Safeguarding children online: Lessons for the media from influencer’s post

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This week, a Ugandan media personality, MC Ollo (real name Stanley Odong), sparked outrage with a tweet mentioning a musician’s daughter. The tweet claimed he visited her dormitory room at a renowned all-girls school. Meant to be humorous, the post backfired spectacularly. It overshadowed MC Ollo’s reason for being at the school (an event) and, far more concerning, exposed the young girl to potential online ridicule and harassment.

The tweet read:

While at Gayaza High School hosting the National Schools Championship boot camp by @stanbicug bank, I looked for the cubicle (dormitory) where Bebe Cool’s daughter sleeps in that’s where I slept; on the exact bed I left a note ‘Remember MC Ollo’.

A picture of a handwritten note accompanied the tweet.

The tweet sharply divided MC Ollo’s followers. Some expressed anger that he would drag a child, who has no control over her online presence, into the public eye. They were also incensed about the sexual undertones of the tweet. Others, however, found the tweet humorous and egged him on, further amplifying the potential harm to the child.

Blurred lines, big impact

What was unsaid, but apparent, was that MC Ollo and many of his followers had little regard for the child. They did not understand the power imbalance inherent in their actions – that they have a voice and she does not. MC Ollo and his followers can shape a narrative about her, but she has no ability to defend herself or control the narrative. His ‘joke’, intended or not, could expose the young girl to online ridicule and harassment, based not on anything she has done or said, but simply because of her parentage. By using his platform in this way, MC Ollo effectively exploited a child’s vulnerability for a cheap laugh.

A day later, MC Ollo issued an apology on his Twitter page and deleted the original tweet However, this apology proved to be insufficient and failed to address the heart of the matter. While it expressed regret for any offence caused to Gayaza High School, the venue where the National Schools Championship Bootcamp event was held, and Stanbic Bank, the event’s sponsor, there was a glaring omission: no mention of the young girl directly impacted by his actions. There was a lack of accountability and disregard for the harm caused to the child who was subjected to intense ridicule and even crude sexual jokes online in the wake of the tweet.

Why safeguarding matters

This incident highlights the crucial role safeguarding plays in the media.

Safeguarding, at its core, is about creating a protective environment for individuals, particularly children and vulnerable adults. In the media world, this translates to a multi-layered responsibility for actors – from journalists, editors, producers and broadcasters to social media influencers and content creators. It is about being mindful of the potential impact, both explicit and implicit, their content can have on audiences, particularly those most at risk.

The media landscape has undeniably shifted with the rise of social media. Here, the lines between professional content creators and everyday users can blur. While traditional media outlets have established editorial processes and guidelines to ensure responsible content, social media platforms present a unique challenge. The immediacy and informal nature of social media can lead to a more relaxed approach, but the potential for harm, particularly to vulnerable audiences, remains ever-present. This is where safeguarding becomes especially important for media actors in the social media space – requiring them to be extra vigilant about the content they share and its potential impact.

Viral for the wrong reasons

MC Ollo’s tweet exposes several critical safeguarding concerns.

Firstly, it exposes the identity of a minor in an online space. Minors have a right to privacy, and their online presence should only be with parental consent and within a controlled environment. Sharing details about a child’s residence at school further escalates the issue.

Secondly, the tweet injects a celebrity element into a child’s life, potentially attracting unwanted attention or even harassment. The power imbalance between a young girl and a well-known media personality is significant. A seemingly innocuous ‘joke’ from MC Ollo could be perceived differently by the young girl or others who see the tweet.

Thirdly, the media personality’s actions potentially undermine the trust parents place in institutions like schools, jeopardising the safety and security they expect for their children. It’s important to note that the media personality did not meet the musician’s daughter. However, his tweet referenced her private space within the school – her dormitory room. Schools have a duty of care towards their students, and MC Ollo’s actions can compromise that trust.

Fourthly, MC Ollo’s position as a self-declared youth activist and brand ambassador for companies targeting young audiences makes this incident even more concerning. He hosts TV programmes aimed specifically at teenagers, engendering a sense of trust and relatability with this vulnerable demographic. Therefore, he has a responsibility to set a positive example for his young viewers. People in positions of responsibility like him should take even greater care to ensure their online presence reflects the values they promote. Eyes are on them. Media organisations that hire personalities like MC Ollo must implement safeguards at all levels so that even when acting independently on social media, these personalities can represent their brand and the youth they claim to support responsibly.

Safeguarding a necessity for the media industry

While many Ugandan media actors possess a general understanding of ethical guidelines around the protection of minors and other vulnerable persons, a comprehensive approach to safeguarding is urgently needed. There is a critical gap in safeguarding awareness within the media industry. Many media organisations currently offer little to no safeguarding training for their staff. Even fewer have established robust safeguarding policies, reporting mechanisms, or clear response protocols. This lack of safeguarding standards leaves both media personalities and vulnerable individuals, particularly children, exposed to potential harm.

The recent incident involving MC Ollo’s tweet exemplifies the limitations of simply teaching media personalities to identify risky situations. Training must go beyond basic awareness. It needs to equip media personalities with a deeper grasp of the potential consequences of their actions, particularly when it comes to online content and minors. This includes knowledge of privacy laws, the potential for online harassment, and the importance of informed consent.

In the digital age, online safety requires an understanding of social media hierarchies. This includes how content can be shared and repurposed, and the lasting impact of online interactions. Similarly, child protection training should delve deeper than basic abuse awareness. It is important to understand the unequal footing inherent in interactions with minors and the potential for seemingly innocuous actions to have a negative impact on those involved.

Safeguarding training is not about stifling creativity or humour. Responsible media production can still be engaging and entertaining. However, a fundamental shift in mind-set is necessary. Media organisations must move beyond simply hoping their staff will “act responsibly” and instead actively cultivate a culture that prioritises safeguarding best practices. This requires clear and consistent messaging from leadership, open communication channels for reporting concerns, and ongoing training and development opportunities for all staff, regardless of platform.

Thankfully, there are resources available to help media organisations prioritise responsible content creation and protect children and vulnerable individuals from online exploitation and harm. The African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME), for instance, offers free resources to support media organisations in Africa in developing and instituting safeguarding policies and practices. Organisations interested in learning more or acquiring these resources can contact ACME at admin[at]acme-ug.org.

The MC Ollo incident serves as a reminder that in the media, the ultimate goal must be to protect those who cannot protect themselves. No excuses. Media organisations need to equip their staff with the knowledge and tools they need, including robust safeguarding training that goes beyond basic awareness. Media actors, online or offline, have a heightened duty to be mindful of the potential impact of their content, especially on vulnerable audiences.

About Post Author

ACME Mwalimu

The African Centre for Media Excellence's training unit, known as ACME Mwalimu, scours news platforms and online resources to curate the best training tips and resources for journalists and media organisations, empowering them to become impactful contributors to public debate and development. If you have a training tip or question, you can reach out to ACME Mwalimu at training[at]acme-ug.org.
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ACME Mwalimu

The African Centre for Media Excellence's training unit, known as ACME Mwalimu, scours news platforms and online resources to curate the best training tips and resources for journalists and media organisations, empowering them to become impactful contributors to public debate and development. If you have a training tip or question, you can reach out to ACME Mwalimu at training[at]acme-ug.org.

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