Besides a few upsides, the negative effect of social media on the political turf of countries around the world is far reaching. There is no denying the fact that the role of social media in politics, especially in recent times, is that of a meddlesome interloper. Its role in fomenting partisanship and polarization has helped fuel political crises in different environments. The result has thrown many countries of the world into states of political upheaval, leading them on a cataclysmic path of near anarchy.
Worthy of mention is the fact that trust is the building block of every democratic institution. Every government is built on trust. Once the people have trust in a government, no amount of pressure can alter it. History has equally shown that once a government loses face with the people it results in serious complications for the overarching polity. Now when the allegiance and trust for the government is taken over by certain characters on social media, especially when these influencers are opposed to the government, the result is what we see when they use it to counter the government and the people will blindly obey or accept it.
The likes of Femi Fani Kayode, Omoyele Sowore, and currently, Sunday Igboho, are sensations on social media. Their followers will gladly believe and obey them against any other authority. These people have formed a government within the social media deploying every scheme to manipulate their followers, ferment trouble and spread further division. With the way followers troop behind them, one is tempted to ask if social media is the new government.
In a country that has 99.05 million internet users, Nigeria was the precursor to the cataclysm that resulted from the free reins of social media. It started with the EndSARS protest. When it began, many countries of the world were quick to lampoon the Nigerian government. They were equally led astray by the misinformation and propaganda projected from the media space that usually spread falsehood with lightning rapidity. The UK parliament hurriedly recommended sanctions on the Nigerian government and her officials.
Popular American media, CNN, equally released footage across many platforms to bolster the notion that there was a massacre in Lekki carried out by soldiers of the Nigerian Army. (It is vital to note that most mega television stations are even stronger online and via social media than they are on the airwaves.)
Is it not probable that the same CNN that has always been the centre of allegations of media bias is the same that would come out to do a footage it claimed was subject to empirical research? Perhaps a little history on CNN would be quite helpful.
Research conducted by the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University, and the Project for Excellence in Journalism, found disparate treatment by CNN for Republican and Democratic candidates. According to the authors:
“The CNN programming studies tended to cast a negative light on Republican candidates—by a margin of three-to-one. Four-in-ten stories (41%) were clearly negative while just 14% were positive and 46% were neutral.”
“Rolling Stone’s” Matt Taibbi described a debate moderation by CNN as “villainous and shameful”. Zach Carter at The Huffington Post said the debate moderation was “awful”.
Jeet Heer, the national affairs correspondent at The Nation said “the big loser of the night was the network that hosted the event.” According to him, CNN was so consistently aligned against Bernie Sanders, one of the debaters, that it compromised its claim to journalistic neutrality.” After the debate, the number one trending hashtag on Twitter was “#CNNisTrash”.
Perhaps it is important to ask: What was the aim of CNN and other online players when they released and shared such footage across various media platforms? Was it to make the Nigerian people lose face with a Federal Government that had earlier acceded to the demands of the protesters by first scrapping SARS and requesting all the states government to set up a judicial panel to investigate cases of extrajudicial crimes by the police unit? Or was it part of the underlying agenda to bring to fruition the prophecies of that age-long Western vision and recently published by an American newspaper that Nigeria is a failed state?
This case underlines the fact that every social media influencer or news platform has biases no matter how subtle, and they will be displayed on the front burner when it matters most.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, cited the dangers ahead and warned that social media was the next big thing that would hit Nigeria and the rest of the world. Few months from that, the prophecy manifested in the last US Presidential elections. The virus has now spread to third world countries like Thailand. Myanmar is the latest hit of this rising menace.
Presently, a looming danger seems to lie ahead in Nigeria as #OccupyLekkiTollGate now trends on twitter. Those who have consistently embarked on adventures to make the Federal Government lose face with the citizens are silently pushing and feasting on the whole situation.
Reputable legal practitioner and renowned human rights activist, Femi Falana, who ought to engage in activities that will stem down tensions, has deviated from the exemplary life and role we have known him for years. The great lawyer deviated when he and his ASCAB-led group decided to set up a judicial panel different from those of the state governments, sowing seeds of distrust among the populace against the government. These are factors that have inspired the current #OccupyLekkiTollGate trend, which can snowball it into something very sinister.
Government was created to regulate, guide and protect the citizenry. Social media is an entirely different world that should be subject to control because of the dangers it portends presently. With little or no regulation in a country like Nigeria, people now deploy social media to contest and challenge the government. Extreme political and social activisms are commonplace on the social media space. Many policies of the government are met with stern opposition on social media.
Equally worrisome is the fact that detractors of the government use it greatly to their advantage. They give credence to anything that opposes the government and are always at the centre of such political and social activism. This is seen at the height of the EndSARS protest. The protest which was originally about the police unit, SARS, changed to other agendas under the labels, #EndBuhari, #RevolutionNow, #EndNigeria, #RestructureNigeria, amongst others.
Most times, the public do not suspect and are unaware of the underlying political schemes and devises. They are roped into these agendas following the excitement and buzzes these things receive online via trends.
This way online political witch-hunting has been simplified in Nigeria, and it goes beyond the shores of the country. The event that followed the US Capitol invasion is a case in point. The invasion was condemned by world leaders and personalities. It was generally described as an assault on world democracy. But the precursor to the events that led to the invasion started with the bias and misrepresentation of facts in the media.
The Pro-Trump protesters were particularly raged by the political witch-hunting that accompanied their choice candidate since his assumption of office. This bolstered Donald Trump’s resolve when he raised false alarm about the Presidential elections. The people were misled by his claims on Twitter and they believed him. Perhaps, the public disgrace and wanton destruction that came with the capitol invasion wouldn’t have occurred if Trump’s access to twitter was curtailed much earlier. Obviously, Trump’s activities on social media contributed immensely to the crisis that led to the Capitol Hill invasion.
In Uganda, internet service providers were asked to block the social media and messaging apps’ on the eve of the country’s presidential elections. This was after Twitter suspended a number of accounts targeting the election in Uganda. Facebook was also suspended after it took down a network of Ugandan government-linked sites it claimed had been involved in fake news. According to President Yoweri Museveni who faulted the suspensions, “There is no way anybody can come [here] and play around with our country and decide who is good [and] who is bad.”
Museveni’s press secretary Don Wanyama, whose account was also blocked, noted that the social media platform was being “dictatorial”:
“It is simply a platform. It should not metamorphose into a political party. There must be regulation of these platforms and independent oversight bodies.” Little wonder we have the saying, “information is power”.
Nearly 15 African countries have restricted or switched off social media access during protests or elections in the past five years. Chad, Ethiopia and Tanzania are among them. This underlines the controlling power social media can have, sometimes even stronger than the government.
There is a need to put a clip on this rising menace without which the world would witness a more terrific onslaught that could make the EndSARS protest, the US Capitol Invasion, and the Myanmar Coup all look like a child’s play.
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