Abdulai Mansaray: Sierra Leone Telegraph: December 24, 2021:.
Social media is one of the most inspired innovations of the 21st century. Among the obvious benefits, it has transformed the global community into a global village. Most importantly, it changed the ownership of the media. The public was at the mercy of the whims and discretion of media empires and their emperors.
Editors and editors determined the appetite of what was served on the media menu. In doing so, not only did they decide what and when to read, but they served as kingmakers in their communities. They even hypnotized their loyal readers in their own mind. No wonder it is called the “fourth estate”, in addition to other branches of government, including “the executive, the legislature and the judiciary”.
But social media has to a large extent contested this power of the great powers of conventional media today. Information is no longer a patent or monopoly for tycoons. They no longer determine what, when and where to disseminate information.
Social media has become the “equalizer”, giving voice to those willing to engage in the trade in this perishable commodity; sometimes even before the events happened. Interestingly, the news became everyone’s news; but what is everyone’s belongs to no one. And this is where the ownership and direction of social media shifts comes under scrutiny.
It goes without saying that social media has been the biggest contributor to free speech and press freedom. It has become the main vehicle traffic on the information highway. But like any highway, its safety in use will depend on its own traffic laws. In media terms, such traffic laws could involve self-regulation, which is almost impossible. But any form of censorship could be anathema to free speech and the very essence of social media. With the click of a button or screen, anyone can become a reporter, commentator, reporter or critic.
But is it any wonder that the emergence of “office journalism” attracts the worst of “gutter journalism”, which is making massive inroads into the mainstream media? Can it be good for society? As the world sinks under the wealth of available information, it increasingly engenders a poverty of thought, attention and wisdom.
Is social media a curse or a blessing?
In addition to promoting freedom of expression, social media has led to transparency. Despite its wonderful innovations in the media world, there is no doubt that in the wrong hands, social media has its dark sides. Research shows that social media is a significant contributor to many mental health issues among its users today. We virtually live our lives on social media, just in light of public consumption. Nothing wrong with that. Unfortunately, some people now live in fear of the self-awareness they are unintentionally creating.
With transparency, some say privacy is dead and social media holds the smoking gun. It continues to consume the mind and therefore the lives of its users. In my day people get angry if someone reads their newspaper. Today, they remove you from your friends if you don’t like their posts or don’t respond with an emoji. Oh dear.
Our country is not left behind in this new phenomenon. Like any other media community, our social media platforms have become the nest of information, disinformation, disinformation, conspiracies and all kinds. This is how the world works today. There are many well-known media outlets with platforms for public participation. With media giants like Radio Democracy and many others, it’s refreshing to see audiences commenting, responding, and interacting with other listeners live. It gives a surreal feel to the news and a glimpse into how news is consumed by audiences. They offer tribunals of opinion, where cases of national interest are judged and adjudicated.
Social media platforms tend to act as the barometer of society and the thermometer of public opinion. Listeners and participants stream comments to chat boxes and become part of the news. You have an idea of the functional diffusion of the news because people give answers and various and alternate comments.
Unfortunately, the very essence of social media is to promote free speech, which has become a problem for many. People appreciate and participate 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 expression, but who do not have the temperament to TOLERATE alternative viewpoints.
It is so sad, so sad, to see fellow Sierra Leoneans exchanging insults on social media, simply because they do not agree with each other or have different opinions of the other. This is very common among people on opposite sides of the political aisle. The topical subjects are lost in the myriad of invective and in the translation.
This growing level of intolerance is alarming and regrettable. And these are the same people who condemn governments that suppress free speech with arbitrary arrests. If such people cannot tolerate the opinions of others without resorting to insults, you wonder what these same people would do if they had the power to show such intolerance if they had political clout. These are people who engage in verbal violence, disguised as education or intelligence.
Should social media platform managers moderate their sites?
Thesierraleonetelegraph.com is one of, if not the most widely read, online newspapers. It operates a forum for its readers, allowing them to comment on topical issues for our country and in the news. But unlike others, there are house rules or rules of the road to follow. Unlike other platforms, this forum does not allow or encourage personal attacks.
Readers who insult others are warned and then blocked if they persist. What is not allowed on the forum are hate speech, incitement, abuse of people, etc. Users who engage in personality attacks, slurs, and incitement, to name a few, are first warned and then banned if they don’t follow house rules. All comments are moderated by the editor and published if they remain within the bounds of decency. Even the publisher is sometimes criticized by readers and such reviews are published.
No one advocates censorship. Any speech that condemns a free press usually comes from tyrants. By its very nature, the Internet will treat censorship as a dysfunction; it goes against the very essence of the information superhighway. It would be a tragedy to even imply that these social media platforms should be censored, as the censorship might not even promote good behavior in people. But with slurs becoming the currency and haven for the incompetent, should social media managers be doing more to clean up their halls?
Sadly, and very sadly, the minority resort to vulgar and unprintable slurs towards others, especially when others express alternative views. This is unacceptable and should be discouraged at all costs. Social media has the potential to self-destruct, if it allowed it to fester in our community.
One would expect these social media platforms to have internal guidelines and rules for users. The benefits of social media are many. We have seen Donald Trump banned from twitter because he did not follow the rules or play by the community spirit. He was considered a danger to society. It is one thing to demand freedom of speech, but quite another about what we do with it.
In Sierra Leone, we can run our won popular parliament. Social media gives us our own courts, police forces, and all of government. This gives the opportunity for the great conversation. But in doing so, we should be able to listen in action.
We don’t need to agree on anything or everything. But we must respect and recognize the opinions of others, without resorting to “Mammy Cuss”. We don’t need to swear, to be heard.
Our lives start to end the day we go silent about the things that matter (MLK)
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year everyone. See you in 2022 ……. Insha’allah.