By Donu Kogbara
SOCIAL media – defined as websites and applications that enable users to create and share content or participate in networking – is under constant attack from those who regard Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, etc, as hotbeds of lies and libellous material.
It is certainly fair to say that social media platforms are full of lurid stories and unflattering observations (about individuals, organisations, corporations or governments) that are downright false or only half-true. And I’ve recently been a victim of semi-mendacity.
On March 6, on this page, I wrote a sorrowful article outlining an sad experience I’d been through when I was working for Joi Nunieh, the former Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, former Coordinator of HYPREP (the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project in Ogoniland) and former Chairman of the National Centre for Women Development Board.
I could have been extremely rude. I could have provided a bunch of negative details about Joi’s character, conduct and conflicts with me and many other people. But I chose to be fairly mild and unspecific, for Old Times’ Sake (Joi and I had once been like sisters).
Last week, Joi hit the headlines when she stood outside the National Assembly chamber and accused our ex-boss, Senator Godswill Akpabio, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, of various infractions.
And, much to my annoyance, someone (I have no idea who) raked up my March 6 article because it had suddenly become mega-topical, decided that it wasn’t spicy enough and amended it to include words, sentences and paragraphs that didn’t come from my head or laptop.
The doctored article was then circulated so widely on the internet by its mystery promoter – who has never sought my consent – that friends contacted me from all over the world to discuss it.
This is the downside of social media:
Anyone can put words in anyone’s mouth and twist facts, create facts and just generally peddle whole or partial falsehoods that demonise or mislead…without fear of discovery or prosecution.
Some purveyors of Fake News even concoct fake videos, fake images and fake documents to back up their fake claims.
Some of these fake news attacks are sponsored by folks who have an axe to grind against someone or something…and the means to pay people to take online pot shots at the objects of their resentment.
But many fake news attacks are just the result of idle hands and malicious minds; and I support those who urge social media owners to impose some regulations and be more selective about the kind of materials they allow to appear and be distributed on their platforms.
However, social media can also be a blessing; and I don’t want Facebook et al to be heavily regulated because they are the only source of raw, unfiltered information in countries like Nigeria.
Let’s face it: Nigeria has yet to become a fully-fledged democracy that vigorously protects the human rights of all of its citizens.
Practice of self-censorship
As a result, most mainstream media outlets – newspapers, online publications and TV/radio stations – are wary of being brutally frank about the misdemeanours of powerful people who can get away with harassing them. So they wind up practising self-censorship.
Social media is like a sanctuary that provides nervous whistle-blowers with anonymity. Social media enables the naming and shaming of government, military and other personnel who are inefficient or stealing or rigging elections or even causing deaths.
Some big wigs are so cosy-pally with media owners/managers and journalists that they never or rarely suffer hostile media coverage.
Nowadays, governments are finding it much harder than they once did to conceal scandals. And social media should be applauded for shining multiple lights across the globe on zillions of murky scenarios that would, in the olden days, have been concealed from the public.
OK, so I’m calling for only two cheers for social media because it has a good side but can also be a vehicle for toxic troublemakers.
MY former friend and one-time sister, Joi Nunieh, called Arise TV, yesterday, to report that police had invaded her compound in Port Harcourt at 4.00 am.
The widespread assumption was that a squad of goons had been despatched to her palatial residence by her latest arch enemy, Senator Godswill Akpabio, to intimidate and arrest Joi.
Eventually, poor besieged Joi was “rescued” by our dear Governor, Nyesom Wike, who strode into her compound like a conquering super-hero and whisked her off to the safety of Government House.
Joi duly rewarded his chivalry by describing him as a real man.
As I watched the unfolding melodrama on TV, I very much doubted that Senator Akpabio would be foolish enough to mess with Joi in such a crude and public way…in a week during which she has already accused him of sexual harassment and numerous other crimes.
So if Akpabio didn’t send the uniformed thugs, who did? The jury is still out and I daresay that the truth will eventually be revealed.
Anyway, despite my grievances against Joi, I wouldn’t wish her to be harmed. And I genuinely want to know who is gunning for her.
Some onlookers have contacted me to say that they suspect Joi (and maybe Wike as well) of stage-managing the whole incident…to further boost their already soaring profiles, further humiliate Akpabio and give Joi an excuse for not attending a National Assembly hearing that she was supposed to attend in Abuja today.
But I am sure that such cynical suspicions are immensely unfair.