Black Looks - Including an African LGBTIQ+ Archive

Freedom to abuse

Freedom to abuse — choices in the African Blogosphere

Last weekend the number of blogs topped the 30 million mark, according to the UK Guardian (technology section).  In it’s leader entitled “In Praise of the Blogosphere it suggested that blogging “is graduating from being a minority sport to a mainstream activity”.  It listed three factors that had led to this huge spate in the growth of blogs:  the ease of setting one up; the functionality of blogs that has grown to include video and audio clips plus a wide range of social networking features particularly the use of “tags” for sharing music, bookmarks, books and photos; and most importantly  that “they are becoming politically and socially important as like-minded people around the world share thoughts and pictures and call decision-makers to task.”

The article like most on blogging presents a scene of harmony and freedom of speech as the economic and technological barriers to publishing are removed enabling of  the democratic grassroots  media (New Media Musing) to speak out as they choose.

Other articles on the blogosphere are written in a similar vein using phrases like “citizens media revolution” (Our Media) “social media” “grassroots media” “mavericks of the online world” (Rebecca’s Pocket) and so on.  Having blogged two years I cherish the technology that enables me to say what I like and how I like. I do not have to consider editorial constraints or advertising interests. The only standards I have to adhere to are my own. I am free as the wind to speak as I wish.   

But there is a dark side to the blogosphere as Rebecca Blood writes

“The weblog’s greatest strength – its uncensored, unmediated, uncontrolled voice – is also its greatest weakness…..

She argues that the editorial and adverting constraints, on the main stream media ensure that ethical standards are maintained. However, the lack of constraints on blogs which make them so vibrant at the same time compromises their integrity and therefore their value.

But blogging is not just about writing.  It is also about the interaction between the writer and the readers.  The writer is exhibiting their ego and the reader is engaging in overt voyeurism. We bloggers know when someone has been to our blogs, how long they spend there and what they read. After all that is why we are writing.  We created our online identities so others would take a look and watch and try to discover through out words who we are and what we think.

The African blogosphere is one sphere that has seen a huge growth of new blogs in the past 6 months.  For example in Nigeria the number of blogs has trebled in the last 9 months and each month new blogs are being created.  The majority of African bloggers are still men although the number of women is  slowly increasing.   African blogs tend to fall into three loose categories.  First, Journals or diary blogs, topic specific blogs such as technology or music blogs, and  current affairs and political blogs with commentary.

The African blogosphere is no more homogenous than Africa itself.  Each
blogosphere tends to have it’s own characteristic such as more
conversations between bloggers or less topic specific blogs and more
commentary and so on. For example the Nigerian blogosphere tends to be
equally divided between all three blog types but with more women
writing journal and diary type blogs than men. Some countries are not
as developed as others.   The Ethiopian blogosphere though relatively
quite small is very active and dominated by political commentary
blogs.  Kenya is the largest, followed closely by Nigeria.

Recently a number of Nigerian and Kenyan bloggers have been speaking out against homophobia and the abuse of women. These blogospheres have become the sight of much
intolerance expressed through homophobia  and misogyny.  The abuse of
women has been particularly disturbing.  Comments have been left on
womens’ blogs and posts, written using misogynist language against
women and lesbians.  What is interesting is that posts by gay men on their sexual fantasies are viewed as being entertaining and therefore OK.    Whereas writings by female bloggers on homophobia or the  rights of homosexuals results in threats of harassment against the blogger.

This is not to say that there is anything objectionable about someone
expressing opinions against homosexuality whether via a comment or
through a post on a blog.   However these are not simply rational
comments.   The comments and posts are personalised and the language
used is derogatory and misogynist, such as  “lesbos need a dick
whipping”  “bitches”, “menopausal bitches”.  In some instances
individual women have been stalked and intimidated even as far as names
being revealed.  Whilst individuals are entitled to their opinions,
when the conversation degenerates into offensive hate speech advocating
violence against women and homosexuals, this is not acceptable.

Because people see the blogosphere as a space where they can express
themselves freely and often anonymously, they feel they do not have to
adhere to the constraints in speech that they would in the non-cyber
world.  These issues become more apparent as the number of blogs grow
and as people from different backgrounds and countries are brought
together in one huge global blogosophere.  At any one time there are
thousands of conversations taking place. People who would not normally
have contact with each other whether because of geographical space or
just personal preference now have the possibility of sharing
conversations.  The blogosphere reflects the non-cyber world in that
the lack of shared values, ideological consensus and cultural
differences amongst people can and does result in conflicts and
confrontations betweens groups and individuals on their blogs.  Thus
the  dichotomies of gender — male and female; sexual preference —
heterosexual and homosexual; geographical location — Africa the
homeland and Africa the Diaspora; African and non-African all have the
possibility of being exacerbated because except in the case of gender
these pairs are not often thrown together within the same space.

are being abused when they do not conform to certain types of
behaviour.  The emerging female voice on for example, the Nigerian blogosphere is
often in contrast to the prescribed gender roles in Nigeria that do not
threaten existing patriarchal systems.  Women can and do use their
blogs to “speak” out against male oppression in ways they may not do in
their daily lives.  Blogging anonymously they feel free to express
their aspirations for a different Nigeria where women are not
subservient to male domination.  Many men find this problematic and
feel they are loosing control and power over women. This may be one reason why the gay male voice does not elicit so much venom as the female voice. The response to this perceived loss of power  is
to use misogynist and homophobic language to berate and intimidate the
women who speak out. 

Women in the Diaspora are exposed to a more sexually open environment
and one where sexism and homophobia are not so socially acceptable.
This is a further challenge for men in the “homeland” who may resent
and fear this freedom because it may influence “their” women at home.
It is common to berate those living abroad as having lost their
cultural traditions and become soiled by western society  which is
viewed as being morally inferior.  As I mentioned earlier the
blogosphere provides people with the opportunity to develop an
exaggerated ego and to engage in voyeurism. 

The sexual nature of the comments left by some men on women’s’ blogs
indicate the sexualisation of this voyeurism. Young men are able to
feed each other’s ego and sexuality by egging one another on as they
publicly engage in “male” chat about women much of which includes the
use of misogynist language.  Some women also participate in these
“conversations” cheering the men on as they act out their “machoness”
and collude in the abuse of their sisters.

It needs to be said that the numbers of men engaging in abusive
behaviour is relatively small.  In fact a number of male bloggers have
themselves been very outspoken against the abuse of women whether in
the blogosphere or in the non-cyber world but there are still many who
though not participating in abuse are silent. Despite the abuse, women
are determined to continue blogging, to expose misogyny where it
exists, and to find ways of supporting each other just as they have
always done and continue to do so offline. 

The sheer number of blogs and the global nature of the blogosphere
allows for the potential exchange of ideas, empathy and tolerance
across the numerous dichotomies that exist in an increasingly complex
and changing world.  For Africa, the rapidly developing blogosphere
provides the possibility of bringing about a much needed alternative
and progressive voice and cross continent collaboration through a
citizen’s media.  It is important that these possibilities are not side
tracked or diminished by a few destructive non progressive elements.
African bloggers of today are pioneers and as such it is the duty of
all of us to create a blogging environment where women are free to
express themselves without fear.

Human rights defenders and other progressive people in the
global blogging community also have a responsbility to support bloggers who
are being abused because of their sexuality, race, ethnicity, religion
or physical ability.  Here we have a technology that provides the possibility for a global alliance of progressive people yet this is not happening.  The question has to be asked is why?  Why have feminists,  the LGBT community and human rights defenders in the blogosphere  been largely silent on this issue?  Are people listening? if so why do they not speak? How can we change this and create a network of mutual support that  values freedom and diversity? We need to seize the time, find each other and work together.



  1. Hey i just listened to you on BBC Africa,

    You have a nice voice.

    This was a bit funny
    “you are both Africans and you blog and you live in Africa…..”
    And Mshari he couldnt just say Mshairi.

  2. Sorry i meant “….you live in Europe”

  3. Great piece, what a tangled web this blogisphere is..

  4. it’s growing in size and power. i dont know if thats a good thing. i’m not too optimistic lately

  5. I love your blog and I was so proud you linked to my post because I was so hopeful taht it would bing a little bit of support about this issue . It really didn’twork teh way i hoped and I am upset in alot of ways . But once again you are so right

  6. Ore

    Wonderful piece! I’ve loved blogging and the discussions that come after is one of my favourite parts. Fortunately for me, I have not received any abusive comments on my blog.

    It’s true that the rules that would normally prevail in face-to-face discussions are more easily discarded in cyber discussions. And I can see why: the offenders feel that they have a mask to hide behind.

    I think an online community of bloggers who support each other’s work would be great. Expressing different points of view is okay, but what is not okay is if these views are expressed in a disparaging and abusive manner. If bloggers learned to call each other out when such vindictiveness is identified, it would go some way, in helping to encourage civilised forms of debate.

  7. Hello. I always enjoy following your blog, and really appreciated this piece. It’s well written and makes some very powerful points.

    Have you read the Mail and Guardian this week? I am so outraged! Please read and let me know what you think. If male misogyny is such a problem, where do we even start with female misogyny! How can we build the courage for women to speak out if women are so suspicious of and unsupportive of one another?

  8. “…where do we even start with female misogyny! How can we build the courage for women to speak out…”

    This is where we start. Each woman who speaks out and writes adds a drop to the wave. I echo nubian, my sense of optimism seems to be malnourished at present. And yet, it’s exactly, and in some sense, only, reading strong voices such as your’s that combats my sense of helplessness and hopelessness. We might not know where we’re going, or whether we’ll get there, but to remain mute and passive is to be complicit in our continuing oppression. thank you for your contribution.

  9. Fortunately I haven’t read many blogs where this abuse against women blog authors is published. The best prevention against this kind of abuse is to restrict who can comment and/or moderate comments.

    Women (and others) who choose to speakout and speakup in certain societies and in public settings will experience abuse and even threats from all kinds of idiots and sexists and insecure people. If the abuse continues then report the incidents to the appropriate law enforcement authorities and to the weblog service provider and then blog about the follow-up to the complaint.

    I personally favor hunting the suckas down and threatening them with castration or worse, but I have been known to harbor some extreme views on enforcing the law when it comes to respecting the rights of women and girls.

  10. BRE – I am not sure how reporting to the authorities would help here as bloggers could be posting from anywhere in the world. Even with the IP address which might come from an internet cafe would be difficult as unless you are in the country how do you complain/report the matter. I think by far the best tactic is to shame the abusers by exposing who they are and for other bloggers to let him know how they feel about his abuse.

  11. Thanks for this. I think that active critiquing of the blog as a space with much potential but also with much work to go is the only ethical thing bloggers of conscience can really do if they want to create more not less spaces of radical questioning where information can be freely shared.

  12. Shaming the offenders won’t work. You have to have a brain in order to feel ashamed… a functioning brain at that.

    Anyone can be tracked down online if you put enough effort into it, there is no such thing as complete anonymity online. Every machine (computer) leaves a digital trail and most humans leave trails online that even a half-dead blind hound dog could follow. The authorities in many countries do not protect the rights of women and children period, so they won’t be any help.

    But… when the abuse and threats are taking place via computer servers located in “certain” countries, the authorities and service providers are compelled to act by law (I think). Many web-based blog services are hosted and operated from these few “certain” countries, excluding China of course.

    P.S. The Chinese government authorities WILL sell you some software to track people down online. No problem there. Cheap too. Business is Business, CONfucious says.

  13. grace

    Okay that just sounds scary to me. I did not know you can tell who reads your blog and where they are reading from. Somehow that makes me feel very unsafe, whether of not I am harrassing anyone online. Why do you need to know people’s IP addresses? Could that not be a form of invasion of the reader’s privacy?

  14. So let me get this ‘straight’ grace..
    women are being abused and bullied online by a coalition of thugs who think ‘dick whipping’ them is the best way to go.. You don’t find that scary..

    Au Contraire…
    You find a site owner gathering user statistics scary?. and propose that its an ‘invasion of readers rights’?
    Are being wilfully obtuse or are you really that incredibly obtuse?

    Any commenting service you use displays user IP addresses.
    Stats are gathered so that you know where to focus your targets.. and statistics package you use online will tell you where visitors entered e.t.c.

    EVERY MAjor website you go to does this.. most blogs do it as well.. especially blogs who write for an audience.
    Once you log on to the Internet.. you leave a digital signature wherever you go.
    If you didn’t know.. then you better know.

    How ridiculous to suggest that a site owner is invading the privacy of someone who willingly comes to their site not just to read their work.. but to abuse them..

    Damn! Common sense really isn’t that common.

  15. soul why are u always hot? it’s like you always want to pick a fight or beat someone down? at times it pays to be the bigger man/woman and just chill.

    grace is obviously a newbie in these IP matters and is just suprised at the advancement of technology and all you can do is shout her down?

    please take time to read stuff well before reacting. peace!

  16. Trae… why are you always on my dick.
    I mean really… why?.

    Are you really suggesting that you have any authority on who can be a bigger person?.
    I mean you.. who suggested all those lesbians need is a good.. ‘dick whipping’..
    really? you?.

    We are talking about people being abusive to women online, and someone responds that statistics collecting could be invading a readers privacy…
    How do YOU know who this person is or what this person knows.. or was it you under one of your anonymous sign ins?

    How do you know how I’m feeling.. what makes you think ‘I’m hot’. I mean what do you know about women.. beyond wanting to ‘dick whip’ the ones who have absolutely no interest in you… lol..
    as we say on these shores… ‘you give me joke’

    You always jump to conclusions don’t you?.because you don’t know anyother way. To you any woman who can give as good as she gets must always ‘be hot’.
    Don;t you even have any shame?. Don;t you even feel hypocritical?.
    on btw, I’m perfectly calm.. when I wrote my response.. I was perfectly calm. In case you didn;t know.. it’s just the internet…
    you might think about this bullshit when you log off.. but not me..
    so please spare the BS about what you’think’ I’m feeling. cos you obviously don’t have a clue mate.

    So I’ll say to you again.. get off my dick.. really…
    It might be something that you are not able to do.. because I guess.. you might be too busy thinking of other ways to ‘control lesbians’ if dick whipping becomes less of an option.

  17. am i always on your dick (should be vagina as you’re a woman)? oh well i guess i like you.

    about the dick whipping stuff owukori (and now you guys) got it all wrong. clarify yourself with this:

    i stand by my words, grace was just expressing suprise at something she hitherto didnt know about (remember no body knows it all) and instead of you to nicely tutor her on the IP issue you went abusive.

    im sorry but you’ve potrayed yourself online as a very hot tempered person.

  18. No Trae..
    I really meant get off my dick.. but as always, you do NOT understand the nuances and subtleties of the things you try to ‘pretend that you do’… it’s okay.. it’s seems you don’t understand much really.

    erm.. and no thanks.. I’ll stay away from your site thanks very much. I read the ‘clearing up you did before’ and you just re-affirmed what you said.. so what’s the point.

    And you can stand by what you said all you want..
    Just as I stand by what I say now..
    YOU are a bigot and a homophobe.. and you are the last person who should be giving anybody any advice about anything.

    You were the main person who posted the whole dick whipping vitriol and you still have no shame coming here and attempting to divert the thread.

    Like I said before..I had a blog before you guys came on line.. since 2002.
    Largely we had no problems…You guys came online and all of a sudden decided that you want to tell women how to talk, how to behave and how to conduct themselves.

    Point blank… you Naija guys don’t like being told that you are wrong, or even being challenged.

    how do you think you have portrayed yourself online Trae?.

    In my eyes and in the eyes of many others, you have portrayed yourself as:
    an intolerant woman hater, wannabe rapist, a hypocrite, a fake ass wannabe gangsta, a misogynist, a sadist, a bully and most important of all a coward.

    Tell me why would you actually think the impression that someone like you has .. would ever concern someone like me?.

    So like I said.. get off my dick Trae… it’s enough already

  19. grace

    Soul, the answer to your question is that yes I am unbelievably daft when it comes to internet and technology issues. Thank you for your kindness in enlightening me. Now I will take my juvenile fear about being monitored over the internet and go hide under a rock.

  20. Grace….
    feel free and you are most welcome.