When Nairobi resident Anthony Ngegi on Wednesday received a message on his phone from an estate group informing members of an attack in the neighborhood, he was in dilemma whether to send it to his friends.

He read it again and again, with the spot mentioned being a notorious crime scene making the news believable.

However, he did not broadcast the news to his friends, fearing of committing a crime if the information is false.

Until Wednesday, he would have re-distributed the information without thinking twice.

Millions of Kenyans are in the dilemma Ngegi faces following the enactment of a new cyber law.

The law came into force on Wednesday after President Uhuru Kenyatta signed it.

The Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes Act is broad in scope as it deals with a myriad of crimes that include punishing cyber fraud and illegal hacking.

However, the most contentious is the punishment of those who publish false information that is intended to cause or causes panic, chaos or violence or discredit the reputation of a person. This crime will attract a fine of a maximum of 50,000 U.S. dollars or imprisonment for a maximum 10 years.

This clause puts breaks on the vibrant use of social media in the East African nation, which has hinged on sharing information and photos.

With close to 10 million active users especially on social media platforms, Kenya has a vibrant online community. Popular social media sites include Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram. Usage of the sites has grown over the years among both old and young.

However, with increased love for social media, several challenges have propped up that include fake news and cyber-bullying.

Fake news is a menace in the East African nation, with people spreading news of deaths of those who are alive and sharing nudes, among other vices.

Cyber-bullying, that include throwing insults, shaming of victims of domestic violence, rape and even children caught up in divorce cases, is also rampant. This is besides mob lynching of targeted people on social media.

The law is, therefore, expected to curtail such vices, thanks to its hefty fines.

Social media users, however, have protested against the law, noting it criminalizes freedom of speech and access to information.

They further noted the fight against vices like corruption or police brutality would slow down.

“Over the years it has been easier to whistle-blow corrupt dealings but with the law, someone can take you to court for spreading fake news,” Samson Angote, a blogger in Nairobi, said Thursday.
Angote added that the law would not only shrink freedom to access information but also the cyberspace.

“People are already fearful of sharing information because they don’t know if they are committing your crime,” he said.

“Publication of false news carries a penalty of 50,000 dollars and two years in prison. A lot of information comes from people online. What this will do is stop free speech online. It will have a chilling effect. Information sharing will be highly limited,” noted Ole on Twitter as the issue generated hot debate.

Bernard Mwaso, a consultant with Edell IT Solution in Nairobi, noted that while the law is necessary to prevent cybercrime, it has far-reaching repercussions on the East African social media sector.
“The thing is people are going to shy away from sharing information, some which is true,” he observed. “The thing is the law has not defined what fake news actually is? Some bloggers who were actually whistle-blowing would no longer do this yet their work was critical,” he added.

Mwaso supported the idea of punishing cyberbullies and other criminals, but noted the law would encourage use of pseudonyms on social media as people try to hide identity.

“People will adopt underhand tactics to share information so that they are not caught. Such things happens when there is too much regulation,” he said.

On the flip side, however, Mwaso reckoned that the law may promote responsible usage of social media. Enditem


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