Dangerous Illusions Of Social Media

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Since the turn of the decade, the social media has become a core component of our daily lives. We practically live, interact and conduct our daily activities on the major social communication platforms as much as we do in real life.

One of the many social media researches on the web says Facebook users make an average of 40 visits a month to the platform, spending about 23 minutes each time. That equates to 15 hours a month.

And how amazing has social media changed our lives, the way we communicate and relate to others and our perceptions of the world generally.

Now we can access almost whatever information we want at the click and make new ‘friends’ in an instant and connect with others wherever they are on the globe. With a simple Instagram or Twitter hashtag, we could raise global awareness on issues that concern us and get immediate response from a government or a service provider.

Yes, that was the true idea of a digital global village. We simply skip all the meandering and frustrating protocols to get our voices heard. We get straight to whoever we wanted to get to or pass across the message we wanted to get out, anytime, anywhere – simple, easy, personally and no censoring!

So, when Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard University in 2004 to focus on developing his pet project, Facebook, which was gaining popularity and wide acceptance, he practically revolutionised our lives. Actually, he set in motion the ultimate digitalization of our lives.

And then followed other even more interesting and engaging social online platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat and the list goes on.  Social media has boomed since then and oh, how we loved it! Some of us couldn’t help wondering how envious the previous generous would be about how ‘lucky’ we got with advanced communication technology.

But that was at the beginning. Like every story in history, a change in time came upon us and the social media became corrupted, feeding us with a dangerous illusion of the world we live in and leading us – unbeknownst to majority of us — into the abyss and a state of self-destruction.

Or, to put it in a better perspective, we humans corrupted the social media; and in turn it’s corrupting our lives through our consistent misuse and inadvertently causing all sorts of chaos, confusion and potential dangers. Social media has shown it can have its bad sides, and humans by nature, are sadly unrelenting in exploring all the inherent dangers.

I will state a few cases in point. First is the dangerous illusion of what is news and public enlightenment, leading a widespread of fake news and public incitement posts and tweets. US President Donald Trump is raising fresh focus to this danger, consistently accusing major news outlets such as CNN and BBC of ‘fake news’ and generally being at loggerheads with the media.

On the other hand, several people who are still disenchanted that he – and not their preferred candidate, Hillary Clinton-won the election said Trump emerged as the president because he got a big helping hand from fake news about Hillary posted on Facebook news feeds.

Another regularly recurring evil of the social media is the obsession for social validation, which makes people lead fake lives and give the online community a false impression of themselves.

Nollywood actress OgeOkoye trended for a week (I bet it could last the whole of March) for posting on her Instagram page images of some rare dog species that belonged to black American actress and model, Kenya Moore and claimed them as hers. She even renamed the cute canines, as Rob and Rosy, and tweeted: “Yippeeeee!!! My new babies just arrived.”

Someone on Moore’s fan page made the shameful discovery and immediately tweeted: “Some lady from Africa took a screen shot of king and twirl (the names of the dogs) from Kenya’s page and she’s claiming them as hers…”

Well, Oge got the bashing of her life from the Nigerian social media mob, dragged by her hair in the mud, spiked with arrows and bombed out of existence.  Now, that’s a funny one. I can only shake my head.

Some people spend so much of their daily lives on the social media that they become addicted to it. One thing such individuals forget is that when they develop a compulsive urge to be on the social media all the time, posting personal pictures and writing about intimate, private issues for the reading pleasure of their virtual friends and other members of their online community, their lives become public and they unwittingly sign off their privacy.

Unscrupulous and fraudulent people often misuse and take advantage of these personal images and other data. There was the case of a Malaysian syndicate who became rich by using personal photographs posted by Asian girls on the social media to run their call girl service on Facebook.

Of course, we could go on and on about the evils of the social media such as the issue of cyber bullying: the use of social media to harass, disturb or threaten others until they become agitated or even depressed. Some of you have probably experienced this at some point in the past.

Social media has also been proven to breed laziness and reduced productivity at the workplace, as some employees are always checking up on what their friends are posting during office hours, thereby becoming less effective and productive at work.

Some countries which have banned or partially regulated the use of Internet or other social communication apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook and Skype may cite some of these reasons to justify their actions.

For example, in Dubai, Skype, Facetime and WhatsApp are banned as non licensed VOIP (voice over internet protocol) services. In North Korea, all websites are under government control and only about 4 per cent of the population has Internet.

In Cuba, Internet is available only at government controlled “access points,” and online activity is monitored through IP blocking, keyword filtering and browsing history checking.

In Saudi Arabia, around 400,000 sites have been blocked, including any that discuss political, social or religious topics incompatible with the Islamic beliefs of the monarchy. In Iran, bloggers must register at the Ministry of Art and Culture, and those who express opposition to the mullahs who run the country are harassed and jailed.

China has the most rigid censorship programme in the world. The government filters searches, blocks sites and erases “inconvenient” content, and reroutes search terms on Taiwan independence or the Tiananmen Square massacre to items favorable to the Communist Party.

In Syria, bloggers who “jeopardize national unity” are arrested. Cybercafés must ask all customers for identification, record time of use and report the information to authorities.

While I don’t think the once proposed social media bill will cure the ills of the social media in our country and I’m certainly not advocating for it, I do think we should all have a re-orientation about our attitude to and the use of the social media.

Although this is largely a job for the National Orientation Agency (NOA), we should all also remember that the ultimate effects of the ills of the social media is not so much on the larger society as it is on our own individual lives.

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