There is no doubt that Social Media has brought a tremendous transformation to our lives. It has completely changed the way we relate to each other – individually and collectively – in ways that we could not imagine just a few years ago. The effects of Social Media, like everything else, are both positive and negative. When the positive effects of something outweigh its negative effects, people generally accept it as useful and learn to live with the negatives aspects. Thus, there is a constant walk on a tight rope to maximize the benefits and avoid the dangers it poses.
There is little or no doubt that Social Media has brought immense benefits with it and that it can be harnessed to be a great force for good in the world. Information sharing has become much easier than it has ever been. People of different continents can now interact freely and one can share one’s thoughts with people all over the world.
Social Media has made every human endeavor better and easier than ever before. A sick person can now get assistance to get medical care through interactions with doctors with whom s/he might never have met had it not been for the blessing of Social Media. In fact, we have seen it happen repeatedly that someone’s ailment is shared on Social Media and people from around the world offer advice and help him get well.
On education, Social Media has revolutionized how knowledge is shared. People from different corners of the earth can now share a virtual classroom and benefit from the knowledge and wisdom of a teacher. The COVID-19 pandemic made it not only possible but also necessary for education authorities to find ways of teaching children from a distance. In fact, this humble one (writer) now has students from around the world who are interested in learning one or more of the languages he teaches. I have virtual students in every continent in the world thanks to Social Media.
Politically, Social Media has been a means for agitation for citizens of the world for better governance. Social Media has been used to rally people around particular causes and galvanized them to stand up and fight for their rights. Social Media has been used to topple governments and prep up others more acceptable to the agitators. In the Gambia here for instance, we have all witnessed how Social Media was used in the struggle to defenestrate a dictatorship and elect a new government.
The above are just some of the advantages of Social Media but the list is by no means exhaustive. Of course, there are so many other benefits but the above will suffice as examples. When the good and bad are to be weighed, these can go a long way of demonstrating that the advantages are more than the disadvantages.
When we come to the bad effects of Social Media, we can see that it is also tremendous and has caused a lot of damage and harm to human beings. Perhaps the most affected area of human interest by Social Media is the traditional media – both print and electronic. As everyone now has a smartphone in his or her pocket, information sharing has become everybody’s business. This has its own problems as many, if not most, have no idea what information to share or how and when to share it.
This has huge implications as the traditional media has ethics to follow and regulations on how and when to do it but that is not the case with Social Media.
The concept of ‘breaking news’ has taken a very different meaning now. It is now almost impossible for a traditional newspaper to claim ‘breaking news’ and be accurate. Whatever happens is instantly captured and shared by what is referred to as citizen journalists. In fact, when something is happening or about to happen, many are now more concerned with recording and sharing it than they are with trying to show empathy and rendering assistance where needed. This has made the work of journalists extremely difficult and has brought them many criticisms as not everyone can differentiate between a trained journalist doing his or her work and the individual who is just looking for likes and comments.
The other challenge Social Media has brought to the world is the fight to counter fake news. Hundreds of thousands of pieces of information, which are not verified, are disseminated in the world through Social Media every second of everyday. It is very difficult to counter these and replace them with the truth and as such, millions of people get the ‘wrong’ information all the time. Unscrupulous people can – and do – use these platforms to stir trouble in certain parts of the world because they have some stake in it.
Thus, there is a constant battle to fight off these challenges.
In the Gambia, this takes on a completely new dimension with many of the people on Social Media having little or no ability to exercise detachment and objectivity. That is why I once recommended that Mr Omar Touray – one of the most brilliant minds on here – to offer free lessons to people who cannot exercise any restraint even on a matter that is in our courts.
Take the case of the rape trial of Baboucarr Bob Keita as an example. Many people have already tried and convicted either Bob or his wife in their Social Media opinions. Sometimes, it is scary how polarized we can be on issues and how strongly people’s inclinations are on these. When one thinks about what could happen due to this Social Media frenzy, one becomes frightened and anxious.
Recently, an audio has been making the rounds on WhatsApp where one Mr Lamin Ndure was recorded airing some strange opinions about the previous elections in the Gambia. He made several statements bordering on tribal sentiments, which landed him in trouble as he was arrested, and is still in police custody as I write this piece. Well, Mr Ndure might have made some strange statements but these could still be considered his wild opinions to which he is entitled. However, again, that is my opinion about his opinion; yours might be different. One thing is certain: he should not be held in custody for more that seventy-two hours without being arraigned before a court of law, which is exactly what is happening as we write. He was arrested on Wednesday 3rd August and today is Sunday the 7th… Do the math as I was never good at that.
Many countries in the world are working to find ways of using Social Media while protecting their ethos; what or how should we go about doing that here at home? Let us have a dialogue on this!