A new online media scourge

In the attentive media audience, passive readers and listeners abound.  But they are passive because they choose to be passive.  Those who are not so inclined can react to media fare almost instantly, react to other reactions, and generally keep going a public conversation the type that the German sociologist and philosopher Jürgen Habermas drew on to conceptualise what he called the public sphere.

In the analogue era, one would have had to write a letter to the editor of a newspaper for that purpose.  And of the dozens, sometimes hundreds of letters that arrive in the editor’s mailbag, only a handful gets published.  Not infrequently, what gets published is not exactly what the writer had in mind.  The submission is vetted for grammar, factualness and good taste, then  cut to fit into the available space

In the digital era, the era of interactive media, anyone who can work an electronic mouse can post a response to a news story, feature, editorial, photo or article.  Space is not a constraint. It helps, but there is no obligation to be factual or courteous or even decent.  Out there, it is an unregulated, anarchic world, in which the writer has almost full control of his or her material.

Much of the feedback is valuable.  Factual errors are pointed out, as are faulty reasoning; counter-arguments are laid out, other perspectives are explored, gaps are filled and language use is questioned, for the most part in an ameliorative spirit.  There is even the occasional commendation for fine execution.

But a good deal of the feedback is often perverse and petulant.  Columnists and other commentators are excoriated for not doing what they had not set out to do.  Their academic and professional qualifications are called into question. Their looks are derided.  Their antecedents up to three generations back are vilified.  Name-calling, coarse and vulgar abuse and ethnic baiting are standard fare.

Some writers are urged earnestly to go do something violent to themselves, like hugging  an electric transformer, getting crushed by Goodluck Jonathan’s transformation trains, or something even more lethal, all for the heinous crime of saying something that someone disagrees with, or for criticising a public figure from the respondent’s ethnic group.

You know when the mail is the product of an organizsed effort.  There is a dreary sameness about the language.  Change a singular noun to the plural, transpose a phrase here and there,  throw in an advert elsewhere, and despite the various points of origin, which are for all practical purposes contrived, it is clear that some rented individuals are doing the writing at someone’s behest.

The package usually comes spiced with maledictions of the blood-curdling kind. You need a strong stomach and shock-resistant sensibilities to attend to that kind of stuff for long.   Little about it is social; yet, this is the kind of thing one encounters daily on “social media” sites frequented by Nigerians.

Please add that term to your repertoire of oxymorons.

For, instead of serving as the digital-era equivalent of Habermas’s public sphere, it is often a hate-filled platform for trading insult and abuse and perpetuating prejudice.

In his time, Goodluck Jonathan kept a battalion of writers of that kind of stuff, pollutants of the fountains of public discourse who, for want of any other distinction, usually styled themselves “public affairs commentators” or “public affairs analysts.”  Invariably they were based in Abuja.  I hear they have since been disbanded and have found no new patrons yet.

But I digress.

Now, a new scourge has descended upon the feedback loop of our online newspapers.

When I go to my column online and find that as many as 10 readers have bothered to respond (most of the responses come as sms text messages) I feel gratified that the effort that went into writing it has not been wasted.

But to my dismay, not one of the reactions is actually about the column.  If the authors of the so-called reactions read it at all, it made no impression on them.  What they are doing is pivoting in the column to advertise all manner of merchandise for sale.

Here, by way of “response” to my last column, is Udom Mike, offering Dangote Cement at a “promo price of N1,100 per bag, and N4,000 for a bag or rice, directly from the factory.  No middlemen or middlewomen.  Minimum purchase of 100 bags of each commodity, please. And to facilitate purchase and delivery, Mike supplies the name and phone number of the contact person.

Chief Awosoga Awoniyi warns readers “not to die in silence” when all their problems can be solved by Ifa.  Then he lists every disease known and unknown to medical science and promises to cure them with “instant results.”  He also promises to ensure that your pocket never dries, that you never ask without receiving, and that you get quick promotion at work, on a job so secure that you can swear by it.

Awoniyi is no itinerant herbalist.  He runs a Healing Home (telephone number supplied) that you can visit for consultation.  Better to do that than to “die in silence”, you hear?

Adebowale (Big Boss) Adeyi is offering Dangote 3X cement for N1, 100 per bag, ex factory, minimum purchase of 200 bags.  Consignment will be delivered within one day of requisition. Name and address of contact person supplied.

Precious Balogun is offering different brands of rice — Royal Stallion, Royal Umbrella, Mama Africa,  Mama Gold, Ade Brazil, Rising Sun, Super Eagle — at a cheap rate, to be delivered anywhere in Nigeria.  Hurry up; prices quoted are valid for three months only from date of post, because of price instability. Tomato puree of various brands also available.

Ambruce Tamunosiki, for Nigerian Customs Service, announces that the auctioning of impounded cars has commenced at the Nigerian Customs Border Head Office Command Zone 2, Owode Ewekoro/Custom House Border (phone number supplied).  Come take your pick, at the quoted prices among Toyota and Peugeot brands.

Abdullahi Momammed is also offering cars impounded by Customs for sale, together with laptops, at cheap and affordable prices.  Marketing Zonal Officer Abdullahi Mohammed (retired) is standing by to help.  Phone number supplied.

Enyi Enyi says to call Mr Bello Adams, the officer in charge, if you would like to own a choice vehicle at minimal cost.  The Nigerian Government, no less, is using the medium to bring to it to your notice that Tokunbo vehicles in its custody are being sold off.

Abdullahi Aisha, who says he is advertising manager with the Nigerian Customs Service, is also putting on the auction block a large inventory of Customs-impounded cars.  Interested buyers please consult a Mr Bankole Adeyemi (phone number supplied.

Paul Okoro is offering Dangote Cement direct from Obajana and Ibese factories for the promo price of just N1,000 per bag for purchases of 100 bags or more to individuals and distributors alike.  Nationwide delivery available; names and phone numbers of contact persons supplied.

These crude and possibly fraudulent sales pitches are a gross perversion of the loop that is designed to provide useful feedback on media content.  You encounter these irritants on the sites of most of the online Nigerian newspapers and journals. Even if they were advertisements duly paid for, they would be no less irritating.  But they are nothing of the sort, just tawdry,  opportunistic stunts.

Is there no way of ending this scourge?

Culled from: http://thenationonlineng.net/a-new-online-media-scourge/

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