Social media use and abuse in Sierra Leone

Lamin Costo Daramy: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 31 August 2020:

Social media is the new means of communication that has taken over our lives. We go online basically for most of the things we want, but most importantly to keep abreast of things happening  -from news, shopping and travel to everyday interaction, build and manage an image and connect with audience you wish to connect with.

Over sixty percent of Sierra Leoneans with internet access use Facebook. For those using smartphones, checking Facebook and other social media handles is like a daily devotion. They check more than two or three times a day.

Each time you have an event unfolding in Freetown or one of the districts, you will be struck by how densely the event is documented as it unfolds via social media handles. Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, and twitter will experience the buzz with clashing opinions, updates and pictorial evidence, clips – or could even go live on Facebook to broadcast to the world from the scene as events unravels.

In the United States, this was the case when George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis, Minnesota, during an arrest for allegedly using a counterfeit bill. Clips of the incident was all over social media.

Sitting on a bus in London, it could have been easy to feel distant from events happening in Sierra Leone, but thanks to social media, the stream of information and images convey the reality of what is happening much closer to home, and with incredibly striking intimacy.

Interestingly, different social media handles are used for different purposes depending on the audience you wish to reach out to.

We have got a much younger population in Sierra Leone who are frequent users of Facebook, WhatsApp, snapchat and Instagram. In communicating with this group, using Twitter will not be an effective channel.

Social media has also greatly impacted journalism. This has influenced the content on how it is delivered and consumed. Once upon a time, we relied heavily on news outlet publications to share or disseminate global updates. Now, we receive updates delivered in real-time from citizen journalists across the globe.

We get first-hand images collected by witnesses on the scene. The role of a professional journalist now is to merely verify or comment on content shared by users who were at the scene or source of the story. This has clearly changed the role of the reporter as we knew it, taking away that exclusivity factor.

The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed the positive impact of social media and the manner in which it has become increasingly central to the public dissemination and discussion of important information about the virus.

Personally, I look at social media as an information vehicle, which is more than capable of spreading both knowledge and information at an exponential rate. However, we cannot acknowledge the positive benefits without highlighting the negative role played by social media and the potential for information pollution and abuse.

An outbreak of misinformation could cause tension, anxiety and uncertainty, running parallel with the actual truth. The social impacts of this information pollution were recently felt in Makeni – northern Sierra Leone, where several young people were killed at a protest.

According to the Government of Sierra Leone Minister of Energy, the youths in Makeni were misinformed by polluted social media news that the only electricity generator machine they had that supplied them with electricity was being transferred to the south of the country. When in fact Makeni had the machine that supplied them with electricity and also had two standby machines that they did not use.

The Government of Sierra Leone ordered the transfer of one of the standby machines to be taken to a neighbouring district, Port Loko which is also in the north of the country as Makeni. Due to the polluted information that went viral on social media, the youths took to the streets in Makeni to demonstrate which unfortunately cost innocent lives.

Another shocking video was widely shared recently on social media, showing three suspected separatist fighters in Muyuka, South-West region of Cameroon, physically abusing and dragging a 35-year-old woman with her hands tied behind her back. She begged in vain for mercy before she is beheaded. Some people used this clip on social media to mislead Sierra Leoneans by telling them that the shocking killing took place in Kenema district.

The negative impact of social media must be taken seriously. There are people on social media whose sole purpose is to bring the names of dignified personalities in our community into disrepute. They would not stop at anything as if they are on a desperate mission to kill, steal and destroy the good image of decent Sierra Leoneans. This despicable act is even extended to innocent children.

Furthermore, people would use social media to promote warmongering, which encourages or advocates for aggression towards others. Some people on social media are abusing social media to heighten unnecessary political tension.

Social media is also used as a means of fake self-promotion (banya fakie). What got me in stitches, was when I heard one of our Sierra Leonean artists singing, “poh man nor dae for Instagram”. Meaning everyone is rich and living the fabulous life on social media.

Also, social media handles serve to mediate online content. Important issues are brought to prominence when you have got a huge number of likes, when people share your posts and follow you rather than headlines being determined by a selected few. Social media is not a passing craze or fad. It is here to stay for many years to come but must be used responsibly.

3 Comments

  1. Don’t blame social media users too much but rather the journalists and activists who are not doing their Job professionally. The government itself has a share of the blame, how can they be promoting bad governance and expect people to be silent ? When they’re not given the right channels to put their cases the availabile means becomes the best. Everyone should do what is right for us to have a peaceful and a happy country.

    • I agree. These suit and tie wearers, these negropeans, want people to suffer and die in silence – they call it peace. Though ironically there has never been a time in history where peace ensued and people still ran away or wanted to run away from it. This has never happened before. As a matter of fact it is usually the other way around. Because naturally humans long for a peaceful environment. We pray and have the utmost wishes to have peace in our lives. So how are we steadily being preached to about having a peaceful country/continent when countless people who live in it continuously put their lives at risk so as to break way from it? It’s a doozy.

      Fun Fact: Syria, a country ravaged in an all out war GDP ranks higher than SaLone’s. Who needs a conventional warfare when you have a peaceful country/continent such as ours?

  2. I understand that people may be misinformed via media and not only on social media..as the fact remains not all journalists practice integrity or professionalism. However, misinformation of information is not a reason to shoot at innocent civilians demonstrating. Why did they not use rubber bullets or gas? From all I’m seeing on your post – is to play mind games on poor strangers who don’t think outside the box.

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