Nigeria and the age of social media -By Olakunle Yusuf

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By Olakunle Yusuf

In my previous article, “Social media, misinformation, and alternative facts,’’ I alluded to the fact that the future of truth is not certain. The information age (also known as the computer age, digital age, or new media age) is a historical period that began in the mid-20th century, characterised by a rapid epochal shift from the traditional industry established by the industrial revolution to an economy primarily based upon information technology. Nigeria, a blessed country, caught the bug in the late 90s.

The idea is for the government to create an online network for citizens to access. Today, governments across the world have developed new platforms for online usage. In countries like Canada, a network called Connect2Canada was developed in 2005. The network was developed for citizens of Canada living in the United States. According to the website, over 50,000 people have joined the network. Users can also use Facebook and Twitter to get updated about the network.

In the United Kingdom, the government teamed up with Facebook to create a dedicated space for users to come up with ideas on how to create savings in public spending. According to Number10.gov.uk, the first phase was open to public sector workers, to get their professional insights and views on everything from how to cut back on wasteful spending to how to radically change the way services are provided.

This second phase is different from the last. They not only want people’s ideas, but they also want to hear people’s thoughts about the ideas that are put forward. This social network is now transforming the way the government is interacting with the people. In the past, people would send letters to their representatives asking for assistance in their communities. Now, governments are reaching out to the public to ask for their opinions on how it should work.

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I would describe this as an issue of accountability. Now that social network mediums are able to report on the daily activities of the government, there is nothing to hide from the public anymore.

 Back to Nigeria. I am an incurable optimist. It is hard to be optimistic about Nigeria: the economy is in tatters, the country’s infrastructure is in a state of ruin, the standard of living has plummeted, and the middle class has seemingly gasped its last breath after withstanding years of progressive pummeling. The country’s brand mirrors corruption and international fraud. The Nigerian passport reeks of criminal signature, as anyone who has dared advertise it at international airports can attest.

The Nigerian intelligentsia has fled the country’s shores, unwittingly improving the economies of foreign lands, while lamenting the sorry state of the fatherland in periodic doses – evidence yet of non-zero emotional attachment. The civilian power pipeline is infested with mediocrity, as looters of yore, salivating to remount the graft pulpit to scrape off what little paint remains on the royal walls, armed with nasal capacity strategically reserved for opportunities. Hence, any sense of self-belonging has been eroded by decades of incompetent and venal leadership. Ethnic divisions have resurfaced with manic vengeance. Morale is low. Yet, underneath this thick garb of despair lies a gaunt frame of hope.

Nigeria is our country. People like us are running nowhere. But less pause a minute: are these challenges insurmountable? No. What is required is political will. For instance, nothing stops our government from establishing a price control board. This, among several benefits, helps addressing incessant increase on goods and commodities.

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We must also give it to the southern governors in taking the bull by the horns. What we now know as ‘Asaba Accord’ may well taunt us if resolutions and recommendations from the meeting are not implemented by the Federal Government. However, the southern governors should go a step further legalising their resolutions. Who is afraid of restructuring? If that would end our perennial challenges, why not make it work? Why keep waiting till ‘Things Fall Apart’ (Apologies to the Irish poet, William Butler Yeats) Truth is: we cannot continue this way and expect different results.

Our leaders may have good intentions. But this is never enough. Those intentions must be adequately communicated to the citizens. Silence could mean consent. That leads us to social media: curse or blessing? There is another side to the conversation of government in social media: persuasion.

The idea that the government has access to information about its citizens also means they can influence the community it serves. This is the ‘flipside’ of Internet freedom. Governments now patrol websites for information regarding activities citizens engage in.

A few years ago, the Barack Obama administration in the United States devised legislation that would allow the government to listen in on all internet communications — Twitter, Facebook, Skype and others. The administration, under this telecommunications legislation, required companies with products allowing Internet communication to build in a back door to their encryption. That way the government could quickly monitor conversations, especially when comments about government policy are negative.

In Canada, the government is now monitoring Facebook and chat rooms to see what comments are made by Canadians. This is never an attempt at gagging. The next time you post an opinion in an online forum or a Facebook group message board; don’t be surprised if you get a rebuttal from a federal employee. Bureaucrats all over the country have accounts and can specifically look at what a person posts and issue an immediate statement. Well, it is not hard to imagine actually. In the post 9/11 era, there has been aggressive monitoring of websites. It is not hard to assume that there is also monitoring of social network platforms.

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In response to a Freedom of Information request, the government released documents revealing that social networking sites are being heavily monitored. According to the report by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, social sites such as Facebook, Myspace, Twitter and Flickr were targeted, as well as Wikipedia, Craigslist, many political commentary sites, and NPR, among others.

It is obvious that with more government presence on Facebook, it will lead to more intrusion by government agencies. Of course, the government has to keep up and be active with the activities of its citizens, especially when they may be saying negative things. The question is whether it is worth sacrificing the rights and freedoms of everyday citizens.

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