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Nation comes under online attack by paid bloggers

The Nation Media Group was yesterday targeted in an attack by anonymous cyberbullies on Twitter.

In the synchronized tweets that began at dawn, the bloggers used photoshopped images, innuendo, and falsehoods in what appeared to be an effort to discredit the company, its journalists, editors, and other staff.

The attack coincides with the Thursday launch of an NMG marketing campaign.

Recent stories in the Daily Nation and Taifa Leo, especially on the management of the Covid-19 crisis and public debt, have invited official displeasure, with some key figures in private accusing the organisation of being “unpatriotic” and seeking to incite the public against the government.

While the Ministry of Health has been widely hailed for a good job in managing the pandemic, recent handling of virus variants and a shaky rollout of a vaccination campaign during which uptake almost flatlined, senior government officials eschewed being publicly given the jab – and a Russian vaccine was imported, licensed and administered before being banned – have received less generous encomiums.

Anxiety over the burgeoning public debt has resulted in an online petition opposing a recent line of credit from the International Monetary Fund, which the country urgently needs to maintain financial stability but which the government has somehow been unable to explain to the citizenry.

The NMG publishes the Saturday Nation along with other newspapers, broadcast stations, and digital outlets across the region and has been the victim of cyberbullying in the past, sometimes by bloggers suspected of links with parts of the government.

In 2019, State House denied involvement in an online campaign targeting the NMG.

Yesterday, the cyberbullies used the hashtag #RaiseYourStandard, which started trending in the early morning hours. They accused the NMG and its staff of misleading the public or supporting a politician.

Tweets contained professionally done materials, pointing to a well-funded and coordinated campaign.

NMG Editorial Director Mutuma Mathiu rejected the claims of bias.

“In all fairness, it’s important for the public to know that we do not, have not and shall not, support any politician,” he said.

“As a matter of fact, those politicians being mentioned by these cyberbullies don’t like us. The Nation has been unsuccessfully chasing one of them for an interview for almost two years.

“This is abuse of the anonymity of digital channels to defame our staff and unfairly attack our credibility. We will do our best to reveal the truth about this too.”

Kenya Union of Journalists Secretary-General Eric Oduor said the drive amounts to cyberbullying.

In some of the posts, the attackers used pictures of the iconic Nation Centre building, the headquarters of NMG, doctored to appear like it was burning. Others had the flagship Daily Nation newspaper cover page with blood on it.

While the hashtag #RaiseYourStandard has been used before for other noble campaigns, the first tweet in relation to the anti-NMG campaign was sent out by @Tasha67_ at 6.30am.

After trawling three of the accounts involved in the smear campaign, it was evident that they had previously participated in bullying campaigns.

Between April 5 and 7 this year, they tweeted under the hashtags #ThiefOfTheLoans, #RutoStoleTheLoans and FruitsOfTheLoans.

On average, just over 30 accounts were used to bully the Nation. Some of them are: Chemutai Purity (@Chemutai_254), Dr Gordwin Agutu (@AgutuGordwin), Kiplimo (@Kiplimo01), Njeri Kamau (@NjeriKa2) and Jr Lincoln (@Jr_LincolnKE).

Bloggers are in great demand for dirty jobs, especially since Jubilee came into power in 2013 and incorporated social media and bloggers not just in its political campaigns but also in governing. Cyberbullying and the use of social media to destroy, intimidate and discredit targets is now a popular means to achieve political and commercial objectives.

Politicians, brands and organisations alike have found themselves on the receiving end of criminal elements hiding behind the false anonymity of the Web.

There is a law against cyberbullying and the authorities have become quite good at unmasking anonymous social media users, especially when they target public officials.

Globally, the same tactic has been used against journalists and media houses. Last year, dozens of journalists at Al Jazeera Media Network were targeted by advanced spyware in an attack linked to the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, according to a cybersecurity watchdog.

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