Ogbonnaya Onu, Minister of Science and Technology

Tayo Ogunbiyi

Social networking sites which started from Orkut, followed by Twitter and Facebook, have become the vogue across the world, especially among the youth because it makes communication easy, seamless and extremely interactive. Just a few clicks and you can chat with friends and family, from all across the globe. Facebook is, perhaps, the most popular social networking site as it is one of the two most frequented websites in the entire internet. It usually trades places with Google as the most visited web service, and by the company’s estimates, it now has over 800 million active users. That is more regular visitors than the entire internet had in 2004. As at June 2012, Facebook had over 955 million active users, more than half of them using it on mobile devices.

Social media, also known as the new media is a platform that thrives on social interaction, using accessible communication techniques. Through the use of web-based mobile technologies, social media turns communication into interactive dialogue. What makes social media thick is that it accelerates conversations in a more interactive way that makes communication more effective and worthwhile. It takes communication beyond the limitations of the traditional media, which most often delivers content but doesn’t permit readers, or as the case may be, viewers or listeners, to participate in the formation or development of the content. Globally, there is an array of social media networks such as YouTube, Twitter, Whattsap, Instagram, to LinkedIn, Facebook and a host of others.

Being a platform that encourages unrestrained communication among users, social media produces the kind of fun that grasps people’s attention. The opportunity it provides for users to unreservedly share ideas and disseminates information makes it trendy amongst a variety of people all over the world. Aside the opportunity it offers for unbridled communication, social media creates an unusual prospect for all manners of people to bond by sharing their thoughts online. Though, such people might live in different parts of the world and might not even have the slightest chance of meeting in life, the bond that the social media stage creates among them is quite astonishing.

In short, social media offers an opportunity to be seen and be heard without any restriction, which the traditional media does not give. Today, our world has been radically transformed courtesy the social media. Information dissemination is now faster and easier while genuine business transactions can be promoted through the medium for a vast global market. Undoubtedly, the social media has made our world a more exciting place to be.

But then, that is where it all stops. The social media has unfortunately become an avenue for users to display and perpetrate unconcealed acts of boundless social madness. In the social media, there is little or no regard for opposing views. Users simply exhibit mind-boggling bigoted stance to contrasting viewpoints from fellow users. This trend is reflected in the use of uncouth words such as ‘stupid’, ‘foolish’, ‘crazy’, ‘insane’, ‘idiot’, ‘empty- head’ etc that are used on the medium to describe people who put up analysis that others disagree with. Curiously, such views are viciously condemned not because those that are opposed to them do so on the basis of superior argument, but just because the proponent of the view is ‘senseless’!

Aside this, the social media sometimes flourishes on falsehood. On many occasions, the genuineness of information posted on the media is suspicious. While conventional media tradition processes and scrutinizes news gathering and dissemination and thus exercises control in addition to operating a feedback mechanism which gives room for refutation when practitioners erred, the social media affords faceless people the stage to send conniving and spurious information. Sadly, those that practice this usually get away with it since there is no compelling process or law to insist on confutation.

The result of this, of course, is unlimited madness on the social media space. Someone with no concrete substantiation comes up with a story, puts it on the social space and before you could say jack the whole space becomes animated discussing and sometimes freely passing judgments on certain characters based on the ‘strength’ of such an unsubstantiated story. Through this trend, many people have been ‘authoritatively’ confirmed dead on the social media while many have equally been labelled as ‘looters’, ‘thieves’, ‘fraudsters’ etc , when in actual fact, their cases have not yet been investigated not to talk of getting to the court. At the end of the day, the victims of such misleading information are faced with the task of responding to issues that never existed.

Sadly, some youth have become so addicted to social networking sites that you wonder if they do any other productive thing throughout the day. They spend hours using these sites thereby harming their performance in other fields. Some of them have made a mess of their lives on the account of this uninhibited addiction to social networking sites. There have been instances of a few youth being lured and inducted into terrorism and other such social vices through social media networking.

Thus, as useful as the social media is, its abuse can be menacing. The use of a tool largely depends on the users. For instance, a doctor operates with a knife while a murderer could also kill with a knife. For users of the social media, especially the youth, the watchword, therefore, is cautiousness. Meanwhile, parents, NGOs, religious organizations, related government agencies, educational institutions, and all other concern stakeholders are enjoined to take active interest in taking up advocacy crusades aimed at curbing the excesses of the social media. Though, it is practically impossible to impose barriers on the cyberspace, but with the active participation of major stakeholders, together we could tone down the negative effects of the social media.

Ogunbiyi is of the Ministry of Information & Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja, Lagos