In recent years, the Internet has played an increasingly important role in Sudan's society and politics. During the 2019 Sudanese revolution, protesters and activists used social media to communicate, organize and document violations.
Ultimately, his efforts ended in overthrowing Omar al-Bashir, who ruled the country with an iron fist for 30 years.
Despite these achievements, online bullying remains a major problem in Sudan, where Internet penetration is estimated at 31%. Harassment, including personal data breaches, cyberbullying, persecution, and hate speech, mostly affects women and minorities.
Various campaigns have tried to cover these violations, but online bullying requires more attention and reform, and even the passage of a strong law.
In July, a Sudanese Facebook page posted photos of Weam Shagi, a well-known Sudanese activist for women's rights, showing how she had been tortured by security forces during the dispersal of a protest in the capital Khartoum. Shagi initially posted these photos on her Facebook page. Several commenters attacked her through embarrassing comments about her body.
This is just one of many examples of online harassment in Sudan.
In addition, it is very common to make fun of people for their geographical region. In August, a well-known Facebook page with 170,145 followers called “Sudanese Screenshot” poked fun at the Omdurman girls, commenting that girls should be used as a tool to stop the deadly Nile River floods that are sweeping Khartoum and Bahri. The comments hint that these girls are less valuable and beautiful because of their region of origin. When the post was reported, Facebook responded that the post did not violate its community standards.
Online harassment is not exclusive to civilians. The military has also engaged in malicious conduct online. In June, according to a report by the Human Rights Observatory, “military personnel threatened a young protester who appeared in a video that circulated on social media chanting against the military. She and her family received several calls from men who identified themselves as military officers who threatened to sue her for “using profanity against the Army.”
In some cases, online harassment has been used as a tool to intimidate political activists by the old regime.
According to the 2018 Sudanese Region Internet Freedom Report, “more than 15 activists have seen their personal data violated by the fake Facebook page“ Sudanese Woman against the Hijab ”in which her private photos were published without her consent, along with fabricated quotes about being against the veil and religion. ” Facebook removed the page after many complaints of violation of the platform's community standards.
The response of Sudanese women
In recent years, Sudanese women have employed various tactics to protect themselves from ongoing online harassment. For example, a group of women created a group on Facebook called “Inboxat”, which precedes the English word “inbox” (mailbox) to expose their bullies by sharing the messages they sent.
Despite the group's relative success, they were criticized by some for posting these screenshots of abusive content as possibly violating their privacy.
Labels have also been used to speak out against online bullying. For example, Sudanese women still use the label “Expose a harasser” (Report a stalker) to spread their personal stories. That label became a tool for an online discussion about the nature of bullying and the pros and cons of reporting it, although some argue that this could also invade privacy and could lead to defamation.
Online bullying can have serious psychological consequences such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress, but it remains an under-researched topic. According to research published by Amnesty International in 2018, women surveyed in eight countries reported that they felt physically unsafe and experienced anxiety and panic attacks due to online bullying.
The role of online newspapers and magazines
Online newspapers also engage in such harassment. In December 2016, Sudafax, a Sudanese online newspaper, published a series of articles on Ethiopian immigrants living in a Khartoum neighborhood, citing complaints from neighbors plagued by abusive and racist language.
The articles were characterized by hateful headlines such as “The Ethiopians' Colony” and “Goodbye Sudanese,” which did nothing more than exacerbate the hateful feeling against Ethiopians in Sudan.
In the comment section, many readers criticized the newspaper for publishing this hate speech online, but so far, the newspaper has not taken any action to address these issues, nor does it have an official content policy.
An analysis of 25 pages of Sudanese news, online forums and magazines shows that few publish content policies regarding harassment and hate speech. Well-known online platform Sudaneseonline published its content policy promising to remove spam or abusive language but does not mention harassment. Many other platforms do not publish policies related to content moderation at all, although some do publish regulations related to protecting the privacy of users.
Sudan currently does little to protect women and other communities and risk groups from harassment, which threatens to undermine their ability to exercise their fundamental rights online, along with their well-being and mental health.
In December 2016, the Sudanese government published a national strategic framework to protect minors online. The strategy included a work plan for 2018-2020 and explicitly addressed bullying against minors, legal deficiencies and the need for awareness raising.
The Sudanese legal system itself does not use the term “harassment” directly, but rather other ambiguous terms that fall into this category and appear in various legal documents.
For example, the 2007 Cybercrime Act prohibits conduct such as “intimidation,” “incitement,” and “blackmail”; It also prohibits sending material that violates the “sacredness of private life.”
Instead, the Cybercrime Act of 2018 prohibits the use of “any means of communication or information to incite hatred against foreigners, which causes discrimination and hostility.” However, the final draft of this law, approved by the dismissed regime, has not been published.
In June 2018, the Sudanese Parliament passed an amendment to the Press and Journalism Act of 2009 that added online journalism to its content. Article 26 of this law prohibits journalists from spreading racist content online.
To address and stop online harassment, lawmakers must reform current laws to include a clear definition of all types of harassment, such as the unauthorized publication of personal data, online persecution, discriminatory speech, and threats of violence.
Legal reforms must also be enacted in accordance with international human rights standards and must not be used by the Government as an excuse to undermine the fundamental right to freedom of expression.
Furthermore, the most vulnerable groups should participate in this process, such as women and minorities, who are often left out of this discourse, despite being the most affected. The above cases should serve as examples to understand the complexity and evolutionary nature of this problem.