SOCIAL Communication is a very dicey thing. It can finish a thriving society or revive a dying one in one swoop. The most worrisome factor is that any of this can happen without the key operator(s) in the communication foreseeing the outcome of their action(s) when they originated or escalated the message.
This is why the anchors and contributors to ‘sincere’ but emotional radio broadcasts in Rwanda in 1994 did not know that they were actually beckoning a genocide, a damning war and digging their graves by the messages they sent out.
They or at least, most of them, thought they were communicating their disgust with their society as they felt it.
When hordes of arsonists, blood-thirsty bandits and disgruntled machete-brandishing thugs found a space to exploit the expressed angst, everyone turned out loser and victim, more than their country as an entity. Between mid April and mid July 1994, over 1.1 million persons were killed in the resulting Hutu-Tutsi killings. Over two decades thereafter, the country Rwanda, has never returned to even as the current President, Paul Kagame, is working zestfully and innovatively to turn things around. the But the cause was just people’s so called frank communication of their frustration with their country’s political situation. Radio stations (mostly) and other vehicles of social communication free reign of unedited hatred. Churches, community leaders and social influencers acquiesced. It was so bad that in some instances during the genocide, unarmed people ran into churches to seek refuge, the clergy men in charge locked them out and attackers slaughtered them there.
Studies later showed that the angst were caused by unsubstantiated rumours that people acted upon without verification.
A similar manipulation of social sentiment through public communication caused the Nazis bid for extermination of Jews in the 1930s through 1940s.
In the Balkans, we saw the same trend in the 1990s.
Currently, with law enforcement and security agents’ mishandling, if bungling the ongoing #EndSARS protests across country which began in Lagos and Federal Capital Territory, Abuja on October 6, 2020, we have a dicey social communication situation in our hands.
In the aftermath of the Lekki Toll Plaza, Lagos shooting of protesters, a rash of sensational social communication items – social media feeds, short films, audio clips, print media articles and public (pub) meetings have been swooning the Nigerian space. Rumours are flying everywhere and everyone is ‘sharing’ eveything he apt from social media almost always without verification.
Part of the immediate result of the ‘flying’ information items, news and falsehood, is the huge wave of arson and vandalism now ongoing on our streets as some hoodlums thieves, vandals and Holesian fantasists now find cues to vent their tendencies on society.
Law enforcement has receded as mob action, bonfires, lynching and a yell-beyond-the-quiet culture now reign.
This is very worrisome, and could be prelude to a more nasty situation. More so, given the fact that law enforcement and security operatives are now clearly overwhelmed suspects in earlier cases may no find chance to eliminate facts and descend on victims.
This is danger which social communicators should take as urgent assignment to solve or at least, minimise. Else, we all, in Nigeria may head in terrible harm’s way.
A situation where jails are broken and convicts freed is not acceptable. And demagogues like the ones who are now riding on the #EndSARS populism opportunities have never solved any society’s real headache.
From the setting now, we need to hold our tongues, guard our sharing tools and be more circumspect about what we feed our publics.
We may claim that media technology has made all manner of people part of the content providers in social communication but let’s start with ourselves as mainstream operators and strive a bit more to enlighten the public of the dire need to be more careful with sharing information too.
Who knows? We may be actually saving our own heads for our necks, literally.