After numerous pleas for a law that clamps down on the abuse of the internet, particularly social media, the usually slow to act Zimbabwean government finally heeded the calls and early this year came up with a draft bill for the Computer Crime and Cybercrime Act.
The bill has been met with mixed feelings, with some people wary of the clauses that seem to have been tailored to restrict the activities of human rights defenders who have found the social media convenient for mobilising people to stand up and fight for their rights. A closer look at the bill shows that a lot of effort was made by the drafters to put an end to the rampant abuse of the internet, especially the sections on data espionage, computer fraud, racist and xenophobic material, child pornography and harassment using electronic media.
It is very clear that the bill also seeks to put a lid on the posting of videos and photos of naked women by jilted lovers who use the internet to fix women who would have fallen out of love with them.
The fast pace of improvement in digital technology which has seen smart phones being available at very affordable prices has resulted in the average person affording to buy a phone that can take good quality pictures and record videos. At the same time, the expansion of mobile internet coupled with reduction of data charges has increased the number of people who spend time on social media; Twitter, Facebook and Instagram being common playgrounds.
What is being celebrated as the best invention since sliced bread has been a nightmare for some women as they have found their nude photos going viral on social media. I really do not understand the excitement people have when they share such denigrating photos. It seems people take this lightly, but the effect on the victims can be so damaging that they lose their dignity in society, where they are labelled sluts and all kinds of demeaning names. In worst cases, some women have lost their livelihoods as employment contracts are terminated by employers who argue that the publication of the nudes put the name of the company into disrepute.
This is grossly unfair as the men involved in taking the pictures have always gone scot free, in the absence of a clear law that can be used to bring then to book. Even in cases where the pictures show both the male and female lovers, society tends to see the men as a hero, while the woman is labelled a prostitute. Some men are even keeping naked photos of their partners as some form of insurance, threatening to release them to world if the relationship ends. Instead of celebrating technological developments in the digital world, for some women, this has been nightmarish.
All this is set to end with the enactment of the Computer Crime and Cybercrime Act. The bill which was made available to the public a few months ago only remains to through the last few stages before it is made a full act of law.
What will definitely put to an end the publishing of nudes is that the law makes it a serious offence to participate in a pornographic act. Thus, both the man and the woman can be imprisoned for being part of the recording. The bill provides for a Level 12 fine or imprisonment for a period of up to ten years to the offenders. In addition, posting of the material alone is also punishable by hefty fines or jail time. The proposed penalties are so harsh that this will definitely discourage revenge porn and put to an end a forgettable era. Anyone who knows how bad Zimbabwean prisons are wouldn’t dare post any nudes on social media. Now there is some fairness as the men can also face the consequences of distributing adult material.
Of course the internet will remain with some foreign material posted by professional porn stars. But who cares about adults who have decided that this is the way they want to live.
The disturbing trend was the violation being perpetrated against innocent women who though they were sharing intimate pictures with trustworthy partners and instead they were having their lives ruined and their dreams shattered. Women can afford to smile now as the risk of their pictures going viral on social media will be greatly reduced.
During these 16 days we anticipate a step forward for women if the final version of the Computer Crime and Cybercrime Act keeps the punitive clause to deal with “internet based revenge.” It is everyone’s hope that the government speeds up the process to avoid further damage to women, but we also hope that the government will not use this bill to persecute its opponents.