By Linda Gichohi
Welcome back to the Kenya ICT Action Network updates. As we return to our regular updates, we begin 2024 by taking a moment to highlight significant developments and challenges within the digital sphere.
In the ever-evolving landscape of online dating, an unsettling trend is emerging: that of a connection between online gender-based violence and the ominous prospect of physical threats and harm.
In the instance of the ongoing case of ‘Starlet Wahu,’ a recognized influencer across various social media platforms in Kenya, it serves as a stark reminder that certain situations involving online dating platforms can tragically escalate to the point of even resulting in murder.
While some fall victim to phishing schemes, cases like that of the “Tinder Swindler” highlight how users of online dating apps may be subjected to financial scams and extortion, potentially resulting in bankruptcy.
Are we unwittingly stirring a risky cocktail in the digital dating realm? As the digital space continues to shape the way we connect, the dark side of online interactions is garnering attention. Instances of online gender-based violence are becoming a disconcerting precursor to real-world threats, sparking a dialogue on the potential dangers lurking behind the screen.
Digital Safety, Cybersecurity and Data Protection: Your Shield in the Online Dating Arena
How does the digital realm become a breeding ground for offline threats, and what can we do to navigate this?
Here are some invaluable tips for ensuring your safety while exploring the world of online dating:
Guard Personal Information
Limit the sharing of personal details such as home address and financial information. Be cautious about sharing sensitive personal information until you’ve established a certain level of trust; for example, only share your phone number upon conducting valid due diligence and research.
Use Trusted Platforms
Opt for reputable dating platforms with robust security measures, ensuring a safer environment for interaction.
Verify Identities and profiles
Employ video calls to verify the identity of the person you’re communicating with, reducing the risk of impersonation and catfishing. One can verify that the profile picture matches the person they are talking to.
Take advantage of features like profile verification if available on the platform. This adds an extra layer of authenticity and helps ensure you’re interacting with genuine users.
Communicate your boundaries and expectations early in the relationship, fostering mutual respect and understanding.
Be Skeptical of Red Flags
Watch for suspicious behaviour, such as excessive pressure, inconsistent stories, or refusal to share personal details. These could be warning signs.
Limit Location Sharing
Avoid sharing real-time location data, and be cautious about sharing specific details about your routine.
Report and Block
If faced with harassment or threatening behaviour, promptly report, mute, and block the individual on the platform.
Various social media platforms like Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram offer mechanisms to report individuals involved in cyberbullying or harassment. These online platforms then use their discretion to take actions such as removing content, issuing warnings, suspending, or expelling the reported individuals.
Don’t hesitate to report any suspicious activity or behaviour that raises concerns, contributing to a safer environment for everyone.
To report various forms of cybercrime and harassment in Kenya, you can take the following steps:
Collect evidence of the cyber harassment, including screenshots, messages, or any relevant information.
Visit the National KE-CIRT/CC Website:
Go to the National KE-CIRT/CC website and navigate to the “Report an Incident” section.
Log in to the incident portal and click on the “Report” option. Fill in the required details and the subject of your experience.
Submit your complaint after filling in the necessary information. Click “Submit” to send your complaint to the relevant authority. Illegal and harmful content, including child sexual abuse material, can be reported remotely to the National KE-CIRT/CC through email@example.com
The Communications Authority, as the regulatory body of communications in Kenya, also plays a significant role in addressing cybercrimes through its online reporting portal by providing accurate information and supporting evidence about the incident.
Report to law enforcement:
If the harassment involves severe threats, contact the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI). The DCI has a mandate to handle various crimes, including cybercrimes. To report cybercrime to the police, one can visit the nearest DCI office and provide all the relevant information and evidence. They will investigate based on the evidence provided.
A toll-free crime reporting hotline was launched by the Directorate of Criminal Investigations in 2020 for use by Kenyans anonymously: 0800722203.
Report to the platform
You can report abuse that violates a platform’s terms of service to have the account suspended or the exchange taken down. Social media platforms and online dating sites both vary in their reporting mechanisms; however, the majority have the necessary response and prevention tools in place.
Seek Judicial redress
Seek advice from a lawyer. Keep in mind that there are non-profit organisations that offer free legal advice or representation, such as FIDA, Transparency International, and Kituo Cha Sheria.
Remember, any of these methods will submit your complaint to a team that will investigate it, and they will reach out to you. Prioritise your safety and well-being throughout the process by assessing your safety.
Inform a Trusted Friend
Keep a trusted friend informed about your online interactions, share details of dates or meet-ups, and have a safety plan in place.
For guaranteed safety, ensure that you choose a public space for physical meetups and guard your drinks. Establish a system for updating trusted friends on how the date is progressing, as well as cues to indicate when you need help.
Stay informed about digital safety practices and evolving online threats. The Digital Enquirer Kit, a collaborative initiative between KICTANet and diverse partners, serves as a digital hygiene resource tool. It empowers individuals to deepen their understanding of various manifestations of online gender-based violence and provides valuable insights into safeguarding oneself in the digital realm.
Regularly update passwords and use secure, unique ones for different platforms. Stay informed about common online dating scams and tactics. Recognizing red flags early on can help you avoid falling victim to fraudulent activities.
Use Two-Factor Authentication
Enable two-factor authentication whenever possible. This additional security step adds a protective barrier, making it harder for unauthorized individuals to access your account.
Regularly Update Passwords
Change your passwords regularly and use strong, unique combinations. Avoid using the same password across multiple platforms to minimize the risk of a security breach.
Be Skeptical of Requests for Money
Exercise caution if someone you’ve just met online starts asking for financial assistance. Scammers often use emotional manipulation to exploit individuals financially.
Trust Your Instincts
If something feels off, trust your instincts. Prioritize your safety and well-being over maintaining an online connection.
By integrating these technological and behavioural strategies, you can enhance your online dating experience, creating a more secure space for yourself while fostering meaningful connections.
Embark on your digital dating journey armed with these insights and practical tips, transforming your experience into a safer and more enjoyable adventure. By being vigilant and informed, you can navigate the complexities of online relationships with confidence, ensuring that the digital maze remains a space for connection rather than a breeding ground for harm.
Stay safe, stay informed, and let your digital dating odyssey be a fulfilling and secure exploration into the world of connections.
Linda Gichohi is a lawyer, a KICTANet Legal Fellow, and a Gender Program Assistant. She has an interest in women’s digital rights and access to justice for technology-facilitated violence.