep with, how love is bullshit and the obligatory visit to the strip club.
Yes, you have control over your timeline. The mute button works. So does the block button. If you follow those bumpkins then it is really your fault.
I’m not asking for social media to be regulated as Philip Ochieng is. It is a genie which has been let out of the bottle, you can’t tame it if it’s all over the world at 100 MBps.
I’m asking people to use what’s between their ears before twiddling with their thumbs, because the internet never forgets.
I’m asking for decency, consideration, kindness: big words, relics of a forgotten age.
I’m asking a simple question, “What if it were you on the opposite end? Would it still be fun and games?”
Because we don’t need to be uncouth to be cool. Because uncouth is not cool, and it’ll never be.
Maitha loves his morning fix of caffeine, sunshine and beautiful minds and the people behind them (not necessarily in that order). He’s also the world’s greatest reader, thinker, writer, legend (all in his own mind). Ordinarily, he’s a jaded law student, often described as irritable, snobbish and emotionally stunted; but after a cup of coffee, he undergoes a Hyde-Jekyll transformation whose results can be seen on demaithasblog.wordpress.com. Follow him on twitter @deMaitha, if you know what’s bad for you, and simply don’t care about the consequences.