In Conversation: David Moepeng (Campaign Director,eBotho Initiative)

As Campaign Director of the eBotho Cyber Initiative, David's job is to ensure that Batswana are learned on how to use the internet meaningfully,safely and responsibly. In this interview he shares more about this initiative!

In your own words, tell us who David Moepeng is

I am a newly qualified Cyberpsychologist, working primarily as a Cybersecurity Awareness Advocate

Briefly take us through your career journey to ending up as the Campaign Director of the eBotho initiative.

Prior to my career in cyber literacy, I worked in the media where I had a 20 year career, which I started as a news reporter for Yarona FM, then Head of News and subsequently Station Manager at the same Station. I currently run a non-profit organisation called InFuture Foundation which promotes digital literacy and cybersecurity awareness through the eBotho Campaign. I have also previously served as a newspaper and magazine freelance writer and documentary filmmaker. Before setting up InFuture Foundation, I was running a media monitoring company called AFSTEREO Botswana. 

Please tell us more about the eBotho initiative

The eBotho Initiative is a public education programme that seeks to raise awareness on cybersecurity threats and promote safe, responsible and meaningful use of the internet and other digital technologies. We conduct research on existing and emerging cybersecurity threats and develop informational and educational campaigns to empower the public with the knowledge and skills they need to prevent harm from such threats.

What was the motivation behind the campaign?

The eBotho Campaign was developed upon the realization that, as internet use grows in Botswana, society is increasingly getting exposed to the various threats that exist in cyberspace. This is reflected in how law enforcement authorities, financial services institutions and telecommunications operators and the media are continuously cautioning the public about the prevalence of cyber-attacks on members of the public and their digital assets. As part of its mission to promote public literacy, InFuture Foundation therefore launched the eBotho Campaign to curb online harms through public education.

How receptive have Batswana been to the campaign?

Batswana have been very receptive to our campaign. We have observed that most internet users are aware of the dangers that exist in cyber space but, because the matter was rarely contextualised and presented to them in a relevant manner prior to the eBotho campaign, cybersecurity and internet safety, especially at a consumer level, were never given adequate attention by members of the public. It is therefore our hope that with the continuous awareness education, cyber hygiene will improve among Batswana. To ensure greater impact, the eBotho Campaign is working with strategic organisations such as like BOCRA, Ministry of Transport and Communication, Cyber4Dev and the European Union Mission in Botswana to roll out cybersecurity awareness initiatives.

As much as upholding values such as Botho is important, so is encouraging Batswana to exercise their right to free speech on digital platforms. How is the campaign striking a balance between these two?

The eBotho Campaign has been focusing on sensible use of the internet because we identified a greater need for change in people’s online habits and behaviors. It is our intention that as we achieve our goals, we will expand our scope to cover other aspects such as digital rights. This will involve awareness education on the rights of internet users as well as advocating for the protection of such rights.

Another aspect of the eBotho campaign is raising awareness about cybersecurity. The increase in usage of digital technologies has lead to the proliferation of scams and fraud tactics. What headway has the campaign made in protecting Batswana from such?

Due to limited resources, we are yet to conduct an impact analysis study. However, we are confident that the message about our work and cybersecurity in general continues to reach more people. Unfortunately the reach is not as fast and wide as that for internet usage, meaning that many people are beginning to use technology before they learn about cybersecurity and internet safety.

Unfortunately, rural area internet penetration in Botswana is still very low. This obviously has repercussions on the rate of inclusivity of initiatives such as eBotho. How do we as a country ensure that no one, rural or urban dwelling, is left behind on our quest for digital advancement and everyone benefits from the good of such initiatives?

As a non-profit organisation, the reach of our initiatives is dependent on available resources. While we have received support from BOCRA, EU and Cyber4Dev with funding for our activities, more is needed for cybersecurity awareness education to reach many more members of the public. It is our hope that with last year’s approval of the National Cybersecurity Strategy, effort and resources towards public education will grow in Botswana.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a lot of conspiracy theories and misinformation circulating on the internet about the virus itself as well as vaccines. How is the eBotho campaign ensuring that Batswana do not fall victim to these?

We view online misinformation as a cybersecurity threat. In a world where communications is now predominately taking place through digital means, manipulation of content to deceive people can impact negatively on lives. This is more so when such information is about a health related matter. It is therefore for this reason that the eBotho Campaign has dedicated itself to promoting media literacy. With regards to COVID-19, We have been running messages in mediums such as radio, newspaper and social media encouraging the public to critically consume information about the pandemic.

You are currently studying towards your Master’s in Cyberpsychology. As the world rapidly adopts digital technologies, how important do you think this field is going to be in the future?

We live in a highly digitalised world, and with technology transforming the different spheres of life, ensuring meaningful adoption of technology is critical. Development of skills to safeguard the benefits of technology to society is therefore dependent on the development of new knowledge and skills, hence disciplines such as cyberpsychology are critical.

Mental health is another area that will be impacted by the adoption of digital technologies, especially social media networks. From your professional opinion, how do you think people can ensure that social media does not negatively affect their mental well-being?

Online harms, particularly those that affect people’s psychological and social well-being, can be prevented if people are empowered with knowledge on the dangers that come with abuse of technology, including addiction. Digital literacy education and awareness is therefore needed so the public can gain understanding of the pros and cons of internet use, and adopt safe habits and practices.

Is there anything you would like to share with our readers regarding upcoming activities of the eBotho initiative?

We have numerous activities in the pipeline. These include a second season of the CybersmartBW Challenge in October, which just like in 2020, will form part of commemoration activities for Cybersecuriity Awareness Month. We will also be launching a Cybersmart Champions initiative, which is a peer education  programme through which aspiring cybersecurity awareness advocates will be trained and empowered to promote sensible internet use in their respective communities across the country.

Lastly, please share with our readers your contact details in case they want to get in touch with you regarding the eBotho initiative

The can reach us at info@ebotho.co.bw or on our Facebook and Twitter accounts.

NB:Interview has been slightly edited for clarity

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