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Monday 22 April 2019
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The impact of social media on our lives

Perhaps my first close-to-home experience with social media going viral was with a video of a young girl from Khomasdal who was filmed by her boyfriend engaging in oral sex, via MMS technology. The young lady in question felt like a little sister to me, although I never knew her personally, the fact that we were from the same school made me care enough to take her public shaming personally. Even though MMS was a primitive technology and wasn’t used by many people, the video went viral and the family ended up relocating the girl to South Africa to take her out of the public eye.
 
Over the years, with the introduction of smartphones and social media such as Facebook, Twitter, BBM and recently WhatsApp, it has become very easy for us to share pictures, videos and audio. Students from institutions of higher education became notorious for sharing erotic material, especially those of local students who became victims of their estranged foreign boyfriends. One such video was the that of a Namibian lady who ended up being featured on an international American-based hardcore porn website performing fellatio on her Zambian boyfriend in a campus dorm. As far as my knowledge carries me, no Namibian has ever gone that far internationally for that particular reason!
 
All the while, my inner consciousness was beckoning at me to publicly and actively evaluate the impact on the personal lives of those involved in these scandals. Since the episode of the young high school girl, I’ve had no personal attachments to those involved in viral videos, pictures or audios. Enter the infamous “J66”. For those who might not know about J66, Taxi number J66 gained infamy when a video emerged showing the supposed driver and a female companion having sexual intercourse in the bushes not far from a highway. The video was covertly filmed, evident from the fact that the cameraman kept creeping and sneaking, often showing nothing but the earth and sky. In the video, we do, however, get a glimpse of the coitus happening in the back seat of the car. The filming ends with the cameraman running away when the couple realize they were being filmed. The video went viral by the end of the day it was filmed. I saw in on a WhatsApp group, and a few days later my cousin alerted me to the fact that the taxi was that of our common friend, Skietikop. He gave me permission to publish his real name but I shall stick to our mutual moniker, Skietikop.
 
I must admit that the saying rings true: you never really feel it until it hits home. Skietikop is like a brother to me and as an avid social media pundit, I was at pains to ignore the whole saga. Social media went wild with memes depicting any sexual behavior as that of J66. One Hip Hop artist didn’t waste time and went in studio to record a track titled “J66”. The alpha-numeric code “J66” became synonymous with sexual intercourse. Knowing Skietikop, I knew the new-found fame would have little negative psychological or emotional impact on him. What I didn’t know was the economic impact it would have on him. As a young taxi driver, he became the target of harassment and ridicule from all corners of society. A fortnight ago, over a drink, I decided to engage him on the subject. He narrated to me how he only received the car in question from the owner of the taxi license “J66” a day after the video went viral.
 
He, to his regret in retrospect, decided to pose for a picture at Wernhil Shopping mall in an attempt to prove that he wasn’t the driver involved in the sexual act on the viral video (he is light of complexion, the person in the video is darker). His attempt seemed to have miserably backfired as the unidentified driver had a face now -Skietikop’s! Skietikop isn’t your tech-savvy guy, and therefore could not mitigate his side of the story publicly on social media. From that day on, he has been stalked, followed by cars wanting to take pictures of him. He narrated how on many occasions he was accosted by the City Police officers who pull his car over, just to shout “J66” and to take pictures of him.
 
He says many potential passengers would stop his taxi, just to ridicule him. Some would accost those passengers already in the taxi, being none the wiser, and tell them that “that guy f*cks people, get out of that car”. Skietikop had entered into a contract to work off the car so he could own it and take his taxi business further. But because of that video, which he claims to show the previous driver -and possibly why that driver quit job so hastily -he had to abandon that contract because he would drive all day without a single customer. It ruined him economically, and today he sits around waiting to do mechanic jobs just to get by.
 
I cannot say with surety that it was or it was not him in the video, but I can say that he took the full brunt of the impact of social media on our personal lives. But I’m glad to see that he’s seemingly coping psychologically and emotionally.
 
I’m sharing this particular story because I have a front seat ticket. Many times, we do not have the personal connection or first-hand information to understand the impact of social media scandals on the lives of those involved. I would have loved to know how the lady that got pictures of her private parts shared on social media last month (November 2016) has dealt with it. What was the impact on her career, family and social standing? Often, we think only of how the female victim in the story because women have been the victim in almost all the cases, but it can happen to the male as well, as is shown by Skietikop and the J66 saga.
 
We are quick to share, laugh at and ridicule the poor souls caught in social media scandals, but do we pause to think: what if it was me, my brother, sister or friend? Some of those caught in those scandals are parents, or one day will be parents. Do we think about the impact of our involvement in sharing these scandals on their children? You are not only affecting the individual, you are affecting their family, community and the nation. In the case of J66 and I, in Oshiwambo we say “dengwa wu lungame
 
–Vaino Tuhafeni Hangula
Youth Activist, Katutura



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