18 December 2012

Rwanda: What Happens On Facebook Doesn't Stay On Facebook


Despite the example set by some of its leaders, when it comes to the use of social media Rwandans are still lagging behind. For instance, Facebook currently has 184,560 active users in Rwanda, or less than 2% of the population.

And regarding the appropriate use of those media, too, Rwandans still have a lot to learn. When visited 10 random local Facebook profiles, we found that 9 of them didn't restrict access at all - so apparently they don't really care about sharing personal information with strangers. Only one of them knew how to limit access to selected friends.

The problem is, those 9 people are sharing all kinds of personal stuff - it's easy to get caught up in the social aspects of sites like Facebook, and what you choose to share is there for all to see if you don't limit who can view your information.

Young people are especially vulnerable to this, since they often don't look at potential future consequences of their actions. So they will put a sexually tinted picture online, not realizing that anybody who sees it can simply copy it and post it elsewhere.

And that is exactly what is happening with a few Facebook profile pages that have sprung up in and around Kigali off late. While they have often rather innocent titles (such as a page pretending to show what is happening in Kimisagara), they are in fact a collection of pictures mainly of local girls and young women in lingerie. It is highly doubtful that those pictures were placed there by the depicted persons.

Unfortunately for the victims, such pages prove to be rather popular. Another one, also related to Kigali, has so far gotten some 5,140 total likes and more than 670 people talking about it. Most of the people visiting the page come from Kigali, the majority of them youth between 18 and 24 years.

On one of those profile pages, which focuses on APE Rugunga secondary school, there is a picture showing two high school students, with school insignia clearly visible, in a sexually suggestive pose - the boy is gripping the girl's buttocks and pulling her towards him. While the act in itself might be just a spot of fun by two hot-headed teenagers, being leered at by thousands of youngsters was probably not the duo's intention.

And the consequences can be worse than just a blemish on your reputation. One young man who wanted to be identified only as Gilbert says that one day when he was browsing through pictures on a friend's phone, he was shocked to find a photo of his own girlfriend, dressed only in a white slip.

When Gilbert confronted his friend, the latter replied that it was just a picture he had downloaded from Facebook, and he didn't even know the girl.

Needless to say, Gilbert dumped his girlfriend. "What matters isn't the fact that the picture fell in the wrong hands," he says, "But the real motive behind taking it in the first place."

And the girlfriend might live to regret it even more, because once a private picture gets out in the open, there is no way of making it disappear. With human resource managers in companies resorting more and more to the Internet, and especially social media, to find out some background on applicants, the girl might be in for a nasty surprise the day she goes looking for a job.

That, of course, is the last thing on the mind of an adolescent who takes a raunchy picture to share with friends on Facebook. Or when they behave badly at parties without thinking about the fact that other might be taking pictures.

And by the way, all the above does not only applies to youngsters. Just ask one Rwandan Minister who had to resign because photos of him at a party went viral. And those pictures weren't even that sleazy.

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