Is social media a curse or blessing?

Abdulai Mansaray: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 24 December 2021:.

One of the most inspired innovations of the 21st century is social media. Among the obvious benefits, it has transformed the global community into a global village. But above all it has changed ownership of the media. The public was at the mercy of the whims and discretions of media empires and their emperors.

Editors and publishers determined the palatability of what was served on the media menu. By so doing, not only did they decide what and when to read but served as king makers of their communities. They even hypnotised their loyal readers into their own thinking.  It’s no wonder, it is called the “Fourth Estate”, in addition to the other arms of government including the “Executive, legislative and Judiciary”.

But social media has to a large extent wrestled that power from mainstream conventional media powerhouses today. The news is no longer a patented item or monopoly for the moguls. They no longer determine what, when or where they can disseminate the news.

Social media has become the “equalizer”, giving a voice to those who are willing to engage in trading this perishable product; sometimes even before events happen. Interestingly, news items have become everybody’s; but what is everybody’s is nobody’s. And that is where the ownership and direction of travel of social media comes under scrutiny.

It goes without saying that Social Media has been the greatest contributor to free speech and freedom of the press. It has become the main vehicular traffic on the information highway. But just like any highway, its safe use will depend on its own Highway Codes. In media terms, such Highway Codes could involve self-regulation, which is nigh impossible. But any form of censorship could be an anathema to free speech and the very essence of social media.  At the click of a button or flick of a screen, anyone can become a journalist, a commentator, media personnel or critic.

But is it any wonder that the emergence of “desktop journalism” is attracting the worst of “gutter journalism”, which is making massive inroads into mainstream media? Can that be good for society? With the world sinking under the wealth of available information, it is increasingly giving birth to poverty of thought, attention and wisdom.

Is social media a curse or blessing?

In addition to promoting free speech, social media has led to transparency. Despite its wonderful new innovations to the media world, there is no doubt that in the wrong hands, social media has its dark sides to it. Research shows that social media is significantly contributory to a lot of mental health issues among its users today. We are virtually living our lives on social media, right in the glare of public consumption. Nothing bad with that. Unfortunately, some people are now living in fear of the perception they unintentionally create of themselves.

With transparency, some say that privacy is dead and social media holds the smoking gun. It continues to consume the mind and hence the life of its users. In my day, people get angry if someone read their diary. Today, they unfriend you if you don’t “like” their posts or respond with an emoji. Oh dear.

Our country has not been left out of this new phenomenon.  Like any other media community, our social media platforms have become the nest house for information, disinformation, misinformation, conspiracies and all sorts. That’s the way of the world today. There are many renowned media outlets with platforms for audience participation. With media giants like Radio Democracy and many others, it’s refreshing to see the audience commenting, responding, and interacting with other listeners live on show. This gives a surreal feel to the news and a glimpse into how news items are consumed by the audience. They offer courts of public opinion, where cases of national interests are tried and ruled on.

Social media platforms tend to act as the barometer of society and thermometer of public opinion.  Listeners and participants run running commentaries in chat boxes, and by so doing become part of the news. You get a feel for functional dissemination of the news as people give various and alternating responses and comments.

Sadly, it is social media’s very essence to promote free speech, that has become a bother to many. People enjoy and partake in free speech but increasingly, there is a visible preponderance of INTOLERANCE on our social media platforms. Today, we have people who feel free to express their right to freedom of speech but lack the temperament to TOLERATE alternative views.

It is so sad, so sad, to see fellow Sierra Leoneans trading insults on social media, simply because they disagree with, or have alternative views from the other. This is very common among people on opposite sides of the political aisle. Topical issues get lost in the myriad of invectives and in translation.

This increasing level of intolerance is alarming and regrettable. And these are the same people who condemn governments which suppress freedom of speech with arbitrary arrests. If such people cannot tolerate the views of others without resorting to insults, you wonder what these same people would do if they had the power to demonstrate such intolerance if they had political clout.  These are people engage in verbal thuggery, disguised as education or intellect.

Should social media platform handlers moderate their sites?

Thesierraleonetelegraph.com is one of, if not the most read online newspaper. It runs a forum for its readers, allowing them to comment on issues topical to our country and in the news. But unlike others, there are house rules or highway codes to follow. Unlike other platforms, this forum does not allow or encourage personal attacks.

Readers who insult others are warned and later blocked out if they persist. What is not allowed on the forum are hateful speeches, incitement, abuse of persons etc. Users who engage in personality attacks, insults and incitement, to name but a few are warned in the first place and later banned if they fail to comply with the house rules. All comments are moderated by the editor and published if they remain within the ambits of decency. Even the editor is criticised by readers at times and such criticisms get published.

No one is advocating censorship. Any speech that condemns a free press usually comes from tyrants. By virtue of its nature, the internet will treat censorship as a malfunction; it goes against the very essence of the information highway.  It would be a tragedy to even imply that these social media platforms should be censored, because censorship might not even promote good behaviour in people.  But with insults becoming the currency and refuge of the incompetent, should social media outlet handlers do more to sanitise their corridors?

Sadly, and very sadly, the minority resort to using vulgar and unprintable insults at others, especially when others express alternative views. This is unacceptable and should be discouraged at all cost. Social media has the potential to destroy itself, if this allowed to fester in our community.

One would expect these social media platforms to have guidelines and house rules for users. The benefits of social media are numerous. We saw Donald Trump banned from twitter because he did not follow the rules or played by the community spirit. He was considered a danger to society. It is one thing to demand freedom of speech but an entirely different thing on what we do with it.

In Sierra Leone, we can conduct our won people’s parliament. Social media offers us our own law courts, police force and all the machinery of government. It gives the opportunity for the big conversation. But in doing so, we should be able to listen in action.

We do not need to agree on anything or everything. But we need to respect and acknowledge others’ views, without resorting to “Mammy Cuss”. We don’t need to cuss, to be heard.

Our lives begin to end on the day we become silent on the things that matter (MLK)

Merry Christmas and a happy New Year to All. See you in 2022……. Insha Allah.

6 Comments

  1. Folks, indeed if someone looking to love a real patriotic person, Mr. Abdulai Mansaray is our brother. Again our brother, may the mighty Allah guide and protect you. Amen.

  2. Like all human creations, all things man-made and drawn upon in running human affairs, in conducting, regulating and shaping human activities and relationships, social media is by its very nature human: it is flawed, capable of both good and evil, serving a multiplicity of and often mutually exclusive ends, very pliable, subject to being manipulated at every turn.

    The inherent duality of social media’s value and effects on our lives is comparable to those of modern medicine. The same medical procedures and products that can cure a multiplicity of physical and psychological ailments can also turn out to be direct means if used for the wrong reasons and in the wrong measure, of damaging or indeed snuffing out human life.

    What society needs to do is to come up with ways of mitigating the negative underside of the effects of social media and in the process bolster and safeguard the wonderfully positive impact it has had and continues to have on our individual and collective lives since it came into being at the tail end of the last century. However, given the complexity and diversity of interests within every culture and society, never mind culture and society construed in a larger, global sense, the problem is agreeing among us what is negative and what is not about social media. As they say, one man’s meat is another man’s poison. We just have to learn to live with it – with its virtues and vices, its beauty and ugliness. This is because it is here to stay, being increasingly and irreversibly part and parcel of the fabric of what it means to be human.

  3. Social media has indeed altered the world forever, no one has a monopoly on views, opinions and distorted declarations anymore. The global village that we now live in ensures that propaganda is on death throes, especially for people that are analytical. In so-called sub-Saharan Africa, for example, more and more people have started lifting the mystique in which the outside world has been shrouded to show that societies don’t differ much; there are criminals and beggars in the Western world as we have them in Africa, for example.

    Abdulai Mansaray cannot be more right that social media can be both a blessing and a curse,depending on its use. Some users have no standards, no morals and definitely no qualms about how they’re perceived – vulgarity is part of who they are.

    And so singling out the Sierra Leone Telegraph as a medium and platform where strict standards are rigidly upheld for participation is like an oasis in a desert, a lesson for all those who are into social media – no “mammy cuss”. If you have a point make it, but don’t expect everyone to agree with you. The trouble with most of us is that we don’t like opposing views, a demonstration of a lack of confidence to defend our position. Social media has become a nightmare for public figures in Sierra Leone.

  4. Social media can be both a course and a blessing. Whilst there are positive aspects of social media, like helping bring peoples together, sharing family and friends pictures, and being up to date about the latest gossip in the village, there are also a darker side to social media. It can be addictive and can also perpetuate personality disorder, low self esteem, cyber bullying, and the fear of missing out “FOMO” for short. This is especially so with young children and adolescent alike. Young people are the most vulnerable groups, that sometimes can be hooked on their social media platforms scrolling endlessly for hours in the process disturbing their sleep patterns, which creates anxiety and depression. Social media have undermined the family unit as we know it.

    Parents and their children texting each other, while they are sitting around the same table having their Sunday roast dinner. And in the worst case scenario, some children have committed suicides as a results of the actions of cyber bullying directed against them. Some governments around the world have used social media to oppressed their people. The War in Tigray and the recent demonstration in Sudan, have seen how sometimes governments can shut out social media platforms, if the message doesn’t fit their narrative. And sometimes, totalitarian regimes have used social media and their secrets spy agencies, to spy on the opposition and ordinary citizens.

    Like in the case of Communist China, the government have created a Internet fire wall, where information are reviewed and contents posted on some of their platforms deem too sensitive to the security of the state is taken out. And it is known terrorist misfits like Boka Haram, and Islamic State, have used social media to spread their poisonous messages to young and vulnerable people, to join their so called jihadist cause. In the nutshell, social media can be a force for good. If it is use correctly. But it can also create unimaginable suffering if it falls in the wrong hands. And that is what we have to guard against.

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