The State of Online Harassment, Mordecai Muriisa’s Story

The state of online harassment in the world continues to be a significant issue .

The rise of social media has provided a powerful tool for journalists to share their work. Human rights defenders, and activists have also got platform to engage with audiences.

Yet, with increased connectivity has come abuse. Online platforms have become more pervasive. So too has the incidence of online harassment directed at those using them.

For journalists, this harassment can have a chilling effect on their work. It can limit their ability to report on important issues. And limits their advocacy for change.

In this context, understanding the impact of this abuse on these groups is crucial. It can help to ensure their digital safety. Their rights and freedoms in the digital age.

Online/cyber harassment, is a form of harassment that takes place on online platforms. Facebook, twitter, email account, and Instagram are some of them .

It can take a form of  hate speech. Using technology to threaten. Intimidate. And humiliate.

It can also be designed messages tailored to threaten or abuse. Sharing private or embarrassing information without consent. Impersonating someone online. Spreading rumors or false information. Creating fake online profiles to harass others.

This can also result into sexual harassment. Or cause someone to feel physically threatened.

Mordecai Muriisa is a well known journalist in Uganda. He is one of the most fervent public figures online. Especially on Twitter. He expresses his views and opinions on a variety of topics including politics.

This has led him into experiencing some form of online harassment.

Modecai has served as a journalist, reporter, producer and anchor with NBS till 2021 when he resigned
Reporter Modecai Muriisa in the field as an NBS reporter before his resignation in 2021.

In this Question and Answer article, Mordecai shares his experience with online harassment. A story that gives insight into the impact of online harassment. Tools and tactics of protection. As well as the targets of online harassment.

Modecai has spoken boldly and confidently in defense of human rights online and offline
A screenshot of one of  Modecai’s tweets calling out government on the murder of its citizens in Uganda.

Have you experienced cyber harassment in your work as a journalist? Can you explain your experience and how it affected you?

Yes. A few months ago. I started giving my opinion about the existential threat caused by Major Muhoozi Kainerugaba to our country.

Some fellows, who I didn’t know, but I assume are his supporters. They harassed me on the internet and called me all sorts of things.

They would never debate or reason me out on things I had raised. But they would rather start claims. Coming up with allegations that I was gay.

And some said, we know the gay community supports you. That’s what they are saying. 

Someone went a little far and said that he knew I was from having sex with my fellow man because he had claimed that I’m gay.

 And in his comments he was like “go back to your white man boyfriend. Have sex and stuff like that. It was a such bad experience. I felt people who don’t know me personally could have taken the allegations seriously.

 And I’m not saying there’s a problem with being gay. But, I’m saying if I were one. And I’m trying to deny it, then that would really put some sort of bad image. Especially on the people that identify as gay or homosexuals.

So it really affected me. In the long run, much as the claims were completely baseless. It leads people to start questioning your integrity. Your personality. And your identity.

How do you think your  gender has influenced the type of severity of harassment you have received online? 

Muriisa is a public figure both online and offline and he is so vocal about human rights.
Modecai Muriisa reading a book on Free Speech

I have actually seen the difference! In how male journalists are a target online compared to their female counterparts.

In situations, where a man is willing to express his opinions. And his feelings online. They would rather shy away. Because they’re afraid of judgement.

Some men are not willing to even post some videos. Because there is some sort of an imagery of a true man. That a man who doesn’t have some of the characteristics in the image painted. He becomes an odd man out.

 There is always an image expected from men. You know! Something like! we are tough even when hurting. We are not supposed to comment.

Like give out opinions on certain topics. How dare comment on those topics because you are a man?

People expect us to comment on soccer, military, politics and current affairs. In fact, when you start commenting on saloon. Manicure and pedicure. You would be, like you are losing your masculinity or you are crazy.

And people will come and call you out, exposing you to some form of online harassment.

Any moral support, fellows, civil society organizations ?

Because, When this incident happened. Fellow men who were behind and who actually knew better. Who knew that all the claims were baseless, but they instead kept quiet. 

Now! you know that the existence of the evil and wrong things going on in our society. This doesn’t happen as a result of the fact that perpetrators of this evil won’t stop.

But the silence from the People of goodwill. From the people who know better. But, can’t do better. This build it, and solidifies the ground for evil to triumph. 

So the more we men, continue keeping quiet. And not calling out perpetrators of cyber harassment. In one or the other gives it platform to continue. 

What steps have you taken to protect yourself from cyber harassment?

Yes, I have taken steps to protect myself from cyber harassment. I have always stated facts. Standing my truths no matter what.

Above all,  I am trying to be as much  factual as possible though sometimes I can mess up. But not intended. That’s what I have done always.

So I don’t care what people say. As long as I know what I am saying is true.

Truthful and factual. I don’t care what Tom and dick are gonna say. That’s one step I have taken altogether.

I have also drawn a thick skin. You know of where U look in the eyes of perpetrators of cyber harassment. And I am like we can’t do this.

And actually , some of them have blocked me and others took off.

Do you think media houses are doing enough to support their employees in achieving digital safety and protection from harassment including online?

Media houses are not doing enough. Online platforms are still a new structure in our country. Media bosses have not yet learnt how to handle this great tool. In fact Few media houses have few online policies for their employees.

They need Someone to follow up to see what their employees are doing online.

So if they can fix a few of those things, first of all come up with online policies. Have online managers who see how the public welcomes and treats its employees online.

Has Cyber harassment affected your job as a journalist?
He has also worked as an anchor at NBS
A photo of Modecai Muriisa anchoring at NBS

No this has not affected me as a journalist.  I was born and raised in the ghetto. And When this happened I was ready to face it head on.

What advice would you give to fellow journalists who are experiencing cyber harassment?
Modecai advises fellow journalists to stand on truth always and not shy away from social media.

Always stand on truth, always. Don’t shy away from online platforms due to cyber harassment or cyber bullying.

Keep factual and truthful. As a matter of fact stand on your truth.  After all, you are saying the truth. Always remember some of these are bullies. And bullies have egos that are fragile.

Blowing these egos doesn’t take a punch.  But, as long as you are factual and truthful don’t be afraid, keep going.

More on online harassment

online harassment
Google photo

What Is Cyberbullying?

Cyber harassment is a threat via the use of digital technologies. It can take place on social media, messaging platforms and cell phones. More

What are the effects of online harassment on people?

These may include depression, isolation, anxiety, and dissociation, among others. Read more here

What is the difference between cyberstalking and harassment?

Cyberstalking involves using the internet or other electronic means. To harass or threaten someone. Causing them to fear for their safety or the safety of their loved ones.

Harassment refers to any unwanted behavior that aims to annoy. Alarm. Or intimidate someone. It can occur in many different contexts.

Including online interactions. Name-calling, making threats, or sending unwanted messages or images. More here

Tools and tactics of protection from online harassment

Be proactive about your privacy. Use strong passwords. Enable two-factor authentication. Enable two-factor authentication. Block and report. Save evidence. Seek support. Consider legal action. More here

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