It was an honor to be invited to give the keynote address at the inspiring symposium held at the Collegium Helveticum, Schmelzbergstrasse 25, University of Zurich. I didn’t bother to translate the host name or address. I have always been a firm believer that when you speak in a language that only God understands – like when Africans worshiped in Latin – your ability to manipulate Baba God and turn him into your brother is vastly enhanced. When I learned that Collegium Helveticum meant the Institute of Advanced Studies, the name revealed itself in slow motion! However, it was completely restored by Dr. Medinat Malefakis, whom I believed to be from Switzerland, not knowing that she could pass for my sister from across the South Atlantic. It was a wonderful gathering, full of ideas and scholars of great minds. I’m not sure I can repeat the gist of my small contributions in a short article.
In opening the symposium, I argued that conflict is an existential and often inexcusable factor in every society, and has permeated human existence through the stages of empire development to contemporary times. . The truth is that human needs are insatiable, and conflict and aggression arise through interactions in striving to meet some of those needs. Since human interactions are inexcusable, this proves that conflict will always be a necessary evil that every society will have to deal with at times.
While conflict seems constant in all civilizations, people have never stopped using different tools to create an advantage in every conflict situation. To a large extent, different lethal weapons have been developed and used to put people above others in terms of opportunity and power while moving forward in the quest of discovering other effective tools. In this quest, the use of social media, while not literally deadly, has been a new tool for human propagation and engagement in conflict.
In addition to its inevitability in modern society, social media seems to have become an effective tool of conflict. Creating networks and links has become essential due to the growing number of users. Social media has become one of the main forms of communication as it enables dynamic conversations, agreements and conflicts. As a result, it has become crucial in the creation, process, management and resolution of conflicts around the world.
For conflict resolution, social media creates a new dynamic in society that requires its inclusion. One of them is the construction of an alternative nation independent of any country, race or religion. Apart from other famous platforms with millions of inhabitants, Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, Instagram and Twitter users are currently around 2.91 billion, 2.562 billion, 2 billion, 1.478 billion and 436 million respectively . This has resulted in the formation of a global community that allows for the instigation, awareness and resolution of conflict. Aggression, provocations and incitement to confrontation on social media all have the potential to escalate into big, uncontrollable situations. These incidents turned into movements and conflicts, leading to physical protests and cross-border attacks. The EndSARS protest in Nigeria, which sparked a crisis, is an example of such incitements that started on social media and turned into large rallies.
Additionally, terrorists, malicious individuals, and organizations have managed to plan and carry out attacks due to the accessibility and availability of social media. Indeed, operations and acts can be monitored and executed without interruption via all social media platforms. Terrorist groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Boko Haram, and Al-Shabaab, among others, have used social media to connect, monitor, and broadcast their evil operations. The Westgate Mall incident in Kenya in Nairobi on September 21, 2013, in which 67 people were killed and 175 injured, is an example of an open operation involving social media engagement on Twitter.
Additionally, social media has been a key instrument in conflict resolution as it provides a channel for first-hand information, particularly if the source can be traced, and it allows additional first responders to be dispatched in the event of an emergency. incident requiring immediate intervention. Before dying, Dr Chinelo Megafu, one of the gunshot victims of the Nigerian rail attacks between Abuja and Kaduna, tweeted to report the incident and alert people that she had been shot on the train. This elicited responses from a variety of sources and, in some cases, reportedly helped victims as quickly as possible.
New decision-makers and gladiators capable of determining the course of conflicts, initiating them or ending them have also emerged thanks to social media. Thanks to social media, new influential actors and stakeholders have emerged and now have a say in how society is governed. Thus, the opinions of these influencers and personalities have been found to be extremely important because a single tweet or post from them can change the course of events and people’s beliefs. These behemoths are frequently the target of political or social movements and can sometimes make mistakes.
There have been many types of fighting, but social media has spawned a new, unconventional type of conflict in which guns and explosives are unlikely to be fired or thrown. It has provided a platform for reinforced verbal aggression through cyberbullying, which incites violence. It has also contributed to the creation and persistence of cyberattacks and cyberterrorism that have harmed the systems of various sectors of society. Often, abusers are not afraid of the victims or the consequences of their actions; these are the new guns and explosives of the social media warfronts. Additionally, these non-traditional fights could easily lead to a new Cold War or something similar, as well as providing a platform for threats beyond borders.
While it’s easy to think of fights over human violence, social media has become a battleground for cultural clashes. It is widely recognized that social media is a fundamental tool of globalization, which results in the spread of new cultures that can pose a danger to people’s existing cultures. It worked as a way to promote African culture while endangering current African cultures because people tend to acquire new values as portrayed in other societies. Despite colonial and Eurocentric condemnations as unnecessary, social media has helped expose and showcase the exceptional intellect of the African continent. The use of social media has allowed African brains and craftsmanship to be exposed to the rest of the world, allowing more people to appreciate our traditions. Consequently, although it can be a source of cultural clashes and conflicts on the continent, if properly harnessed, it can also be a source of adherence to African cultures and values.
Finally, social media has played a realistic role in conflicts, and it is the goal of every sane civilization everywhere to maintain peaceful coexistence. Therefore, society must be ready to use the dynamics of social media to manage conflict and redirect its disadvantages to progress. Hopefully, the ultimate outcome of this important symposium will be how to move social media in its most positive direction.