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August 4, 2018

The danger of multiple stories

The danger of multiple stories


By Morenike Taire

The challenge of the 21st  century would not be the access to information, but rather what to do with the information accessed.

Workers in a variety of fields have resisted the embracing of technology due to the fear that the technology would take away their jobs.

As expected many job descriptions have disappeared. We will definitely need fewer typists and radiologists and bakers and pilots and accountants and hundreds of other professionals; but the skill to deal with the deluge of information with which humanity is attacked every single day is not very plentiful in supply, and must be acquired to make sense of our new realities.

The democratization of information means that a privileged few is no longer privy to the majority of information. It is completely unprecedented that people everywhere wake up to a deluge of information the size of which they are neither equipped, nor disposed to deal with. The result of this is what is referred to as an information hangover, whereby so much information is consumed and swept under the carpet for further consumption that it is registered in the brain as a sort of mental fatigue.

Processing all this information as well as sieving it in order to dispose what is not relevant while retaining the relevant will be perhaps the most relevant skill in the days to come.

While it is still in short supply, there will be chaos, and in situations that are already chaotic there will be geometric proportions. This is what we are experiencing today on Nigeria’s social media space, where an incredible amount of information across various media is released everyday both deliberately and inadvertently to millions of waiting consumers who are ill equipped with the enzymes with which to digest them. The end product is not nutrition, not unexpectedly, but indigestion or diarrhea.

Chude Jideonwo and    Adebola Williams, acclaimed co-writers of  How to Win Elections in Africa: Parallels with Donald Trump  and two of the younger Nigerians who had handled the campaign of Mohammadu Buhari in 2015, had claimed that their first tweet upon the inauguration of their candidate was in reminder of the president’s obligation to Nigerians.  “We have worked our fingers to the bones, and our ‘bloods’ have boiled”, he said, “because we believe in its potential (the administration). Therefore, our tempers will be short, our forgiveness will be costly, (and) our reactions to real and perceived failures will be swift.”

The pair, which has mastered the arts of political glibness, are nothing like their peers, particularly in the jungleland of social media. While they and their ilk have used social media to create substantial value for themselves, while milking the social credits that accrue from such mastery; many contemporaries use the same to create what has become a whirlwind of endless confusion that sweeps up everything in its path and dumps them where it will.

The result is a polity which is driven not by ideas and analysis, but by innuendo and verbal conflict. Yet examples should suffice, of instances during which the danger arose of there being escalation of conflict and other unsavoury phenomena. Not long ago, a story emerged on social media of a woman who had jumped off the 3rd  Mainland Bridge and disappeared into the mysterious Lagoon beneath it.

A story was soon to emerge to explain the strange occurrence. According to Nigerian social media the poor woman, whose supposed photograph was circulated, had chosen to end it all rather than face the shame and her fate after a test had shown her lover had fathered her four children and not her husband.

The story was sealed when photographs of the said lover being arrested were displayed. The entire story was a figment of overactive imaginations, and might have been funny if it had not caused the real owner of the photograph untold embarrassment and pain. It then turned out no one ever saw any woman jump off 3rd  Mainland Bridge on the fateful day.

Soon afterwards another video emerged featuring a shouting match between two women on board an aircraft. The women were tagged to be the Finance Minister Kemi Adeosun, and a certain former minister whose signature haircut matched that of the woman in the video. The public was completely seduced, brandishing this ‘discovery’ until the former minister had put paid to it with a tweet of her own.

Though these misrepresentations appear harmless, the thought processes from which they are synthesized and, more importantly, propagated are anything but harmless; but then the subject matters are not always of a jokey nature.

Another erroneous video which has been circulated with strange intentions is that of supposed women of Northern Nigerian extraction, who are being trained to handle and use ammunition. This very inflammatory video was shared until it discovered not to even be of Nigerian origin.

It bears emphasis, though it is obvious, the fact that such fictitious videos have strong abilities to inspire anger, stir sensibilities and escalate existing hostilities. As we enter this political season, it is crucial that those spoiling for war are not able to use participants of social media as the originating battle ground which would definitely spill out of the virtual space into reality.

Like any other tool, technology will become whatever it is deployed to.