Taming the Emerging Threat of Social Media in Political Participation in Nigeria.

Taming the Emerging Threat of Social Media in Political Participation in Nigeria.

Its indeed my very profound delight to be so invited to this year’s NANS week to speak to this amazing audience of young Nigerians, in whose hand, unarguably, the destiny of this country rest. My assertion above finds justification in the heroically historic roles played by youth of all modern societies in determining the nature of governments and in managing the public spheres through the control of public discourse in their domain. Its more delightful that the organisers could locate my humble self across the border of Owena River.

This year’s NANS week is tagged “Social Media Mobilization and the Influence on Nigerian Politics”. I’m to speak on the topic,” Controlling Social Media Political Influence and the Roles other Media play in Nigerian Politics “. I have in the past one week meticulously reflected on the above topic, running into some semantics challenges to construct the intendment of the drafter of the topic. After critical review of the letters, I arrived at a convenient destination from where I am convinced we can discuss this issue thus: ” Taming the Emerging Threat of Social Media in Political Participation in Nigeria “.

In this discussion, I’ll reflect on the preceding traditional media in relations to politics, a brief historical adventure will also be attempted to succinctly indicate how the media has taken us this far as a people in our quest for self governance and democratisation. I’ll also look at political participation should be and how the Social media has made that possible, then the associated threats and the way out of same.

As a partisan politician of the progressive inclination and elected representative of the people, I know that the media is to politics, what water is to fish. For no politics can survive without a virile media. My gaze into the media and politics will be more contemporary as I will speak more of the context of a democratic or democratising system.

What is the Mass Media?

One of the most desired needs of man in history is the consciousness to know what goes on around him, to pass message to other people and the to make other people know of his existence. In achieving this fundamental needs, man has historically devised means of doing so. This has gone through the traditional town crier to the more technology driven ambience of Newspapers/Magazines, Television and Radio, and 21st century phenomenon of the internet, which birth the social Media. Basically, the mass media performs the following traditional roles of Information, Education, Entertainment, Persuasion, Surveillance, Interpretation, Linkage,Socialization.

Social Media.

As briefly mentioned above, the advent of the Information Communication Technology, ICT has promoted a more pluralistic platforms for citizens engagement, thereby promoting what is referred as ‘Citizen Journalism’, using the Social Media tools as means of dissemination. Succinctly, Kietzam, Jan and Kristopher Hermens define the Social Media as “….interactive computer-mediated technologies that facilitate the creation and sharing of information, ideas, careers interests and other forms of expression via virtual communities and networks”. The proliferation of the social media services posed a challenge of singular acceptable definition, but there are some common features that better explain the concept. 1. According to Wildman Steve, ” social media are interactive web 2.0 internet- based applications. 2. Used generated content, such as text posts or comment, digital photos or video, and data generated through all online interactions, is the lifeblood of social media.”. Users usually access social media services via web based technologies on desktops and laptops, or download services that offer social media functionality to their mobile devices.

Political participation, the Media and democratic mandate.

The philosophy of modern governance and especially of modern democracy conceives the media as a monumental force and as an institution similar to the tiers of government in Nigerian federalism and to the arms of constitutional government.

As argued by Professor Sam Oyovbaire, (2001),Historically, the development of modern democracy as a product predominantly of the French and American revolutions in the 18th century acknowledged the media as the fourth arm or realm or estate of constitutional and democratic government. In Nigeria, the overwhelming critical features of the press in it’s relationship to the then struggle against colonial rule and establishment of a democratic process had emerged as early as the late 1920s. The role of modern press pioneers such as late Dr Nnamdi Azikwe and late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, among others push forward and entrenched the role of the press as the watch dog enterprise was against the British colonial masters and colonialism. After independence, that enterprise shifted focus from the perniciousness and arbitrariness of colonial rule to the inadequacies, fractiousness and excess of the Nigerian Political Class. Similar treatment was extended against military rule by the media, which consensus of opinion consented was pivotal in the defeat of military rule and enthronement of civil rule in Nigeria. In order words, its difficult if indeed not impossible, to undertake any discourse on modern democracy or political participation without reference to the Media.

In the Nigeria context, the 1999 Constitution in Section 22 mandates the media to monitor the other arms of government when it provides that ” The Press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people “. The obligations of the media as enunciated in the above provision, imposes on it the duty, not only to discharge it’s normal watchdog role in all aspects of governance and in guarding and advancing the frontiers of the people’s liberties and freedoms but also the obligation to regard itself as ” the policing institution over the fundamental objectives and Directives Principles of State Policies as well as fundamental Rights “. The fact that the constitution imposes a duty on the media to monitor governance implies that it should undertake vigilance over relationship between the people and the government. The most germane of these fundamental principles of state policies is provided for in Section 14 , sub section 2, paragraph C thus,”… the participation by the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of this constitution”.

A critical assessment of the content of Section 22 of the constitution cited above reveals that the status specifically listed the Press(print media), radio and television (electronics) as major mass media institutions contemplated and empowers with this mandate. But that provision goes further with a clause ” and other agencies of mass media…. “. The new phenomenon of social media could be accommodated here as the other agencies of mass media the constitution empowers to promote political participation and hold government accountable to the people.

Social Media and Politics.

The Social Media, also known as New Media is characterised by its non expensiveness, flexibility, accessibility and affordability. It promotes democratisation of the media , alter the meaning of geographic distance and allow for increase in the volume and speed of communication.

Unarguably, since it’s emergence in early 21st century, the social media has also impacted on the political space globally as tool connecting citizens with such a speed not characteristic of the traditional media, engaging citizens more to participate in public discourse. During the 2008 presidential election, former US president, Barack Obama broke the world record in the history of social media use for political purpose. Since then, many nations and politicians across the globe have continued to embrace the platform to mobilise their citizens and candidates towards active participation in the political process. The pioneer efforts of this adventure in Nigeria was during the 2011 elections.

Key Issues of threat to democracy

The Omidyar Group in a 2017 publication identified 6 key areas of the risks or threat among which are:

1.Echo Chambers, Polarization and hyper-patnership.
Social media platform design, in combination with the proliferation of partisan media in traditional channels,has exacerbated political divisions and polarization. In addition, some social media proffered solutions reinforce divisions and create echo chambers that perpetuate increasingly extreme or biased views over time.

2.Spread of False and/or misleading information.(Fake News).
Today, social media acts as an accelerant and content distribution channels, for both viral dis-information( deliberate creation and sharing of information known to be false) and mis-information(the inadvertent sharing of false information). These two types of contents are created and disseminated by both state and non state actors. Each type poses distinct threat to public dialogue and democratic political participation. For example, my State Osun suffered excruciating opprobrium of recent due to the unfounded, spurious and erroneous stories about the security situation in the State. There was no doubt pockets of this challenge, but the social media space was awash with falsification that created an impression that every where in the state was under perpetual siege of kidnappers.

3.Conversion of popularity into legitimacy.
These faces behind social media platforms convert popularity into legitimacy, overwhelming the public square with multiple, conflicting stories. They deliberately impose certain ways of thinking, while also blurring the Libes between specialists and lay people, or between verified and unverified stories, thus contributing to the already reduced trust in traditional gatekeepers.

4.Manipulation by populist leaders, governments and fringe actors and 5. Disruption of Public Square to promote intolerance, exclusion of disadvantaged or marginalised voices and hate speech.

Taming the trend.

Reflecting on the consequence of this unregulated ambience of information distribution, most especially fueling the recent upheavals in some countries and preventing this tool from furthering escalation of political acrimony, ethno religious enmity and needless bloodletting, there is urgent need for regulations of this sector.

The Nigeria Communication Commission must ensure that all mobile lines are duly registered and assigned to particular subscribers. Its becoming the norm that most of lines used in originating fake contents are not registered, thereby inhibiting the likelihood of holding any citizens accountable for such false information.

Its indeed becoming increasingly apparent that fundamental
Principles underlying democracy, trust ,informed dialogue, shared sense of reality, mutual consent and participation are being put to test by certain features and attributes of social media. As technology companies increasingly achieve financial success by monetising public section, it’s important to tame this emerging trend so that the social media can be platform of promoting citizens participation in government, rather than a tool for falsifications leading to unintended dastard consequences.

Its indeed my very profound delight to be so invited to this year’s NANS week to speak to this amazing audience of young Nigerians, in whose hand, unarguably, the destiny of this country rest. My assertion above finds justification in the heroically historic roles played by youth of all modern societies in determining the nature of governments and in managing the public spheres through the control of public discourse in their domain. Its more delightful that the organisers could locate my humble self across the border of Owena River.

This year’s NANS week is tagged “Social Media Mobilization and the Influence on Nigerian Politics”. I’m to speak on the topic,” Controlling Social Media Political Influence and the Roles other Media play in Nigerian Politics “. I have in the past one week meticulously reflected on the above topic, running into some semantics challenges to construct the intendment of the drafter of the topic. After critical review of the letters, I arrived at a convenient destination from where I am convinced we can discuss this issue thus: ” Taming the Emerging Threat of Social Media in Political Participation in Nigeria “.

In this discussion, I’ll reflect on the preceding traditional media in relations to politics, a brief historical adventure will also be attempted to succinctly indicate how the media has taken us this far as a people in our quest for self governance and democratisation. I’ll also look at political participation should be and how the Social media has made that possible, then the associated threats and the way out of same.

As a partisan politician of the progressive inclination and elected representative of the people, I know that the media is to politics, what water is to fish. For no politics can survive without a virile media. My gaze into the media and politics will be more contemporary as I will speak more of the context of a democratic or democratising system.

What is the Mass Media?

One of the most desired needs of man in history is the consciousness to know what goes on around him, to pass message to other people and the to make other people know of his existence. In achieving this fundamental needs, man has historically devised means of doing so. This has gone through the traditional town crier to the more technology driven ambience of Newspapers/Magazines, Television and Radio, and 21st century phenomenon of the internet, which birth the social Media. Basically, the mass media performs the following traditional roles of Information, Education, Entertainment, Persuasion, Surveillance, Interpretation, Linkage,Socialization.

Social Media.

As briefly mentioned above, the advent of the Information Communication Technology, ICT has promoted a more pluralistic platforms for citizens engagement, thereby promoting what is referred as ‘Citizen Journalism’, using the Social Media tools as means of dissemination. Succinctly, Kietzam, Jan and Kristopher Hermens define the Social Media as “….interactive computer-mediated technologies that facilitate the creation and sharing of information, ideas, careers interests and other forms of expression via virtual communities and networks”. The proliferation of the social media services posed a challenge of singular acceptable definition, but there are some common features that better explain the concept. 1. According to Wildman Steve, ” social media are interactive web 2.0 internet- based applications. 2. Used generated content, such as text posts or comment, digital photos or video, and data generated through all online interactions, is the lifeblood of social media.”. Users usually access social media services via web based technologies on desktops and laptops, or download services that offer social media functionality to their mobile devices.

Political participation, the Media and democratic mandate.

The philosophy of modern governance and especially of modern democracy conceives the media as a monumental force and as an institution similar to the tiers of government in Nigerian federalism and to the arms of constitutional government.

As argued by Professor Sam Oyovbaire, (2001),Historically, the development of modern democracy as a product predominantly of the French and American revolutions in the 18th century acknowledged the media as the fourth arm or realm or estate of constitutional and democratic government. In Nigeria, the overwhelming critical features of the press in it’s relationship to the then struggle against colonial rule and establishment of a democratic process had emerged as early as the late 1920s. The role of modern press pioneers such as late Dr Nnamdi Azikwe and late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, among others push forward and entrenched the role of the press as the watch dog enterprise was against the British colonial masters and colonialism. After independence, that enterprise shifted focus from the perniciousness and arbitrariness of colonial rule to the inadequacies, fractiousness and excess of the Nigerian Political Class. Similar treatment was extended against military rule by the media, which consensus of opinion consented was pivotal in the defeat of military rule and enthronement of civil rule in Nigeria. In order words, its difficult if indeed not impossible, to undertake any discourse on modern democracy or political participation without reference to the Media.

In the Nigeria context, the 1999 Constitution in Section 22 mandates the media to monitor the other arms of government when it provides that ” The Press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people “. The obligations of the media as enunciated in the above provision, imposes on it the duty, not only to discharge it’s normal watchdog role in all aspects of governance and in guarding and advancing the frontiers of the people’s liberties and freedoms but also the obligation to regard itself as ” the policing institution over the fundamental objectives and Directives Principles of State Policies as well as fundamental Rights “. The fact that the constitution imposes a duty on the media to monitor governance implies that it should undertake vigilance over relationship between the people and the government. The most germane of these fundamental principles of state policies is provided for in Section 14 , sub section 2, paragraph C thus,”… the participation by the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of this constitution”.

A critical assessment of the content of Section 22 of the constitution cited above reveals that the status specifically listed the Press(print media), radio and television (electronics) as major mass media institutions contemplated and empowers with this mandate. But that provision goes further with a clause ” and other agencies of mass media…. “. The new phenomenon of social media could be accommodated here as the other agencies of mass media the constitution empowers to promote political participation and hold government accountable to the people.

Social Media and Politics.

The Social Media, also known as New Media is characterised by its non expensiveness, flexibility, accessibility and affordability. It promotes democratisation of the media , alter the meaning of geographic distance and allow for increase in the volume and speed of communication.

Unarguably, since it’s emergence in early 21st century, the social media has also impacted on the political space globally as tool connecting citizens with such a speed not characteristic of the traditional media, engaging citizens more to participate in public discourse. During the 2008 presidential election, former US president, Barack Obama broke the world record in the history of social media use for political purpose. Since then, many nations and politicians across the globe have continued to embrace the platform to mobilise their citizens and candidates towards active participation in the political process. The pioneer efforts of this adventure in Nigeria was during the 2011 elections.

Key Issues of threat to democracy

The Omidyar Group in a 2017 publication identified 6 key areas of the risks or threat among which are:

1.Echo Chambers, Polarization and hyper-patnership.
Social media platform design, in combination with the proliferation of partisan media in traditional channels,has exacerbated political divisions and polarization. In addition, some social media proffered solutions reinforce divisions and create echo chambers that perpetuate increasingly extreme or biased views over time.

2.Spread of False and/or misleading information.(Fake News).
Today, social media acts as an accelerant and content distribution channels, for both viral dis-information( deliberate creation and sharing of information known to be false) and mis-information(the inadvertent sharing of false information). These two types of contents are created and disseminated by both state and non state actors. Each type poses distinct threat to public dialogue and democratic political participation. For example, my State Osun suffered excruciating opprobrium of recent due to the unfounded, spurious and erroneous stories about the security situation in the State. There was no doubt pockets of this challenge, but the social media space was awash with falsification that created an impression that every where in the state was under perpetual siege of kidnappers.

3.Conversion of popularity into legitimacy.
These faces behind social media platforms convert popularity into legitimacy, overwhelming the public square with multiple, conflicting stories. They deliberately impose certain ways of thinking, while also blurring the Libes between specialists and lay people, or between verified and unverified stories, thus contributing to the already reduced trust in traditional gatekeepers.

4.Manipulation by populist leaders, governments and fringe actors and 5. Disruption of Public Square to promote intolerance, exclusion of disadvantaged or marginalised voices and hate speech.

Taming the trend.

Reflecting on the consequence of this unregulated ambience of information distribution, most especially fueling the recent upheavals in some countries and preventing this tool from furthering escalation of political acrimony, ethno religious enmity and needless bloodletting, there is urgent need for regulations of this sector.

The Nigeria Communication Commission must ensure that all mobile lines are duly registered and assigned to particular subscribers. Its becoming the norm that most of lines used in originating fake contents are not registered, thereby inhibiting the likelihood of holding any citizens accountable for such false information.

Its indeed becoming increasingly apparent that fundamental
Principles underlying democracy, trust ,informed dialogue, shared sense of reality, mutual consent and participation are being put to test by certain features and attributes of social media. As technology companies increasingly achieve financial success by monetising public section, it’s important to tame this emerging trend so that the social media can be platform of promoting citizens participation in government, rather than a tool for falsifications leading to unintended dastard consequences.

Many thanks and God bless.

Babatunde ‘Lekan Olatunji
Chief Whip, Osun State House of Assembly
Member Representing, Ife North State House of Assembly.