Digital Shelter organized its first forum on the online shrinking civic space in Mogadishu, Somalia which came at the right time when digital space in Somalia is facing serious restrictions. Three distinguished panelists who joined the discussion were selected based on their experience on the issue were invited to speak at the event. Among them was prominent local journalist Mohamed Ibrahim Moalimu who formerly worked with BBC and Reuters, he is currently the General Secretary of the Federation for Somali Journalist (FESOJ) which is national union of journalists established to promote and protect freedom of the press and the interests of journalists.
Badra Yusuf,a humanitarian researcher and curator of Global Shaper’s Mogadishu chapter, she is currently running research institution called RAAGSAN. Zahra Qorane, a widely popular photographer based in Mogadishu who has been the torch bearer of changing the narrative of Somalia with one picture at a time.
About the forum
The forum was the first of its kind to be held in Mogadishu where pressing issues including online harassment, smear campaigns, trolling, cyberstalking and impersonation as well as online deformation were discussed. Panelists were asked five main questions regarding the shrinking online civic space based on their personal experiences followed by other questions and comments dropped by the audiences.
The first question of the panel discussion was the reason why panelists use internet in general and social media in particular. Mohamed Moalimu took the floor mentioning that he uses social media platforms (Twitter and Facebook) for reporting purpose and sharing the news as it breaks. “Twitter is now the best space to share all the breaking news, i also use it as platform for advocacy as FESOJ general secretary when other journalists are in trouble, it amplifies our voices and enables us reach wider audience in Somalia and beyond.” He said
Zahra mentioned that she uses social media for personal purpose which is sharing collections of photos from the country’s beautiful landscapes and its people. “ I use the power of my camera combined with that of social media to portray a different positive narrative of my country, I try to tell the untold stories of the forgotten ones through the lenses of my camera”, Zahra has more than 70 thousand followers both on Instagram and Twitter where she shares scenic pictures she takes with her camera and phone.
Threats faced on social media
The panelists shared different stories about online attacks on their social platforms, for instance, Mohamed’s twitter account was suspended in 2018 after it was allegedly reported by trollers and twitter bots, he had more than 15 thousand followers. Zahra’s Facebook account was hacked twice in 2015 in a period of less than five months and on the other hand Badra has been constantly attacked personally and professionally by trolls on twitter merely for expressing her opinion in her own space.
Talking about being a journalist in the digital age, Mohamed Said “Doing journalism in Somalia is an age of disinformation is incredibly very difficult, agents of disinformation use anonymous online spaces to seed rumors and fabricated content, hoping to eventually reach professional news outlets. The critical question that we need to ask ourselves is how can journalists protect themselves from being manipulated?”
“I have been attacked several times with toxic comments because of sharing genuine news on my twitter pages, some of the news I picked have intentionally been politicalized” he added.
Badra also touched very important topic which is the gendered online harassment against women activists. “The online abuses against women is just an extension of the traditional offline harassment against women. If a girl passes the street, she is likely to be harassed by men, if she shares her pictures online, she might as well be abused with toxic comments”
Among the common online threats on internet and social media listed by the panelists included:-
- Troll attacks on social media (Twitter and Facebook)
- Online harassments and cyberbullying
- Online defamation (mostly targeted against prominent figures such as journalists, activists, businessmen, artists, musicians, politicians and other celebrities). Most perpetrators in this category are group of organized networks living outside Somalia and their main target are local Somalis who are either working inside or outside the country.
- Impersonation (Faking and using someone’s legitimate identity)
- Gendered online harassment which is very common targeting women and young girls in the online space
- Hate speech
- Online blackmailing (sextortion)
- Malware and spyware programs
Identifying Trolls on Social Media
The general answer given by the panelists was that trolls are people with an intention of creating conflict and controversy on social media platforms. They either generate provocative debate, use insults and send offensive messages/comments. Another common characteristics of the trolls is that they adopt fake identities that enables them to navigate easily on social networks. They usually don’t know their victims directly and they can act at any moment.
Panelists pointed out that the raise of trolls are increasing in Somalia created by different actors for different reasons. One of the recommendations that was given by the panelists when dealing with troll is to report and block.
Recommendation on mitigating digital threats
The final question was what are the best strategies and techniques for activists and journalists to defend themselves from the growing digital attacks. The following recommendations were given:-
- Capacity building trainings on digital security for journalists, activists and bloggers
- Organizing more similar forums to increase public awareness on digital threats and online harassment on social media
- Organizing regular meet-up events for bloggers, journalists and activists to discuss creative solutions on mitigating digital threats.
- Engage tech savvies and digital activists to find out best solutions to deal with internet threats.
- Organizing separate workshops on digital security for female activists, journalists and bloggers