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Social media and carnage that trailed #EndSARS protest

By Adeyemi Adepetun
25 October 2020   |   4:04 am
When news breaks – whether the story of a disease outbreak, civil unrest, a terrorist attack or a natural disaster – people increasingly turn to the Internet and social media.

When news breaks – whether the story of a disease outbreak, civil unrest, a terrorist attack or a natural disaster – people increasingly turn to the Internet and social media.

Individuals use Twitter and Facebook as primary sources for news and information. Social media platforms – including Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, Snapchat, among others are distinct from traditional broadcast and print media. But they’ve become powerful tools for communicating rapidly and without intermediary gatekeepers, like editors.

There is no gainsaying the fact that social media is a catalyst. So many beautiful things have been brought to the lime light across the globe because of the impact of the online space.
The problem is that social media is also a great way to spread misinformation, too. Millions of people are gradually shaping their ideas on complex and controversial issues via the various platforms.

People have been fed with information and mis-informed via the online space. And atimes, without proper checks and balances, lots of people have taken decisions rather rashly, which they later regretted. So many social media posts have equally been brought down severally on account of them being fake.
Indeed, the events of the last few weeks in Nigeria with the popular hashtag #EndSARS have influenced opinions, and subsequently threw up both substantiated and unsubstantiated information in the online space.
Consequently, some information sourced from the social media without adequate verifications have led to massive destruction of lives, properties, and investments belonging to Lagos State government. Those perceived to be owned by some certain political figures in the state were not spared, they were brought down to ashes. Though, these destructions were not peculiar to Lagos State alone, there were trouble spots in virtually all the states of the federation, which the social media and menace of fake news have contributed significantly to their destructions as a result of mis-information.

It must also be stated that the menace of fake news, social media propagandas have become the order of the day across the globe. From USA to UK, Hong Kong to China, Germany to France, Egypt to Tunisia, the social media space has also been explored unconventionally, and have mis-led lots of people.
Coming back to Nigeria, the tagging of shooting of protesters in Lagos at the Lekki toll gate as ‘Lekki Massacre’ triggered the huge unrest, and subsequently led to wanton destruction of lives and properties in retaliation by hoodlums, who hijacked the entire process for their gains.

Checks showed that properties including government establishments, prisons, broadcast stations, newspaper house, police stations, hospitals, bus stations and buses, banks, to mention just a few were severely damaged during the crises. Shopping malls, grocery stores, ATMs were looted to the peak by hoodlums wielding dangerous weapons. These attacks have put thousands of people into serious problems, especially debts, and scars, which they will live with for the rest of their lives.
Though the atmosphere was already tensed, people angered to the brim, social media information, especially those from Twitter and Instagram, which spread the ‘Lekki Massacre’ and revealed that several protesting youths were killed by the military, escalated the whole issue.
Casualities as a result of the shooting reported by the social media are yet to be substantiated. No evidence to confirm the ‘massacre’.
But that is not to say there were no deaths, even the embattled Governor of Lagos State, Babajide SanwoOlu, who admitted that there were fatalities as a result of the shooting later confirmed the death of two persons.

On the other hand, Amnesty International claimed that at least 56 protesters died in the clashes with security forces during weeks-long demonstrations in the country against police brutality. Meanwhile, President Buhari last Friday said at least 69 people were killed during the protests. The breakdown shows 51 civilians, 11 police officers and seven soldiers. Buhari also said 37 people were injured, while investigation to ascertain victims of Lekki shooting will begin tomorrow.
But in all of these, the social media platforms, fueled lots of controversies, and again stressed the need on its regulation and sensitization of its usefulness.

Prior to now, there have been moves on the part of the Federal Government to regulate the social media space, targeted at curbing the spread of fake news.

The Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed last year stated the government’s discomfort with the use of social media in the country, with a consequent proviso that the sector must be sanitised.

Twitter sued in Nigeria for $1b
Part of the abuse of the social media led to the suing in Nigeria of Twitter and its Chief Executive Officer, Jack Dorsey. The platform was alleged to be used for the propagation of fake news, which contributed significantly to the crises in Nigeria.
Former presidential aspirant under the All Progressives Congress (APC), Adamu Garba, asked Twitter and its CEO to pay Nigeria $1 billion compensation for “actively supporting” the #EndSARS protest.
Garba, who filed a motion on notice at a Federal High Court, Abuja, alleged that Twitter’s involvement in the protest was aimed at toppling the country’s democratic government.

The politician said Dorsey’s call on individuals to support the cause amounts to “gross abuse of privilege.”
He accused the San Francisco-based digital media organisation and its founder of giving “gullible Nigerians” the opportunity to escalate the protest, leading to untold hardship as well as the destruction of lives and property. Ironically, Garba used Twitter to publicise the content of his petition.
Dorsey had, via a tweet that has been taken down, posted: “Donate via #Bitcoin to help #EndSARS.” The tweet, last Wednesday, caused a stir on social media.

What is fueling the social media propaganda?
Speaking with The Guardian, the Chairman, Mobile Software Solution, Chris Uwaje, said the social media landscape has become a complex enigma.
Uwaje said this issue will remain so for a long time and for many reasons such as global population growth, global revenue and distribution of wealth resources – “where 82.1 per cent of the World’s wealth is owned by 20 per cent of the World’s population.”
He added that the shallow trust ecosystem and technology interface currently in existence has created enormous impact between nations of the world in their aspiration for advanced national development and security.

According to him, all the above has increased the stampede for prosperity and survival, “meanwhile, compared with the traditional world of oral communication, the digital attitude on misinformation and dis-information have exponentially increased. Compounded with the above scenario is the supersonic speed at with information is generated and transmitted.” 

Bringing sanity to social media
Uwaje, a former President of the Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON), described the social media as organised crisis. According to him, it is estimated 3.43 billion people will be using social media networks by 2023, a figure representing 44 per cent of the estimated 7.79 billion global population. 
He said the core challenging issues of social media is about Human Attitude. “This is why it has become imperative to involve Sociologists in the mainstream of re-imagining the structure and content administration on platforms. Meanwhile, it is instructive to recognized that the social media platform is new and still emerging. Therefore, it may be too early to apportion fair and/or unfair judgment on the challenges, benefits and risks of social media. Sociologists should be involved in the analytic roadmap for repositioning the New Media to deliver maximum benefit to society.”
From his perspective, the Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Jidaw Systems, Jide Awe, said there is need to prioritize and embark on practical digital literacy for all.

Awe said to seize opportunities and overcome such challenges of the digital age, citizens must be equipped with digital education and 21st century transferable skills.

“In addition to the use of common digital tools and applications, communications, team work, creativity and most especially critical thinking skills. Cyber security and technology ethics must be part of such digital literacy. All these non tech skills are particularly important to ensure social media and technology is utilized and developed in a secure and responsible manner,” he stressed.

The Jidaw System boss further noted that the relevant government agencies must themselves get up to speed in terms of social media savviness to influence in ways that are sincere, honest, empathetic and credible.

According to him, they must facilitate the transparent and free flow of information to promote public interest on social media and counteract harmful practices and undue and unfounded speculation.

He urged them to spread awareness and the handling of security and ethical violations. Identify mischief makers and take appropriate action rather than hinder the activities of all social media users in the country.

He added that the relevant agencies will need to be equipped with technical capabilities in cybersecurity and cyber intelligence.

However, Awe posited that social media restrictions will be a major step backwards that could undermine freedom of expression – which is a condition not just for democracy but for creativity and innovation growth, that is much needed to compete and flourish in this era.
According to him, “we need to be creative and progressive – so educate and influence. Inclusive digital education which must include social media is critical to prepare citizens for advantage and opportunities in the future of work and for responsible contributions.
“Promote and generate interest in ethical and responsible social media and technology practices, for example, encourage ethical online content creation and the ethics of social media in programmes for journalists.
“Government should get proactive with the governance of social media by engaging with relevant stakeholders in the technology community, civil society and youth groups as well as the social media platforms to dialogue and agree on common and innovative approaches as well as on data protection and privacy issues.”