With every generation, there comes an invention that revolutionizes how that society behaves and interacts, and also moulds its character: from broadcasting through radio, television and satellite; to communication technologies such as mobile telephony, internet and the worldwide web – these technologies have continually shrunk the size of the world and accelerated the spread of information and interchange of ideas.
Without a doubt, the most significant invention in the last decade and half has been the rise of social networking, starting from websites such as Friendster and Hi5 and now dominated by Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and a myriad of other lesser known websites.
These social networks together with blogging have allowed everybody to be a creator and publisher of content whilst interacting with others across the world, thus the appellation of social media.
Nigeria is by no way exempted from this social media revolution, as we have taken to it like fish to water. Social media is wildly popular especially among the bulging youth population who have used it to not just socialize but also to organize politically. For example, the Occupy Nigeria protests of January 2012 as a response to the removal of fuel subsidies were organized entirely via social media.
It is no surprise then that there have been numerous attempts to ‘regulate’ the internet and social media in Nigeria – to date, there have been 36 bills proposed at the National Assembly that relate to internet freedom, with eleven of them having potential negative effects on internet freedom in Nigeria.
But beyond the involvement of government, there is no doubt that social media has changed our society in profound ways. Families, friends and entire communities keep in touch with great ease through it; business partnerships are formed online as well as millions have met their heartthrobs online and are living their ‘happily ever after’ together.
However, on the flip side, social media has sadly in many ways brought out the worst of us in terms of behavior. It is now commonplace to see what ordinarily should be private conversations end up in the public sphere, with many not knowing the difference between the two. Minor disagreements that could best be handled privately play out on social media to the entertainment, largely, and chagrin of many. Pictures sent privately are released online as part of revenge porn.
Also, the frequency in which online newspapers and blogs can be set up has led to the often occurrence of false news making the rounds which ends up tarnishing the persons involved. Sadly, even major newspapers which ought to be bastions of journalistic ethics engage in such, the most recent being the hoax story of the Eritrean government forcing men to marry at least 2 wives or risk prison which was carried by 5 national dailies.
The role of our technology is to make our lives better and not to make us lose our values as a society where trust becomes an almost extinct resource and people live in the eternal fear that even the most private details of their lives can end up online.
While legislation can prescribe punishment for that that breach the privacy of others online, it cannot do much in regulating behaviors such as online spats and leaking of private conversations. These require personal commitment to uphold values that make us dignified human beings.
Social media has revolutionized the way we do everything, literally. It has created a world without borders and has become a bridge linking people of different cultures, creed, race and nationalities together. It is well placed as an epicenter, of sorts, for the exchange of idea and acquisition of knowledge.
But, it has also become a steaming pot of hate and vile –where things that ought to be hidden, for the sake of public morality and good conscience, is brought into the open for public consumption and personal gratifications.
Yes, government ought to institute measures that will regulate, protect the weak and ensure that the relative ease of use and cheap nature of social media is not bastardized.
However, while government can –and should regulate- social media, the honest truth is that the onus of protecting the sanctity of social media falls on us, as consumers and, most importantly, as human beings. It is not for nothing that our society bases its core beliefs and principles on the concept of community, togetherness and fostering of relationship.
It would appear that social media is overriding this and replacing it with an animalistic and inhuman taste for destruction of others and cutting the core value of human existence with the evil scissors of hate and shaming of others.
We must, as human beings living in a civilized society, put social media to good use.