Technological advancement has always had incisive influences on the course of mankind and its existence. Also Inventions and innovations have continuously improved our way of living.
By the same token, every evolution has provided new ways to do old things. Indeed, each epoch has witnessed one or more inventions which have significant impact on agriculture, religion, journalism, politics, education, health, culture and warfare.
While some of these technological developments have been borne of necessity, others were fuelled by curiosity and man’s desire to conquered and dominate the world.
Like other epoch,is, the 21st century has witnessed phenomenal technological advancements leading us straight into the age of information technology.The ‘internet (interconnected network) or network of networks’ has provided for humanity new, easy, accessible tools for social interaction on a global scale unimaginable in human history. Progressively the world has continued to transform from being a global village to a global arena. And with advancement of new technology and smartphones, the world is witnessing a quatum leap into the era of global pockets.
These advancements have improved human condition significantly in all spheres of human endeavor – business, politics, religion, governance, journalism, agriculture, transport, art, literature, science, health, education, etc.
The internet has created a new world of everything or internet of everything. It has changed the way we think, live, love , learn, communicate, interact, travel. Internet has created a disruption to the world, the way Jacque Derrida’s Deconstruction destabilized literature. It has created new ‘centres,’ and empowered non-state actors. Like all technological and innovative progress over the centuries, the internet is a double edge-sword. While majority of global netizens use it for public good and to advance development, some have appropriated it for destructive tendencies.
Various platforms such Google, Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, Pinsterest, Snapchat, Instagram, Youtube, Linkedin, Yahoo among several other social media platforms have been used around the globe to deepen democracy, free speech, human rights, peace and security.
The information age has engendered socialisation, activism commerce and interconnectivity on massive, instantenuous scale.
As an internet mediated application that allows creation and sharing of information, ideas, greetings on the virtual space, social media has redefined the concept of neigbourliness and interaction. The world has become borderless.
Globally, the number of internet users in 2018 is 4.021 billion, up 7 percent year-on-year. The number of social media users in 2018is 3.196 billion, up 13 percent year-on-year. However, also about 464,923,169 Internet users are said to be in Africa in Dec 2018, with a 35.2% penetration rate. According to a social networking rating platform, Statista, in 2018, there were approximately 29.3 million social network users in Nigeria, and this figure is projected to grow to 36.8 million in 2023.
While this evolution is being celebrated, there has been increasing concerns that if left unchecked or unregulated, the internet and its various platforms will continue to be a veritable tool in the hands of social media insurgents and miscreants.
In the preface to their work, “VIRAL HATE: CONTAINING ITS SPREAD ON THE INTERNET”, Abraham Foxman and Christopher Wolf note: ”hatred knows no bounds on the internet”. They argued that even though the internet is a powerful medium of communication, it has its dark side.
“Every day individuals and organizations use the power of the internet as a shield to spread vitriol aimed at racial, ethnic, religious, … and other targets. Calls for violence , bigoted rants, lies, bullying and conspiracy theories circulates openly on the web, with effect on individuals and society…”
As noted by these authors, there has been rise in hate speeches, profiling, bullying, misinformation, disinformation, outright lies on a huge proportion on the internet.
There has also been increase on calls for violence by non-state actors and sometimes state actors on their various platforms.
The internet has also been appropriated by violent criminals and terrorists for recruitment and propaganda.
What makes the dangerous trend more worrisome is some netizen, (a portmanteau for global citizens) who are vulnerable and easily believe whatever they read on social media platforms and share same without any qualms. In Nigeria and other parts of the global village, these social media insurgents target various groups with any manner of information aimed at causing disaffection in the society.
There is no doubt that the internet, if used for public good, is a weapon of mass persuasion, but when appropriated for other negative reasons, it could be a weapon of mass destruction. To achieve this, there must be a common front at all levels of socialization – family, school, places of worship, work places and peer-groups.Above all, Nigeria must be proactive in building a nation of digital literates who do not just feed ‘garbage in and garbage out’ of the internet, but are aware of opportunities that abound as well as responsibilities entailed.
For us to check these abuses on the virtual space, we must be active participants, rather than passive onlookers. We must heed Wole Olaoye’s warning to all Nigerians, in his article, ‘Fruit of Hate’ thus: “May I warm my fellow countrymen and women whose kids have formed a lynch-mob stereotyping, insulting and generally making hateful statements about other ethnic groups on social media sites, their children may end up as Dylan Root”. I dare say that the warning applies to even adults who are engaged in hateful speeches without remorse.
Like I have always emphasized at different fora, you are your own master on the internet, you must therefore: pause before you post; if you are not sure don’t share. Make use of your data for development, not for destruction!