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Nigerian youth and their scary use of social media

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The media over the past week has been full of disturbing news of our Nigerian youth and their scary use of social media. There is a need for youths to understand the importance of digital footprints and how what is shared on the Internet stays online forever.

During my recently concluded online safety training, which I ran in collaboration with Grow with Google, I discussed the concept of the oversharer with the children that I trained. Interestingly, I realised that the older children have started to have the attitude that they “know it all” and do not need to go over it again.

However, we need to talk about this often, no matter what age your child is. Obviously the conversation needs to be different based on the age of the child, but whether they are five years old or 20, there is a need to have regular conversations about online safety and how to be responsible digital citizens.

Youths and Social Media
Once something is shared online it belongs to the whole world! Anyone can decide to share anything they find online- whether they get permission or not and that is how it goes viral. As is the case with the FUTA story and the Babcock University cases, which recently surfaced, their videos went viral with grave consequences. I am sure there are people who will say, “they should know better and not have shared such online.” Wait a minute! When a student graduates from University they will get career advice from others, they will likely discuss their career plans with their parents, mentors and even career counsellors, right? No one expects them to just figure it out themselves.

The use of social media is no different, our children and young adults need guidance on what appropriate online behaviour is. The biggest challenge is that parents feel that they do not understand social media and so do not feel that they can have these conversations with their children. The minute you feel you are not qualified to talk about it, or all you do is dramatise the use of social media and call it the devil or say it is all-bad, you are being an irresponsible parent. Having honest conversations about all the aspects of being online is critical.

Recent Online Atrocities With Our Youth
What you share online stays online forever! I stress this often and always when I train children and parents about being responsible digital citizens. If they take nothing else away except this, it is a good starting point.

Let us look at what happened in recent cases online. Some students of FUTA ganged up on a fellow student to teach her a lesson. In addition to beating her, as if not bad enough in itself, they shared the video online.

Now this video has gone viral; some of the students were arrested and the school has apparently expelled the students. In addition, their photos and their names are all over the Internet and several memes have erupted. A digital footprint that has left a dirty trail for the bullies and has put their futures at stake. What were they thinking you might ask? No one knows. Across social media, the victim has been hailed as a strong woman because she refused to kneel down.

In the most recent one I came across, some Babcock University students decided to film themselves having sex. Following this, the boy in question either decided to post the video or it was leaked. Reports share that the male student had already been expelled and the girl in question in her third year at the University has been expelled.

There are several discussions going on as to whether she should have been expelled or not. But that is not the only point, she has gone viral online. There are worrying reports on Twitter that suggest she has or wants to attempt suicide. See when people go viral for the wrong reason and are facing the reality of their dirty digital footprint – they cannot handle the shame and blame that comes with it.

Evolution of Social Media
Social media in the space of a decade has changed the way the world interacts. The truth is that at the click of a button so much can happen. A thought shared, a tweet retweeted, outrage and rumours can spread in seconds. Social media can also be used to make new connections, learn about what is trending, learn about opportunities and find positive collaborations.

Facebook’s early mission was “to make the world more open and connected”-and in the first days of social media, many people assumed that a huge global increase in connectivity would be good for the world. As social media has aged, however, optimism has faded and the list of known or suspected harms has grown.

At the very beginning, social media wasn’t the same as it is today. Friendster, Myspace, and Facebook all appeared between 2002 and 2004 to help users connect with friends. The sites encouraged people to post about their lives, but they offered no way to spark conversations or outrage. When Twitter arrived in 2006, its primary innovation was the timeline: a constant stream of 140-character updates that users could view on their phone. Facebook in 2009, added the “Like” button, for the first time creating a public metric for the popularity of content. Twitter also made a key change in 2009, adding the “Retweet” button.

Apparently, Chris Wetherell who was one of the engineers who created the Retweet button for Twitter admitted to BuzzFeed that he now regrets it. As Wetherell watched the first Twitter mobs use his new tool, he thought to himself: “We might have just handed a 4-year-old a loaded weapon.”

The Dark Psychology of Social Media
According to Yale psychologist Molly Crockett, the normal forces that cause us to pause and think have been eroded, for example before you join an outrage mob you would take time and pause. We should take the time to reflect and cool off before jumping into a situation where emotions are running high.

The desire to trend, like posts and have our posts liked and jump in on the conversations going on online has changed the core of being a caring human. What this translates to is that when you cannot see the person’s face, empathy disappears.

Our children are growing up in a world with information flowing continually into their eyes and ears- a mix of ideas, narratives, songs, images, and more. The way social media platforms are designed, they make outrage contagious.

In reality, members of Gen Z; those born after 1995 or so; have unprecedented access to information but may find themselves less familiar with the accumulated wisdom of humanity than any recent generation. This is because even though there is so much information available; what makes it to their feeds is the outrageous news that does not necessarily hold wisdom or truth.

How Can We Fix Social Media?
Block Negativity: One way social media platforms are trying to manage all the negativity is by using Artificial Intelligence (AI). AI can identify text that is similar to comments previously flagged as toxic. Instagram has seen that this extra step helps Instagram users to rethink hurtful messages.
Removing of likes: The process of hiding like and share counts might be a welcome step. This way, social-media users are not subject to continual, public popularity contests.

Communicate Often: Lastly, parents and teachers need to talk to our children and youth early and often. While not making it out to be all-bad, we all need to have real conversations about social media. Discussions about what it means to be a responsible digital citizen. This conversation is an important part of being a responsible and intentional parent. There is a lot at stake for our children if they engage with the online world in a negative way.


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