News in Nigeria breaks on Twitter, Facebook and Whatsapp. The mood of the nation can be measured by the trending stories on these social networks. Information on social media basically shapes our view towards our nation.
One in seven of all news stories originate from social media according to estimates from Social Mention and over 7 million Nigerians use Facebook daily while Twitter accounts are growing exponentially with about 2 million users. Major newspapers and bloggers in the country use Twitter and Facebook to disseminate news, and also now on the rise, to source for news headlines.
The chaotic social media spectrum in Nigeria is fast outpacing traditional media and is now a hotbed from which distorted views and sensationalised reportage are disseminated. This ironically puts social media as a front that cages freedom of information and distorts values, bending them towards sentimental axis.
When the media speaks, we listen and now information and disinformation have literally become confused. There is free propagation of selective truths which catalyses polarization, and gives inertia to radicalization, threatening the very foundation of freedom.
Social media discussion in Nigeria is treaded between those for an opinion and those against it, with no mutual ground, or the ability to tolerate a counter opinion. Anything contrary is taken as a slight or an insult.
Rumour peddling is the bane of the networks arising from desire to push special interests and agendas forward. The aim to influence public discourse via social media is now political and near religious, with state sponsored social media activists more rampant than ever trampling heads over heels, trying to compel public policy direction. It is more of a case of clever public policy propaganda, statistical sensationalism or new media overlords side stepping one, side stepping two?
However, in most cases government aides are mostly reactive, not proactive, with habitual resort to disavowing presumed government policies vended in the social media rumour mill. The little proactive ones tend to push forward sentimental and mostly, one-sided rosy pictures of governmental activities while at the same time alienating critiques and oppositions in the discourse. Government teams in the new media spectrum, now just like the mainstream politicians, seem to be out of tune with on ground reality, peddling forward false propaganda in a social media ground albeit meant for concrete discourse. Even President Muhammadu Buhari’s media team have been on many occasions peddling on the guilty side of distorted reality with the people being more in tune with the reality on ground. Today, the tune has not changed a bit and the media frenzy circle continues, maybe with a higher price of bills to pay.
While it is true, social media has opened up space for a more diverse range of people to engage, debate and discuss, there are definitely huge drawbacks of information dissemination in this new digital age. Journalists now investigate and report stories through social media leading to circulation of uncertified rumours or false reports with potentially harmful and disastrous inklings, through proliferation of unverified and mistaking information. Major daily newspapers have been guilty of misleading their readers and followership with sensationalized headlines that promote ethnic divisions: the various headlines, positive and negative on Fulani herdsmen and what they might have done or have not is an example in this scenario; as well as distorted information and outright image shaming and slander of individuals and personalities in other scenarios.
It is no gainsaying that in Nigeria today, the social media circles are mostly dominated by a certain section of the country, with outcries and propaganda spread through a one sided angle, the other side rarely heard, muted in the conversation. Fake pictures and malicious hashtags keep circulating to thousands of retweets, likes and comments. Then everyone jumps on the bandwagon, with little or no freedom of understanding. Basically caged! Anger is built and proliferated, without justifiable underlying reason, mostly religion and ethnicity. These series of captions below on new media sensationalism and Fulani herdsmen appropriately summarises the twin headed devil of these incidences:
This sensationalism brings about tension, generating false hopes and unwarranted fears with a national media feeding frenzy and malignant intentions on different sides. With social media, it seems everyone is afforded a voice, but in reality certain professed activists and sections, overlords and compensated political advocacy groups dictate the tune, spoon-feed and drive the discourse. Hashtags might even appear to be spur of the moment, but groups and local think tanks have been seen to certainly drive the discourse, with gains and compensations for organised hashtags. Novelist Elnathan John frequently satirizes these episodes with a sad sprinkle of humour:
In a complex and increasingly interconnected world, the need for objective discussion on sensitive issues in Nigeria is desired, and ethics should be compatible with geostrategic interests like a balanced seesaw.
At a time when information is more accessible than ever, youths in Nigeria are vulnerable to rhetoric served through social media and in such a complex country like ours, with divisive lines of ethnicity and religion still visible, the need for objective discussions by youths should surely be needed to surmount all other organized interests and tactless hashtags.