In recently concluded election, Zambians demonstrated how powerful social media platforms have become in Africa’s elective politics.But what took many by surprise was young people who allegedly shared a photo of a young woman being sexually assaulted in a political rally in South East of the country and posted on Youtube although it was later pulled down.That case highlighted the danger that social media can pose.The girl was bullied after the photo, which was taken in July 2016, went viral. She went into hiding few days after a suicide attempt according to those familiar with the case.Authorities have failed to lay any charges despite a month-long investigation. The case should be an example why Zambia need to introduce a law allowing people being bullied online or their guardians to sue the perpetrator.This kind of case is becoming more common with the proliferation of social media and Zambia is in the enviable position of not having had a case of cyberbullying leading to death.In over countries, deaths are being reported.And there are things Zambians can do to ensure they don’t have to.A regulatory response would show that the law applies equally to behaviour online, but cyberbullying and suicide are complex individual and social issues that require a complex multi-faceted response.Its common sense that young people are uniquely vulnerable to bullying as both victims and perpetrators, both online and off. They’re acutely sensitive to peer appraisal and rejection, and are also more prone to do thoughtless and cruel things when spurred on by their peers.Bullying has always had negative consequences, but the all pervasive reach of the online magnifies its impact. Social media is accessible to Zambians all the time.And a smart phone is the permanent accessory of the teen constantly available to record, receive and respond to text messages and images.
Privacy has changed forever and there’s little respite for Zambia’s teenagers. They face a relentless need to manage their online social identity and reputation, and the ever-present possibility of public humiliation.Zambia’s first response should be to support teenagers to be informed and empowered users of social media, as well as responsible online social citizens.Useful resources are increasingly available, but this education is too important to be ad hoc. The copper producing nation need to build it into routine learning at school.Knowing how and where to seek appropriate help when they are distressed and feeling vulnerable is also critical for young people whether in Ndola or Lusaka.In most cases, teenagers don’t think through the consequences of their actions in the same way that adults do. This means Zambia as a society can’t expect young people to always monitor and moderate their own behaviour without help.Adults in Zambia have a duty to protect young people when they are vulnerable, and this duty increases in inverse proportion to the child’s age.Zambia also need to ensure that parents and other adults responsible for young people are well-informed about online safety, and know how to deal with bullying and where to seek help.Zambian parents must realise that effective monitoring of online behaviour is now part of their role, and they need to be vigilant about both bullying and victimisation.When I saw that video of sexual abuse, I felt so sad that if i had powers would have castrated the perpetrators. Social media is now a part of Zambia’s social fabric and all citizens of that country have a role to play to help keep young people safe from its darker side. There’s need to renew their efforts and it may well be time to start talking about the kind of regulatory measures can take as Zambia to help reinforce positive social norms.