By VICTOR GAI
The phenomena of social media and hate speech are among issues causing problems to the state of Nigeria currently, with government attempting to tackle them through legislation. But the opposition to the proposed legislation by Nigerians might stifle the plan due to what is perceived as the anti-humanity aspect of some of the provisions.
Nigerians and the corporate world see the death penalty question as too harsh for a mere issue of hate speech and that both issues have been taken care of by other extant laws and that the proposed Hate Speech Commission is arbitrary and a waste.
But what government, the architects of the proposed legislation and Nigerians need to appreciate, is the cultural factor that influences the use of social media.
The social media has been the biggest promoter of hate speech in Nigeria such that if truly we must deal with this issue, then there must be some regulation of the social media. But the problem is how to control the users of social media. This is so because the social media is highly accessible, cheap to operate and free to use.
Now, in order to check the excesses of the social media in Nigeria, there has to be some social engineering on the populace because legislation may not solve all the problems. There is something that we didn’t do or perhaps did wrongly as a nation which gave rise to this dilemma.
Going to the basics, there is a sociological fact called “Cultural Lag”. Cultural Lag is when material culture is introduced before the non-material culture. Material culture means the tangible aspect of our culture like artifacts, gadgets, equipment and so on.
On the other hand, non-material culture is the beliefs, values, orientation, ideas behind the material culture.
Ideally, a society should have the ideas and orientation about a particular innovation before it is put to use. But if the innovation (equipment) comes up before the society acquires the necessary know-how about it, then there is bound to be a cultural lag which might cause some problems to that society.
That explains the problem Nigeria, in particular, is facing about social media use today. Mobile telephones and smart computers- the gadgets used to access the social media took the nation by storm without the values, knowledge and orientation behind their usage.
Before the mobile communication and Internet revolution took over Nigeria at the new millennium, analogue telephones were being used but were only accessible to less than a percent of the population, mostly corporate bodies. But today, with the introduction of digital communication, over 70 percent of Nigerians are subscribed to it.
There was a sudden bombardment of mobile communication and the internet when former President Obasanjo gave MTN the license to operate the service in Nigeria.
Unfortunately, this revolution met a country with a mere 60??? percent literacy rate and poor standard of living. The effect of this cultural lag is not only felt in the misuse of the social media but also in certain mannerisms with the use of the gadgets.
For example, it is common in Nigeria to see people raising their voices during calls thinking by doing so, the other person will hear them better or maybe to impress on others that he or she is making calls. We are ignorant of the fact that the speaker in the phone is very sensitive to voice and does not need one to raise his or her voice in order to be heard. In fact, raising one’s voice and not being relaxed during calls might affect a seamless communication.
Also, so many users could be seen driving or walking during calls. These are unhealthy behaviours and habits that we propagated with the introduction of mobile phones in Nigeria.
Today, not only are smart phones, SIM cards, recharge cards and data cheap, but they are accessible to the most ignorant and illiterate Nigerians. Such gadgets in the hands of such a category of Nigerians are a burden than assets because they will only succeed in feeding the social media space with their ignorance and naivety.
I got pissed off with one of the social media platforms when I realized it was costing me much and affecting my social life. Besides, the gory pictures of accident victims, seducing spirits posing as ladies, disgusting events, ignorant statements and the rest are quite unhealthy. I immediately and politely exited.
In fact, a naïve and very sentimental Facebook user once posted the mangled body of a former CAN Chairman in Taraba, who was hit and ran over by a trailer. That was someone’s father, brother, husband. It is quite unlikely if such a one could forgive anyone who posted the pictures of his father, mother, brother or wife in the same condition. It was later learnt that the particular Facebook user did that deliberately to score cheap political points.
That is the extend of ignorance in people when it comes to social media usage which we all need to understand and for government to tackle head on.
There is a serious cultural lag in the mobile phone and internet revolution in Nigeria which has contributed to hate speech, criminality, faulty values, habits, behavior, and moral standards. The way to deal with such is not only through legislation or any deliberate regulation but through education.
Laws are meant for humans and not the other way round. So if the hate speech and social media law is passed, they may not make any impact because a lot of the social media users are illiterate or ignorant. You can’t sacrifice humans because you are trying to make a law. It will backfire and in an educationally backward society like ours, people will easily fall victim of your laws not because they chose to break the law but because they are ignorant.
Therefore, what government needs to do now is to invest more on educating the populace and also embark on an aggressive enlightenment campaign about the social media and hate speech.
The social media should be included in the curriculum of schools at all levels.
As we move forward on the trajectory of development with the rest of the world, we shall overcome the challenges of social media and hate speech, but education will hasten the process.