Imagine you find out a photo or video of yourself doing something private was posted online and you knew nothing about it. Strangers know your name, face body and are commenting on your morals. Others are starting Facebook pages claiming to be you. Complete strangers are exchanging phone numbers wanting the video shared with them, without caring that watching and sharing the video is illegal as it involves a sexual act of a person under the age of 18.

This is precisely what happened to 14-year old Sesethu, who had used a friend’s phone to record herself masturbating, and then the friend’s cousin shared it online. The internet was abuzz with the hashtag #Sesethu trending across platforms.

Groups such as Media Monitoring Africa reacted fast. They used their public platforms to try to protect the child, as they knew the damage it could do to her as people shared the video. They reported people sharing it and submitted requests for the videos removal wherever it had been published online.

What we do online can be seen by anyone – including our potential employers, or possible supporters. So if you post something about yourself or someone else that shows them in a bad light, even as a joke, that picture will remain with them far into the future.

So we need to be much more responsible about what we post and share not only about ourselves but also about others. This can be something as simple as not posting and sharing content that uses another’s personal information and identity. It can also include using social media sites to report inappropriate, exploitative content, especially those involving children and other groups of vulnerable people who clearly are unable to consent and who are being harmed. Here are steps you can take to learn how to keep yourself and others safe online:

1. Don’t post people’s photos or videos without their consent

Maybe you’re using your friend’s phone and come across a photo of them in a private moment. While it may feel like a good joke to post it online or send it to other friends, they may be faced with living with the consequences of that action which may be hurtful. And help your friends by not sharing images or videos they don’t want online, and reporting that these pictures are harmful to the website concerned.

2. Don’t take photos and videos of yourself on a device that’s not yours

If the photo or video of you is not something you want to see posted online, sometimes it’s better to think twice about leaving it on someone else’s phone or computer. Leaving it on leaves you with less control with what happens to it.

3. Learn how to change the privacy settings of the social networks you’re on

This will help you control who sees what post learn how to adjust your privacy settings, report inappropriate content and find out more about other safety features. These social media ‘tips and tricks’ can help.

4. Don’t accept friend requests from strangers

Meeting new people is one of the exciting parts of social media, but sometimes strangers can be malicious. When receiving an invite, check out whether you have any friends in common with the person and whether they are active on the network. These people will have access to your updates and photos and if you don’t know the person well, they could use these to cause harm.

5. Don’t use the same password for every site

To avoid forgetting passwords, many people tend to use the same password for every site. But if
any of your accounts is hacked, the person will then have access to your other accounts, which they may use to post things in your name. It’s better to write down your passwords physically and keep them somewhere where you can easily access them if you think you’ll forget them.

But remember, even if you take all these precautions, things can still go wrong and that’s okay. We all make mistakes and should be learning from them. What’s important is to know how to take care of yourself moving forward and making sure that you too aren’t causing anyone else any harm. Being exposed to technology and the online space has many potential benefits, if used properly so don’t be scared to experiment, just make sure that you’re safe when you do it.


This blog also forms part of our Rights 2.0 – Bridging Divides project. Find out more here.