Back in the day, if you engaged in one sort of mischief or other, the worst that could happen is that you would become the subject of idle village or mtaa gossip.
Chances are less than 50 people would be aware that you were, for instance, caught pants down and once you moved from that neck of the woods, that skeleton would be firmly shut in the closet you left behind.
If you were a celebrity of sorts, or rich, you would probably get featured on gossip columns or the horrible dressers parade in the papers, or online.
And even so, the risk was only in being seen by the newspaper reading public, or one that enjoyed access to the internet, which was hard to come by, in the office, or the cybercafe for those who could afford some minutes.
That lovely world is over. Access to the internet has been democratised, courtesy of growing internet penetration with smartphones all over the place, and free WiFi in all public places worth the salt. What this means is that in today’s digital world, one has to carefully watch their steps.
You behave badly on the road going rogue, breaking traffic rules with abandon, throwing trash out of the windows and one second, billions of people, including your pastor, mother-in-law and childhood sweetheart can see the incriminating photos and videos on social media. And unlike the old newspaper that lights jikos and wraps meat, social media leaves a permanent footprint.
This is the world we find ourselves in today. Thanks to the oft-extolled power of social media, consequences of actions by individuals and organisations keep coming back to haunt them.
Today, the sins of the father (and mother) do not wait to be visited upon the third and fourth generations. The wages of our actions are served chilled – and in this lifetime.
This is turning societal power relations on its head. It does not help being a big-shot in government or a celebrity or the high-flying corporate types. Life on the digital lane is no respecter of persons. Knowing people is not enough, and even if one did, there is nothing much to do. Everyone is a target, so better keep our manners in check.
Everyone is also a potential snitch, so you would not know who is likely to tell on you, and not necessarily the camera-wielding journalists. All it needs is a camera, which is a basic accessory on every decent phone.
Then there is the self-inflicted harm, when we score own goals on social media, sometimes not intending to. Whatever is done in secret always has a way of rearing its not-so-good-looking head in public – the lewd photos shared on WhatsApp in the heat of the moment, the salacious sexts chronicling stolen moments. Remember, the internet never forgets, neither does it consider anything private and therefore worth hiding.
It is the social media age. Contrary to what motivational speakers counsel, live your life as if someone is constantly watching. Like the world is all under a 24-hour CCTV system. Otherwise, you will, at best, encounter some unflattering images and videos of yourself doing the rounds; or at worst, get trolled to the high heavens.
Never before has the maxim that with right comes responsibilities, held truer. Bundled together with the freedom of expression and the exhibitionism that comes with it, comes the responsibilities that sometimes land brutally.
Alongside the right to hold and generously dispense an opinion, sometimes caustic, lies the responsibility to bear the consequences that sometimes come in the form of a brush with the law.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Sde.co.ke