January 22nd 2018

Opinion / Commentaries

As internet usage rises, so do risks, especially for women

The information age has made everything easier.

By Cynthia Iranducirandu@kenyafreepress.comFriday, 10 Jun 2016 14:39 EAT

The information age has made everything easier. We can access everything digitally- including having social lives from behind our computer screens, tablets and android phones. Everything is just a click away, including love. Our parents told us when we were younger not to talk to strangers on the streets. They did not mention strangers behind computer screens, did they?

Online relationships can be stronger than physical ones. This is because; people create idealized versions of themselves that are more appealing. According to studies, women are more at risk of encountering malicious people - especially older women. Middle-aged and lonely women easily fall prey to online fraudsters. Channels of getting online dates in Kenya include dating club and DateMe Kenya. DateMe Kenya has over 23,500 registered users. It is a safe site however. The moderators are very selective and it is 100% private. Only members can access each other’s profiles.

Social media sites like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook do not have moderators. It is easy for Mr Wrong to stalk women who advertise their lifestyle. Promoting yourself on social media could be very enticing. You go to the bank, your WhatsApp status reads, “On my way to Barclays Queensway”, and then you send a group text to all your WhatsApp groups. Immediately you reach the bank, you take selfies of yourself at the counter and post them on Instagram. Inside the bus or matatu, you tag your crush on Twitter. Immediately you reach the house, you take selfies of yourself holding wads of money. The best selfie becomes your profile picture on Facebook. Floyd Mayweather does it on Instagram. After all, a woman can do what a man can do.

What you may not know is that Mr Wrong is using social media platforms for antisocial behavior like stalking. He follows your every move; he knows your favorite hangouts. If your status reads, on my way to the Vineyard or Brew Bistro, he might reach there before you and pose as your love interest. It is not hard for him to spot you, because he knows how you look with and without filters.

Although moderated dating sites are safe, conmen might outwit the moderators. This happens not just in Kenya but also in places like the United Kingdom. According to the Daily Mail, a widowed grandmother lost more than 100,000 sterling pounds [KSh14,315,673] to a social media con. Her Mr Wrong, using the photo of a handsome white male stolen on the internet, posed as a British soldier. He told the widowed lady that he was raising a teen alone. She was so touched that  she paid his rent and sent him money for school fees. In reality, Mr Wrong was a conman from Nigeria sitting behind a computer in a cyber in Lagos. Police arrested the man. Some of the money was traced in bank accounts in both the UK and Nigeria.

The growing usage of internet carries with it immense potential for societal progress but with it also come so many risks, in particular for women.

The writer is a journalism student at the University of Nairobi and intern writer at the Kenya Free Press.

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