Thoughts While studying Social Media and Social Order in Kenya

By Tess Wandia
iHub Research
  Published 06 Feb 2018
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The Social Media and Social Order International Conference is a conference that brought together researchers from different countries investigating different phenomena on social media and I was fortunate to represent the iHub and present our preliminary, soon to be published, findings for our project on Enhancing Internet Freedom in Kenya.

In many ways being my first conference with an almost 99% Academia profile of attendees, it gave me a unique opportunity to ask new questions and examine behaviour, basically to think! Which such environments aren’t so common as Wambui Wamunyu our past iHub Research Fellow pointed out here.

After close to 9 months of studying social media behaviour in Kenya and participating in it as an avid social media user myself, I do believe there is a distinct gendered ordering of social media in Kenya. Let me explain...

Something interesting is happening on social media in Kenya, whose narrative is mainly being controlled by the youth, a subset of Kenya’s men and women between the ages of 18 and 35. Young people are taking to social media to discuss with exponentially much larger audiences than most would have in their offline channels, not only about everyday happenings but even those that most in our society would deem taboo based on traditional and cultural precepts imposed on us by society.

Access

With only 20% of women in slums connected to the internet versus 57% of men and women saying prices of data are ‘unrealistic’ it is clear we need to to put in place smarter initiatives to get more women online in order to achieve gender equality.

Culture

Kenyan culture which is admittedly predominantly patriarchal, has not spared the internet which has adopted these norms, to make it a belief that men not only have priority over women when it comes to accessing the internet but also it is their responsibility to restrict womens’ access on the internet supposedly to protect them from western ideals and beliefs. These are findings from the World Wide Web Foundation regarding Women’s Rights Online, specifically the patriarchal attitudes towards the internet  where it not only affected access but also women’s speech online, frequency of online activity and even reduced priority when it comes to benefiting from technology in households.

My hypothesis: The Internet makes gendered harassment more participatory in Kenya as a result of these factors relating to culture and access.

How can we achieve a safer and more friendly internet for women if we are not making it easier for women to participate online and instigating a shift in mindset that reimagines the role of women in society and the economy?

In the public sphere, there has been considerable effort to feed, educate and improve the living conditions of the ‘girl child’ which is only fair because the system has been rigged against girls in Kenya to have a tougher go at life; it is no surprise that men now view this as a threat to their position in society and subsequently coined the term ‘boy child’ as a rebuttal. Yet, we still see more men than women having access to education, the Internet and generally a better livelihood making these concerns of the ‘boy child’ not only irrational but incredibly inequitable.

Recently, we can finally boast at having girls topping examinations like KCSE, KCPE (without critiquing the obvious gaps existing in our education system and its priority over exams) the mere fact that these are ‘big news’ items should alone be a sign of a glaring flaw in society. Additionally, you would expect that together women AND men would be celebratory rather than the ‘What about the boy child?’ What is happening with the boy child?’ responses that we saw all over the country.

Social media is now a haven where the ‘boy child’ clearly a majority proven by statistics, now dominate to pontificate and harass because it’s no longer as accepted in the public sphere to reassert dominance.

With more than one in five women in Kenya experiencing online harassment, social media has become a toxic space that women have to persevere in addition to offline spaces, it is evident offline and online spaces are intertwined in this way.

However, the good news is this is not the way this cookie crumbles...

An interesting learning from this conference was the use of computational methods to collect and analyse data for qualitative researchers. Using this my next challenge, will be to visualise the engagement of Kenyans on Twitter clearly illustrating each demographic. Stay tuned for this and our report launch soon!

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