SOCIAL MEDIA: THE GOOD, BAD AND DOWNRIGHT UGLY

The social media, perhaps even more than the conventional media, is a force for great good and outright evil. And, at no time in the recent past has its power for both good and evil been as manifest as in the past few weeks. The power of social media arises from its immediacy and its power to send both text and pictures across the world in minutes. Its reach is simply humongous. There are also its absolute lack of regulation, easier operation, absolute lack of professionalism and the easier accessibility and mass appeal/popularity. While the print and broadcast media editors are still busy checking breaking news for the What, Where, When, How and To Whom of stories, and crosschecking reports to guard against libel, bias, and ensuring balance, correctness and good grammar before sending their reports for broadcast or to the printing press, the social media “reporter” who many never have seen the four walls of an academic institution has sent questionable reports that can be flashed across the globe in a minute to Facebook.

While news in the print media can often only be “purchased” on a daily, “to go” basis, and is limited to only what the “almighty editor” considers to be news, social media news is all-pervasive, and can be transmitted without checks over long distances at little cost to the reporter and the audience. The reach of social media is immediate, infectious and hugely attractive to a growing number of Nigerians who are latching onto its power to project their voices and demand that they are listened to in the scheme of things in the country.

And so it is, that in the past few weeks, many Nigerians have seized this power to make demands on the government to get the authorities to take their views into consideration. Many issues have, in recent times, clearly illustrated this power for good or evil. For example, the seeming desperation of the Federal Government to set up Rugas, or Fulani cattle settlements across southern Nigeria, was met with such virulent opposition that the government had to do a volte-face — suspending, at least for now, the idea, to allow tempers to cool and possibly design a fresh way to achieve the same objective that began with the grazing routes plan, and the cow colony scheme, before now metamorphosing into the ongoing Ruga affair.

The second issue on which the media recently forced its way is the Senator Elisha Abbo sex toy shop assault controversy. The overwhelming outrage over his assault on a nursing mother in a sex toy shop in Abuja was largely kept alive by the media, until the police saw that it had no choice but to step into the matter with the arrest and arraignment of Abbo in court, albeit with the court granting him bail in the sum of N5 million.

The Senator has also since apologised to his victim and all Nigerian women, even as other allegations have appeared online, including the fact that he may be a carrier of the Human Papilloma Virus (HIV), which he was rightly or wrongly accused of transmitting to his wife, who died of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), a few years ago. Other victims of the Senator, who may otherwise not have had any access to the regular media, have also come out with stories of how they were maltreated by the Senator before the general elections where he was elected a senator.

Another issue on which the power of the social media has been manifest is that involving Pastor Fatoyinbo of Commonwealth of Zion Assembly (COZA), Abuja, in which the chickens from some of his old dalliances may have come home to roost as his old acquaintance, Busola Dakolo, accused him of having raped her twice when she was seventeen years old. Since that story broke, the media has been inundated with allegations of other persons, including at least a church member, who claimed that the pastor had also attempted to rape her in a Lagos hotel.

Beyond these instances, there are others that clearly highlight the excesses to which the freedom and ease of access to the social media can be put. Many wannabes are using the easy access to the media to seek fame and make a “name” for themselves.

These objectives probably influenced the recent protests against the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church in Lagos, over what the protesters, reportedly led by a musician, described as the respected cleric’s failure to condemn the president and demand the release of Leah Sharibu, a schoolgirl who was abducted in northern Nigeria and has been held against her will for her refusal to renounce her Christian faith. The protesters also attacked the cleric for asking Nigerians to continue praying for President Muhammadu Buhari, when it is actually the responsibility of all religious leaders to pray for persons in power, as mandated for all Christians in the Holy Bible, which asks that prayers be said for all those in authority so that they can govern well and the people can live in peace. This attempted mobbing of Adeboye with the protests generously splashed across the social media is an unfair use of the media to denigrate a highly respected man of God who is not even the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) which speaks for Christians in the country.

Yet another example of the dangers of misuse of social media is that of a man who wrongly claimed to have been the one who ordered Prof. Soyinka off his seat on a plane, completely drawing up a fake tale of how he chatted with Soyinka, collected his phone number and how he was a Ph.d holder. Although the guy later came out to say he faked the story, his action is just an example of how people bring the social media into disrepute.

And, from far away Uganda, we also have the report on social media of a lecturer, Stella Nyanzi, who was supposedly jailed for criticizing the Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni. In actual fact, the lecturer and female activist was not jailed only for criticizing the President, but for circulating on social media, a poem on the private part of the President’s late mother, Esiteri, that is so offensive and repugnant to decency that I cannot muster the courage to publish it in this column.

The poem, which was written to “attack” the President on his birthday last September, ostensibly to protest his oppressive policies, is contemptible of decency, morality and of women of good conscience everywhere. It is so odious that the country’s authorities had to charge her with cyber harassment and offensive communication.

Social media should be a force for good and not evil.

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