Stay Safe Online: A Guide for sub-Saharan African Journalists

Stay Safe Online: A Guide for sub-Saharan African Journalists

Lilian Olivia Orero is an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya and Award-winning writer based in Nairobi, Kenya. Lilian Olivia participated in our women-only litigation surgeries as part of our EWDRA project. Here she gave a presentation on strategies that journalists in sub-Saharan Africa can use to help them stay safe online amidst ever advancing threats in the digital world.

While reporters in sub-Saharan Africa face nuanced and regionally specific challenges, this presentation, kindly adapted by Lilian Olivia into the article below, is not only an exceptionally useful guide for sub-Saharan African journalists, but for all journalists who face these threats.


In the heart of Sub-Saharan Africa, an astonishing 90% of journalists have raised their voices, not only to report the news but also to share a haunting truth – they are under siege in the digital realm. This is more than just a statistic; it is a chilling reality that casts a stark shadow on their essential work. In today’s increasingly digital world, Sub-Saharan African journalists face a distinctive set of challenges when it comes to ensuring their safety and security in the online arena. As we delve into this pressing topic, we shine a spotlight on the vital mission of empowering these journalists to navigate the digital landscape with unwavering confidence and resilience. Join us on a journey examining the online threats facing journalists and to uncover the strategies and solutions that can help our storytellers continue their important work, safe and sound.

Cyberattacks: Fortifying Your Digital Fortress

Imagine your digital workspace as a fortress, one that must be protected against virtual marauders. Cyberattacks, akin to stealthy thieves, can infiltrate and wreak havoc on your sensitive information, disrupt operations, and compromise data integrity. Ransomware, a notorious form of cyberattack, can hold critical files hostage, demanding a price for their release. The lesson is clear: even in the digital realm, fortifications are necessary to ward off these intruders.

Doxxing: Shielding Your Identity in the Age of Information

In an era where personal data has become a weapon, journalists are not immune to a particularly insidious threat – doxxing. This malicious act involves the revealing of private information, transforming a journalist’s sanctuary into a battleground. Picture your home address exposed, your loved ones targeted, and your ability to work compromised. Doxxing is not just an invasion of privacy; it is an assault on the very essence of your identity.

The Unseen Observer: Surveillance’s Chilling Effect

Another insidious threat lurks in the shadows, ready to compromise journalists’ autonomy and undermine their crucial work: Surveillance. Imagine an unseen observer tracking your every move, both online and offline. Surveillance has the power to cast a chilling effect on a journalist’s ability to dig deep and unveil the unvarnished truth. From tracking online activities to intercepting communications, the watchful eyes of digital spies threaten the very heart of journalism. Real-life cases serve as stark reminders that these dangers are not abstract concepts; they are harsh realities faced by journalists worldwide.

Real-Life Cases: A Glimpse into the Battle

Consider the investigative journalist whose relentless pursuit of truth was halted by a cyberattack. Their crucial work, temporarily silenced. Think of the fearless reporter whose doxxing led to relentless harassment and intimidation, leaving them struggling to continue their vital reporting. There is ever-present surveillance, casting a long shadow over the pursuit of truth. These real-life cases provide a stark reminder of the challenges that journalists face in the digital age.

Digital security is of paramount importance, and understanding these threats is the first step in staying safe online as a journalist. But this blog is not solely about the threats; it’s about empowerment and resilience. We will now look strategies that journalists can employ to protect their autonomy, safeguard their work, and ensure their voices continue to resonate in the face of adversity.

Strategies to Stay Safe Online

To protect your digital kingdom and ensure your voice remains your own, it is essential to embrace key online safety practices.

Password Management: Guarding Your Digital Kingdom

Passwords are the sentinels guarding your digital kingdom. They are the first line of defence against unauthorized access, and it is imperative to fortify them. The practice of using strong, unique passwords for each platform is your armour. Changing these passwords periodically further strengthens your defences. But remembering complex passwords for numerous accounts can be a daunting task. That is where password managers come in. These trusty companions securely store your keys, preventing forgetfulness and streamlining your protection.

Safe Browsing: Your Digital Compass

In the vast expanse of the internet, it is easy to get lost in the sea of information. But the digital realm is not just smooth sailing; it’s more like a treacherous sea with hidden reefs and whirlpools. To sail through these virtual waters unscathed, you need a compass – and that compass is safe browsing. Regardless of your technical background, these practices are essential for anyone who sets sail on the internet:

Regular Browser Updates: Just like a well-maintained ship, your web browser should be kept up to date. Updates often include vital security patches that protect you from the latest threats.

Pop-Up Blockers: Think of pop-up blockers as your first line of defence. They thwart malicious ads and intrusive trackers, keeping your digital ship safe from unwanted invaders.

HTTPS Encryption: This is your digital lifeboat. When you see “HTTPS” in the web address, it means your connection is encrypted, ensuring the privacy of your online interactions. It’s like a secure lifeboat that shields you from potential dangers.

By demystifying these practices, you gain the power to navigate the digital realm with confidence. Safe browsing is your right, not a privilege. It empowers you to tell your stories and explore the digital world without compromise.

Digital Guardians: Essential Tools for Online Privacy

There are various digital tools and resources at your disposal to help you navigate the online landscape securely. Let’s delve into two essential guardians of online privacy: Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and Encrypted Messaging Apps.

1. Virtual Private Networks (VPNs): Your Invisibility Cloak

Picture a secret tunnel through the chaos of the internet, a tunnel that cloaks your online activities in a shroud of anonymity. VPNs are like your very own invisibility cloak, masking your physical location and encrypting your connections. With a VPN, you can thwart prying eyes, ensuring that you can traverse the digital landscape undetected. Whether you are concerned about your online privacy, need to access geo-restricted content, or simply want to stay secure on public Wi-Fi networks, a VPN is your trusted ally.

2. Encrypted Messaging Apps: The Fortresses of Secrecy

Imagine a private chamber where your words are spoken in hushed whispers, known only to you and your intended recipient. Encrypted messaging apps create this digital fortress for your conversations. They encode your messages into unreadable jumbles during transit, ensuring that your confidential discussions remain private. With end-to-end encryption, even the platform provider cannot access the content of your messages. This level of security ensures that your words are kept safe from prying eyes and eavesdroppers.

These digital tools are your allies in the ongoing battle for online privacy. By incorporating VPNs and encrypted messaging apps into your digital arsenal, you can communicate securely, protect your data, and maintain your privacy in the ever-evolving digital world.

Fortifying Your Digital Stronghold: The Power of 2FA and Secure Cloud Storage

Safeguarding your virtual domain is not a luxury but a necessity. To help you build a robust defence, there are two essential tools at your disposal: Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) and Secure Cloud Storage.

1. Two-Factor Authentication (2FA): Your Impenetrable Gatekeeper

Visualize an impenetrable gatekeeper standing guard between you and unauthorized access. 2FA serves as this vigilant guardian, it demands not only your password but also a unique code sent to your device. This combination creates a digital padlock that deters digital intruders and secures your virtual domain. With 2FA, even if someone manages to obtain your password, they won’t be able to breach your account without that crucial second factor.

2. Secure Cloud Storage: Your Digital Fortress

Think of secure cloud storage as a fortress for your files, impervious to prying eyes. This tool encrypts your documents, photos, and research, transforming them into digital fortresses that guard against theft or compromise. With your files protected in secure cloud storage, you can rest assured that your valuable data remains safe, even in the face of potential threats.

By using tools like 2FA and secure cloud storage you’re not just protecting your data – you are fortifying your digital stronghold.

Securing Your Online Presence: The Art of a Low Digital Footprint

The concept of a low digital footprint is akin to walking on a beach, leaving only delicate imprints that the tide quickly washes away. Just as the tide erases those fleeting marks, a low digital footprint aims to minimize your online traces to reduce the risk of being tracked or targeted. It is all about discretion and careful consideration.

1. The Art of Low Digital Footprint: Think Before You Share

Imagine every action you take online as a step in the sand. A low digital footprint follows a similar principle – think before you share. Assess the necessity of personal information and be selective in what you reveal. Each piece of data you provide, whether intentionally or inadvertently, contributes to the mosaic of your online identity. By being mindful of what you share, you can reduce the chances of your digital footprints being exploited.

2. Securing Social Media Profiles: Fortify Your Digital Windows

Think of your social media profiles as windows into your digital world. To safeguard your online presence, it is crucial to bolster their defences. Start by utilizing robust privacy settings, which allow you to control who can see your posts and who can contact you. It’s a proactive approach to safeguarding your digital identity and reducing the risks associated with a constantly evolving online landscape.

3. Think Before You Tag: Tagging with Purpose

Visualize every tag as a brushstroke on the canvas of your online identity. It is a choice, a conscious decision that shapes your digital narrative. While tagging can be a powerful tool for professional visibility, it can also reveal sensitive locations or personal details. When tagged in photos or posts, exercise caution, especially if they expose information you’d rather keep private. If necessary, don’t hesitate to un-tag yourself, thus taking control of the information associated with your digital identity.

Guardian of Your Digital Narrative: Balancing Visibility and Privacy

By embracing these strategies, you become the guardian of your digital narrative. Securing your online presence is not about retreating into the shadows; it is about orchestrating a symphony where professional visibility harmonizes with vigilant privacy practices. Every action you take contributes to your digital story. Your choices, especially when it comes to tagging and visibility, are the brushstrokes that create a masterpiece. Be deliberate, be vigilant, and be the artist of your online identity.

Phishing Emails: Unmasking Deception

Think of yourself as a digital detective, scrutinizing a cryptic letter for clues. We all receive many emails, some are legitimate, while others are cunningly crafted traps. It is important to analyse each email, identifying red flags that hint at deception. This sharpens your instincts and hones your ability to separate friend from foe in the digital wilderness. By developing these skills, you become a digital survivalist, equipped to navigate the digital wilderness with confidence and resilience.

Building Collaborative Networks: The Power of Unity

Collaborative networks in journalism can act to unite journalists in a shared mission. This unity amplifies each other’s voices and offers a shield of solidarity against the digital dangers that threaten the industry. Just as a well-constructed bridge spans a gap, your connections bridge the gaps that often exist between journalists and their digital safety needs. To establish these vital connections, consider attending workshops, conferences, and forums where you can forge bonds that transcend borders.


The digital age presents both challenges and opportunities. Journalists are tasked with not only reporting the news but also navigating a complex digital world. By prioritizing online safety, journalists can continue to wield their pens and cameras to uncover stories that challenge the status quo, holding those in power accountable. The pursuit of online safety is not just a practical necessity; it is a commitment to upholding the principles of journalism. The resilience and vigilance of journalists in Sub-Saharan Africa ensure that the voices of the unheard are heard, and the truth prevails. With the digital landscape ever-evolving, safeguarding online spaces becomes paramount, enabling journalists to fulfil their crucial role as the watchdogs of society.

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