On the Internet, some individuals have more freedom than others

Friday January 22 2021
Donald Trump Twitter account.

The Twitter account of US President Donald Trump is displayed on a mobile phone on August 10, 2020, in Arlington, Virginia. PHOTO | AFP


A few days before his term came to an end, US President Donald Trump Twitter account was shut down.

This should have been done a long time ago, considering some of the false information he shared but it took the unrest at the Capitol for people to realise that things had gone too far. This is one area where many countries have overtaken the United States.

Closer home, South Sudan in 2013 had people inciting violence through their Facebook pages as far as from Canada. But it would be impossible to censor everybody’s account. It is easier to control an influential individual’s account as compared to private individuals.

It is practically impossible to track conversations and groups of millions of people, without the help of ordinary individuals reporting postings. However, adding a report button cannot solve all of issues on the internet.

We hardly report things; it is not a habit that we have. Many suggestion boxes in government offices are often empty and neglected. The power of feedback is something that we do not practice.

Take reviews for instance; Kenya has some of the best destination spots in the world, and some hidden treasures, but online, if we were to look through the feedback review pages, most of the comments come from foreigners and not Kenyans themselves. This is the same for restaurants.


Freedom of speech on the internet is going to be debated for years to come.

Most people receive information on devices, these are powerful tools that now fit into our pockets.

Thus one of the big questions in this debate is who a private individual. A private individual cannot have the same freedoms as a public figure, simply because of the influence.

But what about people who it is not clear to know where they fall, for instance activists. Would they really be considered public figures? And what is the standard for influence, how large does one’s reach have to be?

The influence that individuals have on online spaces is frightening, and something that we have witnessed in African countries can lead to chaos because of utterances from opposing sides. But it is a double-edged sword, just as much as some individuals use it with ill intentions. There are others who utilise it for good, to share information, and even form movements around issues that would be considered a national issue become a regional matter. We saw this last year with the ‘End SARS’ campaign in Nigeria.

As we continue to depend on technology, laws that protect us on the internet cannot be a gamble.

Nerima Wako-Ojiwa, executive director, Siasa Place @NerimaW