The technology of the communication age and the needs of the social age has, conceivably, made it efficient for people to improve their social networking. The availed communications are faster and the advances in communications’ devices have encouraged instant feedback. At present, a Facebook, Twitter or Instagram account is sufficient to know what any Politician or notable individual might be doing or saying at a given time. Consequently, depicting the many features of the internet. As Mr. Dayo Aiyetan, the Project Director at the International Centre for Investigative Journalism puts it: “The internet is good, bad and ugly”
In the recent past, the ongoing public issue of the missing Chibok girls had prominent Bring Back Our Girls – BBOG campaign advocate, a former minister, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili and Defence spokesperson, Major General Chris Olukolade exchange exacting tweets on twitter. For those Nigerians who followed the exchange, it was one in a few ongoing open dialogues between prominent Nigerian spokespersons. Whilst the use of social media allows these noteworthy individuals tell their story, with a ready audience at their fingertips, the question put forth is if this unfiltered information weighs in on public perception, especially as it relates to Government agencies and the work these representatives are expected to interpret?
As stated by Public Affairs analyst, Jibrin Baba Ndace, “twitter is being used by politicians, government spokespersons and celebrities because it is user-friendly and interactive in nature. It allows engagement with the people. It allows easy and faster feedback. Above all, social media is a platform that allows ‘multi-faceted, many -to- many, engagement in conversation with people. We are in a globalisation era driven by information technology. Experts have argued that Social Media is an idea whose time has come. So it is not just a veritable tool for communication and information dissemination, but a trendy technology that put the user forward as modern, current and ICT compliant.”
There are countries which operate and censor their own media, and are believed to use the media to solely promote Government policies. In 2006, Reporters without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF), a Paris-based NGO that advocates freedom of the press published its first list of “Enemies of the Internet”. The organisation classified a country as an enemy of the internet for their position on censoring news and information online and acts of repression of Internet users. As the list is reviewed, countries such as Bahrain, Belarus, China, and Cuba have been featured, and quite recently, the United Kingdom and United States.
Supported by principles of truth and loyalty to the citizens, the efforts of the media are continuously geared at breaking down the government’s goals and policies so that the public is always sufficiently informed. However, the growth of social media, and its continuing development, has presented a new angle to the free flow of political dialogue, events and issues. Peter Mbah, a student of the University of Abuja said “I had mixed feelings when I read the tweets about the missing girls, these spokespersons are on different sides of the issue. But the good thing is that, it really does show how open-minded some of our politicians have become”.
In Ndace assessment “If you read the Director Defence Information, DDI, Major General Chris Olukolade’s response, it is a reaction to attack on him and the military institution, which has been through both the traditional and new media. It was only natural for him to respond through same channel that was used to attack or antagonize the military. And in any case, social media is a tool that PR practitioners are encouraged to embrace.”
When the use of social media in Nigeria is evaluated , what’s becoming commonplace is that a number of prominent politicians, spokespeople and even celebrities have become well versed at using social media tools to build up their image, disseminate material, which in turn keeps their names current and their information – trending. Social media is ideal because it is swift access to self-promotion and frequent tweets or status updates, or photos keep the public interested in their message. However, not every interaction is positive, as seen with conversations like that between Dr. Ezekwesili and Major General Olukayode , and they can go viral, quickly.
In a letter reportedly sent by Major General Olukolade to Dr Ezekwesili and other members of the group, extracts state that he appealed to them to discontinue what he termed the “hatred and mindless antagonism” the group has launched on his person. It further detailed that “We call for fairness as against the present campaign that is fraught with calumny and promotion of one man’s malice against us and anything government. I will not be surprised if this appeal draws more or fresh vitriol from your organisation, especially at the prompting of the hawks in your midst who are the disciples of that prominent member and proponent of the malicious campaign. This is more likely, considering the determination and unhidden hatred of those who have been acting with a view to drawing me out for a street fight. I can assure you that I will not react or join issues under whatever provocation. I will be leaving all such sworn enemies to their conscience and God, if they believe in Him at all,” it read.
Whilst over time, the media have been known for revealing, and analysing controversial policies which expose corruption with the aim to hold politicians and notable public representatives accountable to public opinion, the open and free social media platforms, often do not offer the same option. On this, Ndace expressed that “When I presented a paper titled The Cooperation between CSOs and the media on security challenges’ at a Roundtable organised by Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung in 2014, I referred to some social media users as non-state actors. The danger in the use of social media is there may be case of identity theft and anonymous users whose motive is unknown. The biggest challenge that Nigeria faced today is not from the conventional media or old Media, but from the unconventional or new Media, which I like to call, non- state actors. The new media are like the insurgents, they are everywhere and nowhere. This new communication which is hinged on the internet and satellite communication allows instant sending of data and instant response from a receiver. These include Facebook, Badoo, Whatapps, Youtube, Wikileak, Saharareporter etc. Some communication experts have argued that because of the way it operates, “it is known to be effectively used for rumour mongering, political propaganda among others. In some instance, what is posted on the cyberspace is uninformed opinion of an individual whose interest is unknown to many who will access the information”.
In reporting, as information custodians, the Nigerian media has been able to categorise the issues that the public receive and this has helped shape the public agenda. However, with social media progression, more people are getting connected, the ability to reach millions of citizens will be a lure which no prominent citizen can resist. Although social media is yet to eclipse traditional mass media, it has an advantage over the older news sources as it is an interactive medium which lets citizens send information as well as receive it – in real time and this serves as a formidable weapon that will continue to be adopted across all the battling parties.
Culled from http://leadership.ng/features/439573/good-bad-and-ugly-sides-of-social-media