Today more than ever, people are exercising their freedom of expression maximally. This accounts for aggressive engagement with social networking sites. Little wonder, whenever there is an apparent abuse of human rights and other social crimes, citizens who have constituted themselves into citizen journalists take to platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram to condemn such and demand for justice. Additionally, in the years past, the use of social media has gone beyond personal usage and has contributed towards making citizens create awareness to people all over the world and demand for justice where injustices prevail. The saying goes, “If you don’t fight for what you want, don’t cry for what you lost.” What this means is that we need to use our heads and hearts by taking away our hands from our mouths to do the needful.
No doubt, social media has opened a leeway for freedom of expression in terms of being a veritable too for expressing various violations against fundamental human rights. The manner of thinking and sharing opinion about the daily happenings around us is changing in a vast way. As the mind-set changes, so is the way we communicate and interact with each other. Protection of citizen’s fundamental human right is an important ingredient which the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) champions. Goal 16 of the SDGs stipulates the need to provide access to justice for all and edify effective, accountable and all-embracing society. Although some prospects have been put in place by governments and organisations to improve social justice at all levels, there is still more to be improved upon.
In an article, entitled New Social Compact: The Marriage of Social Media and Social Justice, Davika Khandelwa (2019) maintains that in the contemporary age where many nations experienced a gross violation of human rights, domestic violence and other social crimes, different social networking sites have become a credible and safe place to narrate and share victim’s ordeal and demand urgent attention. He contends that it is not just used by social workers and human right activists alone but on several instances, common people have taken to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to share their stories. Thanks to the Internet, this progress provides users with platforms where the common man can fight against abuses to his rights. It must be acknowledged that this is something that was never imagined to be easy in a society where justice is perceived to favour the rich alone.
In reality, different online platforms have witnessed the massive explosion of videos, photographs, hashtags to call attention to situations where victims feel they cannot be heard. Both #BringBackOurGirls and #BlackLivesMatter have brought a revolution which is helping the vulnerable, the oppressed and the marginalized to fight for their rights. The recent hashtag campaign that sparked outrage across social media was the rape and gruesome murder of a University of Benin undergraduate, Uwaila Vera Omozuwa, in Benin City. The campaign slogan was #JusticeforUwa. The hashtag called for an investigation and demanded justice for the victim. Without doubt, the campaign strengthened and enhanced speedy and diligent response from the authorities. Violation of human rights, domestic and sexual violence has become endemic in the contemporary world. Activists have taken the fight to social media to fight this menace.
The most significant role of social media in promoting social justice is the hashtag activism which has become a form of peaceful protest that social media users have adopted. Contributing to this debate, a columnist, Julia Gusse (2016) emphasized that a hashtag campaign on social media creates a connection among people. She further proposes that any successful hashtag campaign rests primarily on the community, language and narrative. The fact that social media essentially gathers like-minded people on a single platform is justified. The hashtag campaign has created a community and a group of people united under the same umbrella demanding for justice. It has also created the right attitude among people for change, cooperation and support across the globe.
In instances where victims of violence and human right abuses have no voice of their own, these campaigns speak for them. Where people have no access to mass media, social media becomes an indispensable digital tool to coordinate voices and seek for justice. For many, without platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., a large number of gender-based violence and sexual assaults would have gone unnoticed and unreported – As such, more gruesome abuses and violations against the weak would have continued in the society. A situation best described by Socrates Mbamalu as beaten bureaucracy. Stories with pictures and videos have assisted in most cases by providing useful evidence for the prosecution, especially where the rights of the poor are manipulated.
In his book, The Social Contract Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712 – 1778) sympathised with the pitiable state of man in the society by saying that “Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains.” How possible is it for man to live freely today? For the ordinary person on the street, justice is a risky concept as it only favours the rich. Many people no longer have confidence in the chambers of justice. Such mistrust has left many vulnerable. Victims have shown results of torture from security agents who are supposed to be custodians of justice and order. Years back in Nigeria, some Mobile Policemen in Lagos made life unbearable for Lagosians. Innocent youths fell to their bully trap. This gave an opportunity to large numbers of Nigerians who took to social media to demand for justice after a series of high-profile cases of violence. This sparked outrage on social media which gave birth to cries of the #EndSARS campaign. As a consequence, the abuses were drastically reduced.
The fate of people in our country today seems uncertain since those saddled with the responsibility of upholding law and order disobey the laws and make life difficult for people. Ironically, the authorities are often afraid when employ social media to narrate their ordeals and demand for justice. Is this not why some of them are seeking a bill to legislate the use of social media against the citizens? Without fear of retaliation or lawful sanctions, everyone has the right to peacefully criticise injustices in society. Indeed, social media is a dossier that is wining the incredible fight against violence and injustice. Therefore, there is a need to promote their usage. It is apparent that social media has become the amplifier of the voiceless. To this end, its effective and efficient usage can further protect lives and property while ensuring freedom of expression and other dividends of democracy.
Fr. Wache is a Masters Student with specializing in Communication at the Centre for the Study of African Culture and Communication (CESACC), Catholic Institute of West Africa, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.