All entries for Friday 27 July 2012

July 27, 2012

Social Media "worries" Nigerian Government

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This is a news story published in a Nigerian daily newspaper online, Daily Independent, on July 27th, 2012

Excerpts from the report go:

Senate President David Mark on Thursday called for measures to check the negative tendencies of the social media to respect national security and values and encourage patriotism, just as he saluted the courage, doggedness and steadfastness of the Nigerian media.

“The emergence of social media like Facebook, twitter, blackberry messenger, YouTube, etc, have changed the face of media practice by making information sharing easier, faster and quicker.

“But, this is not without its demerits. Social media has become a threat to the ethics of media practice and good governance because of its accessibility and absolute freedom”, he said.

On his own, the Abia State governor, Thedore Orji, urged journalists to encourage Nigerian leaders by writing something good about them.

He advised them not to base their stories on internet information, which cannot be verified, but on the facts on ground available to them.

Social media is known to be used by citizens to articulate their views about governments - some have led to nationwide and transnational protests. The power of voices on these platforms has been so significant that governments have long abandoned attempts to ignore opinions expressed by the people. NYC Mayor Bloomberg says, "social media have made democratic polities more accessible to direct interventions by the populace. Social media are as close as it is possible to get to vox populi, the holy grail of democracy."

In strong or ideal democracies, people's voices should not be a threat, yet what authorities can't control threatens them.

This just reinforces Papacharissi's (2010:11) point on democracy. She says,

Democracy is often treated as a static concept that we either practice effectively, live up to honourably, or are unable to attain. Democracy, however, is imaginary. It is an abstraction. It is based on an ideal , subject to many interpretations, which then influence how the abstraction is practiced by nation-centric political systems.

Papacharissi's argument, simply put, is that democracy is an evolving and fluid term.Nations define its tenets as they deem fit to their respective socio-cultural frame. Therefore once we accept that, the nation-centric definition of what democracy is for Nigeria becomes more obvious when we attempt to thematise it from what is unsaid in Mark's articulation of social media and governance in Nigeria.

On what grounds according to this report does the Nigerian Senate President consider social media a "threat" to governance in Nigeria:

  • Social media (users) do not respect national security
  • Social media (users) do not respect national values
  • Use of social media does not encourage patriotism

Are these reasons sufficient to curb the freedom of expression?

The accessibilty and absolute freedom of expression are his main concerns.

Given the fact that only about twenty-three million Nigerians out of a population of approx one hundred and forty million people have access to the Internet, how access has become a concern is worth investigating. Could it be that the few talking are really making the government squirm? What would be the case if more people get talking (access is increased)?

This simply demonstrates the power of reasoning and deliberation among citizens, where criticism of the government often occurs (public sphere). An effective (liberal) public sphere chcecks the government and pushes it to stay accountable to the people through the medium of talk.

As I am a researcher just asking questions at the moment, I have a few more:

  1. Is access that is already limited to Nigerians, going to be further limited? How would that work?
  2. Is freedom of expression (online) going to be curtailed? and how? what about Nigerians in diaspora?

In some countries, people get jailed for tweets and numerous bloggers have been arrested - in both developed and developing democracies)

This articulation of the Nigerian senate president's take on social media and national governance is of significant interest to me because my thesis is on how a culture of democracy may be developed in Nigeria (developing nations), through an effective digital public sphere.

Papacharissi, Zizi. (2010) A Private Sphere - Democracy in a Digital Age. Cambridge: Polity Press

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