I hate selfies. I just need to throw it out there. They are the reserve of the weak-minded and the egoistic. They are the apex of human narcissism and celebrate the very worst of us. I personally think that they are the harbinger of humanity’s decline.
I’m obviously on the losing side here.
The mecca of the selfie, Instagram, a photo and video-sharing platform, could be worth $35 billion dollars according to some estimates and it’s easy to see why. It had more than 150 million active monthly users by September 2013, and I’m pretty sure it had a couple hundred million more now.
Instagram, and its worship of the self, is a mere drop in the ocean when it comes to the use of the camera-phone. You now have young people using Snapchat, Tumblr and the now-traditional Facebook and Twitter to share precious moments. And, as we’ve seen again and again, new technology is being used in ways that no one envisaged. Enter sexting (sending sexually explicit text messages, images and videos by mobile phone) and revenge porn (sexually explicit media that is publicly shared online without the consent of the pictured individual).
It has almost become normal for people under forty to send sexually explicit to their romantic interests, whether their spouse, fiancé or boyfriend /girlfriend. It used to be seen as a harmless way to ‘arouse’ interest (forgive the pun). That is, until it lost its ‘harmless’ tag.
Images that were supposed to remain private soon started leaking into the public domain. The issue has taken an international character.
On 31, August 2014, explicit photos of major celebrities were splashed across the Internet after their iCloud accounts were hacked. The private selfies, which had been meant for their romantic partners, spread like wildfire.
What I found interesting was the way the US media, law enforcement and the larger society reacted. Instead of shaming the celebrities for sharing their pictures, everyone turned on the people responsible for the hack. I found that extremely admirable.
Especially when I compare it to the way Ugandan songstress Desire Luzinda has been treated since her ex-boyfriend maliciously shared explicit photos he took of her last year.
The poor lady became the butt of jokes and memes. She had to grovelingly apologize to her fans on Facebook and to rub salt in her wound the State Minister for Ethics and Integrity, Simon Lokodo, called for her arrest. He was quoted by the Daily Monitor newspaper saying “‘I have directed the police to arrest her, but first they should investigate her. She should be locked up and isolated”.
Personally, I found the situation problematic. How could the victim of the loss of privacy become the target of a criminal investigation? But that was the law. Police had no choice but to investigate the matter. Her predicament made me wonder, what would happen if a similar situation happened right here at home?
We deal with the issue of explicit images in Article 188 of the Penal Code. It reads, ‘Any person, who exhibits, sells or distributes songs, or any other writing, symbols, images, emblems or any other objects of sexual nature shall be liable to a term of imprisonment of one (1) month but less than six (6) months and a fine of a hundred thousand (100,000) to two million (2,000,000) Rwandan francs or one of these penalties’.
So, when you take a sexy selfie and send it to your romantic partner on Whatsapp, you are actually falling foul of this very law. You are ‘distributing’ objects of a sexual nature. Are you excitedly forwarding sexually explicit pictures and videos to your friends? If so, you are a criminal.
Thankfully, no one has yet faced a jail term because of taking and sending an ill-advised picture. However, just because it hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it wont eventually. According to our penal law, the person taking the picture and sending it to their partner is actually trafficking pornography. Even if the partner decides to share it with all and sundry without consent i.e. revenge porn, the victim will also be caught up in the police dragnet. They too have engaged in illegality.
I don’t think that the drafters of our penal code had envisaged the explicit selfie when they drafted the law. They couldn’t have foreseen revenge porn. I think that it is time that they revise Article 188 to ensure that victims don’t get caught in the legal crossfire. We must avoid a Desire Luzinda-like situation at all costs.