Internet, social media: Killer of teenagers?
The headline by which the BBC website relayed the news is quite striking: ‘‘Rohan Huges: Parents tell of Nigerian blackmail gang.’’ According to the story, as published on Tuesday, June 16, 2015, ‘‘The parents of a County Tyrone teenager who took his own life have said a Nigerian gang was blackmailing him over intimate photographs.” County Tyrone is in Northern Ireland.
This article does not seek to emphasise the claim of the parents that the gang behind the blackmail is Nigerian. Gone are the days when internet scams, hacking etc were attributed mainly to Nigerians. The huge internet scams recently targeted against Western banks and the hackings targeted against their ICT infrastructure have usually seen the West pointing fingers at Russia/Russians, North Korea, and China/Chinese etc. This is not to say that Nigerians are no longer involved in cyber crimes.
The BBC report brings to the fore the risks that teenagers are exposed to on the internet. It is, however, amazing that in spite of the fact that internet infrastructure in Nigeria is developing at a relatively impressive rate and Nigerian youths are now more knowledgeable about the internet and ICT than before, little research and effort, if any at all, has been made to make sure that internet use is coupled with knowledge about the risks inherent in the internet and how to combat same.
Someone recently said that in Nigeria, nearly everyone now has a Smartphone. And that is true to some extent. The seemingly indispensable benefits of the internet just leave Nigerian youths like me tempted to wonder how life was before the internet. Was there life before Facebook? However, the risks are also very many that you wonder if there can be internet/social media use without one falling victim to its abuse. But this is possible if the nation and interested parties act fast. According to the BBC report, the 17-year-old boy was tricked into posting intimate pictures of himself online after receiving pictures from a girl running a fake Facebook account. He had reportedly told his parents that ‘the blackmailers said they would send the images to his online friends unless he paid 3,300 pounds within 48 hours.’ He died hours after learning that his blackmailers had carried out their threat.
Interestingly, the parents had taken the matter to the police but were told that there was only one officer on duty, who took down a few notes and told them to ignore the threat. As it turned out it was not a mere threat. All this happened in Northern Ireland but we are not lacking incidents that highlight risks of internet misuse, here in Nigeria. Notable is the murder of Cynthia Osokogu in 2012. She was reported to have met her killers on a BlackBerry group chat, an acquaintance which resulted in her travelling all the way from Abuja to meet with them in Lagos. She was drugged, assaulted tampering with her womanhood, and then murdered. The suspects are being prosecuted at the Lagos State High Court of Justice.
The alleged blackmailers of Rohan Huges are said to be Nigerians. That raises another issue. Recently, stories have been reported in International media of several youths, from the United Kingdom, United States, and Australia etc who have been influenced by individuals working for the rampaging terrorist group, ISIS, to leave their countries and travel, often to Syria or Iraq, to fight for the terrorist group. The cajoling, manipulation and coercion all take place via social media. Many of the youths have been employed as suicide bombers in Syria and Iraq, to the horror of their families and nations. Some of the ladies are married off to ISIS fighters or employed to recruit other persons via social media. Aside from the possibility of a teenager being bullied or blackmailed on the internet, is the possibility of a tech savvy teenager being recruited to perpetuate crime online.
According to the African Digital Statistics 2014, put up on the website, www.socialmediaweek.org, there are 55,930,391 internet users in Nigeria; 11,200,000 active Facebook users and 114,000,000 active mobile subscriptions. Unarguably, Nigerian youths constitute a crucial number of internet users and Facebook users. It is a great thing that internet use in Nigeria is impressive and improving. Beyond the internet is the general ICT framework and knowledge which the government and the private sector have taken bold steps to improve. Osun State introduced the Opon Omo project, under which school children were handed Tablets containing much information vital to their learning. The University of Ilorin introduced a similar and commendable project.
But even as we begin to look forward to ICT being entrenched in Nigeria, the government, civil society and most especially, parents have to begin to look at how to combat the risks inherent in the use of ICT and the Internet. The discussion must start.
The step that Rohan Huges took might seem like the worst that could result from a misuse of the internet but there are also several risks associated with Smartphone and internet misuse. Nearly everyone, I believe, is aware by experience of how distracting smart devices can be.
And the academic standards, as seen from the results, are falling. WAEC, NECO, Law School. Mr. O. C. J. Okocha, SAN, chairman of the Council of Legal education, in an interview on the failure rate in the Law School examinations of 2014, stated thus: “Reports reaching me indicate that most of the students did not take their studies seriously, there was indiscipline exhibited by many of them, and some were even suspended for using mobile phones and iPads to surf the internet, even when lectures and tutorials were in progress.” This was reported in a national newspaper.
Mobile phones and IPads, he said? Only recently, Apple launched the Apple Watch. The number of ‘smart’ devices is increasing. It is time the discussion began.