YNaija Editorial: #EndSARS is a clear proof of the power of social media


There have been a number of studies on what it takes to make a social media post go viral. The results have been varying but there’s one single fact that every study unanimously agrees on; viral social media content always transcend the unique experience of the original poster and elicits a similar emotion in everyone who encounters it and feels strongly enough to take ownership of it by resharing. On December 2nd, this tweet by a regular Twitter user spread like wildfire.

There are many things that stand out about it, a subject, an object, an action, that while incredulous, millions of young people immediately relate to, carried along by a fair amount of shock and awe. Pretty standard fare. What no one, not even our newsroom could have anticipated was how quickly this one tweet would snowball into a movement that would force political aspirants to weigh in on the issue, and the Nigerian Police to react.

Social media has become ubiquitous to our modern life. So much so that after damning and cursing social media sharing for nearly a decade, our octogenarian grandparents have become its biggest proponents, championing inaccurate Whatsapp broadcasts and resharing content that reaches them with the same enthusiasm they would pass on newspaper articles. This quantum shift has been predicated by three factors things; ease of communication, ease of sharing and the promise of community. With each progressive upgrade, technology companies streamline their social media products to work on us on a molecular level, to become so seamlessly integrated into our lives and our value systems that we can scarcely function without them. It has taken our grandparents a while to join the herd, but now they have and they have brought with them, the attention of government, business and social corporations eager to carve a piece of the attention pie for themselves.

The extent to which social media has infiltrated the everyday lives of Nigerians became apparent during the 2015 elections. What originally started as a trickle of tweets from influencers quickly grew into a tidal wave of Twitter bots spewing propaganda about the two main presidential candidates (then president Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and General Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC)). At some point there were thousands of accounts created for the sole purpose of pushing political rhetoric. Political analysts like Mukhtar Alexander Dan’Iyan, known on social media as AyeDee and Ayobami Ayolowo known as Ayourb rose to political prominence on the strength of their social media presence and unrelenting political rhetoric. The elections were monitored on social media with many independent observers either live-tweeting proceedings or sharing videos on Facebook or Instagram. By the end of the elections, millions of tweets had gone out, each one subtly influencing the eventual outcome of the events. Because of the outsize effect of social media around that cycle, the Federal Government created active social media presences for all its important persons and offices and has taken to routinely disseminating information real time on Twitter-Facebook before they use traditional channels.

But we have been apprehensive about social media, made weary by the colossal disappointment that social media helped bring into power in 2015. We’ve doubted its efficacy as a tool to be heard as a way to force our leaders to take our needs and grievances seriously. We have doubted if it mattered that we weren’t offline, in the streets physically agitating for change. The #EndSARS movement challenges that. It proves that social media can provide a platform where multiple voices can be heard simultaneously on the same subject. Since Yabakid’s tweet went viral, we have seen thousands of people come forward, each with a unique story about their negative experience with the Special Anti-Robbery Squad. Social media has enabled each person contribute to, given them their own little soapbox on which they could lend their voice to the cause without needing to leave their cubicles at work. It means every story is heard, and elevated. Ministers and senators added their voice to our cause, celebrity musicians and artists shared their torturous personal experiences.

In three days through social media, activists were able to start an online petition and collect over 10,000 signatures, a micro-fraction of the actual number of Nigerians at the mercy of SARS but enough to prove to the powers that be that the menace is real. After 24 hours, the Police Force through a spokesperson tried to rebut the claims, suggesting that the overwhelming number of people who had come forward were all part of an elaborate plot to discredit the police. 48 hours after, the Inspector General of Police himself withdrew the former statement and promised to begin the process to reform the Special Anti-Robbery Squad and reorganise the structure that encourages such blatant disregard for the rule of law and human life.

It is too soon to rejoice, however, or to even let up on our calls that the National Assembly listen to our #EndSARS protests, intervene and scrap the police arm; replacing it with a new parastatal with more stringent laws to deter the abuses of power that have marred the Special Anti-Robbery Squad. For too long we have moved on too quickly from injustice and negligence, adjusting our lives to further hardship and inconvenience rather than insisting that these wrongs be addressed. We must take the energy and the urgency with which we tackled the SARS menace and apply it to all the other areas where our leadership is failing, we must inundate them through the channels social media has opened to us. If they will not listen to us, we must speak to the people they listen to, and shame our leaders into action.

Social media in all its incarnations is the most democratic we have come to a platform for self-expression, we must use it to force our leaders to uphold democracy, we must persuade them into action, and must maintain our resolve to effect positive change.

This tweet from Dr. Obiageli Ezekwesili says it all.

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