June 17, 2019

Rogue Media; When Bloggers go Wrong and we Follow


By Hellen Nanzia

The problem with social media congregations (sheep) is that they will follow whatever their ‘gods’ say. The hashtag gospel is shared in an apostle-like fashion usually without any prior research because it feels socially right. I mean everyone seems to be doing it so why not? Unfortunately, some of these social ‘movements’ have blown up in people’s faces with hilarious and sometimes disastrous consequences. Remember the mass apologies after #Mollis?

“I laughed the first time I heard the Mollis thing but after thinking about it….”

If you typed this on any social media site I hope you’ve learned some lesson of some sort. If you read it then went on to find out what was going on…Bravo to you. Some schooling did sink in and 8-4-4 has not failed you. But there was something else working in the background. Bloggers.

It was some individuals somewhere behind a screen and keyboard who decided something was wrong with our mass enjoyment of some poor soul asking for help in a heavily influenced tongue. Then we began thinking, and listened again and immediately we collectively got split down the middle. Right? Wrong? The debate raged on and soon we forgot. (#PastorNganga)

Bloggers influence large swathes of public opinion just by saying what they feel like and very few abide by media ethics. But more on my rants later. Let’s focus on why we’re really here.

Nyakundi vs Bidco
Kenyan political bloggers (if you could call them that) are a swift, vicious and highly ambitious lot. From exposing corruption in the government to blackmailing corporate companies of 50 million Kenya Shillings. That is what happens when highly opinionated people who have more followers than the population of Equatorial Guinea think they are smart.

Remember Alan Wadi, the university student/blogger who exposed his thoughts, thoughts ordinary Kenyans only whisper to each other in the deep of the night while enjoying a cold tusker, running away from their wives. But NO, the young man decided it is wiser to insult the President of the Republic of Kenya (@pork) on Facebook, the largest social media site.

Or Blogger Kiplangat Abraham Mutai who was arrested for his alleged expose on corruption in one leading county government touching on some ‘big people’. Abraham Mutai revealed the rot and corruption at Geothermal Development Corporation ‪#‎GDC‬ and the ‪#‎IVORYPOACHERS‬ in the jubilee Administration.

To many top bloggers, an arrest is always imminent owing to the steadfastness in the fight against corruption that often goes unreported by mainstream media. In this regard I salute Boniface Mwangi. He is always doing something that could lead to Central Police station, is at the police station, is going to the police station, is leaving the police station…or is at home with his family.

Cyprian Nyakundi is political blogger and student at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology whose blog mainly focuses on controversial issues of corruption. With 612,113 followers on twitter, he is arguably the most followed person in Kenya and with this mass following comes mass influence.

Cyprian Nyakundi has recently been making news on social and mainstream media for all the wrong reasons. Last month Safaricom Limited sued Nyakundi for allegedly posting defamatory claims about the company on his blog. He claimed that Safaricom is infringing on its customer’s privacy and firing personnel illegally. A High Court judge issued a permanent injunction on Nyakundi, which bars him from publishing any articles (now and in the future) that defame Safaricom Limited. And then we sort of forgot that issue in favor of something else. Was it the playground and the hotel issue? I forget.

And before that the blogger was suspended then expelled from Meru University for allegedly defaming the institution on social media platforms. I’ll let you google it, put some journalism skills in you.

For the last one month, Nyakundi has been running a series of stories on his blog that he termed investigations into Bidco’s alleged illicit practices in Uganda.

In this series, Nyakundi claims to expose how Bidco and other big corporations have been exploiting the farmers in Kalangala, Uganda by forcing them out of their land. These alleged big corporations include Bidco Uganda, Oil Palm Uganda Limited (OPUL) and UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). Farmers have filed lawsuits against Bidco Uganda who own OPUL and Amos Ssempa who leased the land to OPUL with little to no response from the government and threats from the big corporations. The series of Bidco exposẻ blog posts on Nyakundi’s website ended with him demanding that Bidco answer for their crimes.

This and a series of other claims got the attention of Bidco management. The matter of who called who is grey, but a call was made involving Nyakundi, Bidco management and Xtiandela, who is believed to be a close friend of blogger Cyprian Nyakundi.

Xtiandela and an audio clip
I still have no idea whence he got involved in the story. I shall not assume he had a vested interest, that would be shallow and unimaginative. However, according to a leaked audio clip he is Cyprian Nyakundi’s middleman in this saga. (In keeping with media ethics, Xtiandela is welcome to reply. We take right of reply very seriously here). And according to the same audio clip there is another unidentified man acting in some capacity or the other…middleman.

Through a phone call, Xtiandela the middleman suggested that the quickest way to get rid of the issue is for the Bidco management to pay Nyakundi Ksh. 50 million for him to take down the blog posts and tweets. In fact, they incriminated themselves by implying that someone was paying them to take down Bidco oil and refineries.

As heard on the audio Xtiandela “the safest and the easier way is for us middlemen to meet and discuss on their behalf and come to an agreement. I think the other guys offered some good chunk of cash. An amazing good chunk of cash, but I told them at the end of the day it’s good to have the truth out. He was asking for 40 M (million)… he was actually saying that it’s low, that he would want to push it to 50.”

I should add that they did not try to get to the bottom of the matter at all thought this conversation; all you can hear is MONEY!

And if they had bothered to dig deeper they would have discovered a few things. Key amongst them the fact that the Ugandan government had cleared Bidco of any wrong doing in the land case. Yes, it might seem laughable that I trust an African government but look keenly at this scenario. This is a government keen on throwing gay people and their supporters into prison and doesn’t bat an eyelid if donors and western powers threaten to take away the money.

In short, the Ugandan powers that be don’t even trust their own people over money. So either the conspiracy goes deeper or the blogger did a piss poor job at research.

Now this is clearly a display of bad journalism, corruption and bloggers behaving badly. The same bloggers who claim to be the ‘voice of the people’ and ‘corruption fighters’ are at the forefront of extortion and blackmailing corporate companies for an ambitious amount of cash.

Xtiandela is known on twitter to be a saved man of God and a teller of no lies. He is also an online brand ambassador for Safaricom Limited (Hence my confusion on where he joins this story. Isn’t his buddy on Safaricom’s naughty list?). This is not what saved men of God and brand ambassadors do; they don’t help their friends blackmail corporations. The Bible is better than this!

Over time, most Kenyans have come to trust these two characters, as you will learn from their tweets praising the bloggers as inspirational and true activists against corruption. However, lately they have left Kenyans with conflicted opinions as it is evident on twitter through the hash tags #NyakundiUnmasked and #NyakundiFramed. With most Kenyans leaning towards #NyakundiUmasked, it is safe to say that Nyakundi has lost his credibility. But he seemingly remains unfazed, as he has been tweeting and writing on his blog.

The problem
And now I circle back to my real problem with most bloggers and a large section of their followers on social media. Bloggers influence large swathes of public opinion just by saying what they feel like and very few abide by media ethics. What happened to good research? Right of reply? Accuracy? What the heavens happened to good old decency? Don’t do that if you’re blogging about your lunch, but politics surely?

Social media does not allow one to simply back down. You either keep going or shut up and let the story ‘die’ naturally. But throw a hashtag into the mix and your only prayer is hoping something bigger happens.

Bloggers need to be more careful about what they get involved in. Not that they will listen, their job is to keep us reading and tweeting. The better the hashtag the more the fame (or infamy). But when it blows up in their faces either thanks to proper journalism (traditional journalism) or some jicho-pevu style audio leaks it’s the same readers and ‘tweeps’ that turn on the bloggers.

#NyakundiUnmasked, but who’s next? And will you be the clever fool turning mid-tide on a once famous hashtag?

“I really thought I was doing the right thing but then…”

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