The launch of Facebook in February 2004 which has over 1 billion users has revealed the power of social media as a trusted window to reach out to the all facets of the facets of the society especially the youths. The role of social media networks in the world today can’t be underestimated because it has become a comprehensive tool that performs different functions. There is Facebook, Twitter, Google plus, YouTube, Flickr, Instagram etc It has also offered the youths a platform to express their inner thoughts and feelings which was widely non-existent.
The popular Arab spring started in Tunisia before it swept through Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Yemen and presently Syria. The leaders of the protest used the strength of social media to mobilize the youths so that they could combat their authoritarian government that have spent decades in power and believed that they are impregnable. Tahirr Square in Egypt was flooded with youths and most importantly women who have been craving for change.
Furthermore, News organizations are competing with each other in terms breaking. Nowadays, the social media networks are heavily depended on for breaking news. Almost all the world’s leading media organizations such as British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Cable News Network (CNN), Aljazeera, The Newyork Times, The Washington Post, and American Broadcasting Service have an online presence. Even Nigeria media organizations are not left out of the social media revolution as the Guardian, Nigeria Info, The Punch, The Vanguard, Channels TV, and Television Continental also have maintained an online presence. On the other hand, social network has diversified the audience-base of these competing news organizations.
For the youths, social media has the greatest effect in their social, political and economic life. It has assisted in bringing the youths closer to the government. They can set-up groups or forums where they would discourse topical issues of National importance and through this the feelings of the youths can be discerned. For example when President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan increased the pump price of fuel in 2012, the youths besieged the President’s Facebook account to express their displeasure over such a decision. The president later rescinded his decision. One may not be able to determine the role social media played but it provided an excellent podium for the youths to express their opinion directly to the president as well as mobilize them for the Occupy Nigeria protest.
In relationships, it has enhanced the theory of Marshall McLuhan, a communication scholar who stated that “the world is a global village”. A global village whereby you can Skype your friend in America, chat with your friend serving in a remote Nigerian town and get wedding pictures of a colleague on instagram, Flickr and Facebook without even being present. This activity is done within seconds or minutes. The barriers of communication have been bridged by the internet specifically the new media. The fascination of the youths to social media is cemented by the fact they can meet anonymous people especially the opposite sex, set-up dates and if they have the chemistry; they start dating.
YouTube-a video streaming channel is utilized to post videos, some of which have gone viral innumerable times. A recent example is the video of the interview the Lagos State Commandant of the National Security and Civil Defense Corp (NSCDC) Mr. Shem Obafaiye had with Channels television were he could not mention the website of the corp. The video went viral and the creativity of the youths was roused whereby they successfully brought-out the humorous angle of the interview.
Despite all the praises accorded the new media, how social is the social media in a continent like Africa where the practice of personal interaction is high on the plate? The new media have been largely accused of being an impersonal medium. Today, friends no longer hang-out with one another as they prefer to chat. Many may argue that, it has helped in reducing the amount they use in calling especially for those in relationships. However, it’s still advisable for couples to meet regularly for face-to-face chat. This is because facial expression convey messages that social media can’t.
The case of beautiful and youthful Cynthia Osokogu readily comes to mind when talking about the dangers of social media. Osokogu the only daughter of a retired army general was allegedly murdered by two students whom she met on facebook. Osokogu a student of Nassarawa State University was invited to Lagos to purchase goods at cheap prices. She eventually came but was gruesomely murdered by these students after being raped for 12 hours. There are numerous other cases about the dangers of social media and how it has negatively affected the youths.
The Nigerian reading culture has declined no thanks to the hours youths spend online chatting and pinging with friends. In schools, children no longer concentrate because phones are now permitted. Instead of listening to lectures, they prefer to log-on to Facebook, 2go, twitter. One is not surprised when you see students using shorthand in their English essays or in other exams and also, it’s worrisome that this is affecting their performances as woeful and horrible results are shun-out every year in professional and school exams.
Also, the rate of unemployment among youths has lead many into crime. False Facebook accounts under the name of popular Nigerians is trending as they use it to swindle unsuspecting Nigerians. These Nigerians have had to come out immediately to renounce the existent of such account while urging people to be conscious of dealing with such people. Meanwhile, many have fallen victim to this cheap black mail.
Social media is a genuine vehicle for change as we have seen all over the world. It has hastily closed the communication gap between friends and family. It has given a voice to the youths and also equipped them with the power to challenge unpopular policies not through but through the social media group. Less we forget, the dangers of social media are still steering in the face. Therefore, absolute caution must be taken with the kind of people we meet and communicate with online. Notwithstanding the advantages of social media far outweighs the shortcomings, therefore social media no doubt would keep waxing stronger even its shrinking face-to-face interaction.
OGUNFOWOKE, Adeniyi Ayuba