About two years ago, I wrote a feature piece in this newspaper titled “Endangered profession, endangered practitioners,” where I noted, with empirical evidence, that the social media has become a real threat to the traditional media, especially print media. I predicted that scores of jobs would be lost in the print media, not because the journalists are not discharging their duty, but principally because newspaper readership would nose-dive, given that people have news in their telephone handsets. Anyone who has an android phone, and has access to data to access to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Whatsapp and so on has no need to look for news elsewhere. He has his news right in his hands.
Since that time, hundreds of jobs have been lost in the print media and many such houses now struggle to pay even the skeletal staff they have, or do not even pay at all. News is now at the beck and call of everyone. The social media has even been so democratic that one person can share the information he has and make it go virtually around the country and the world. Last month, I inadvertently got into trouble for sharing information sent to me on Whatsapp. It was a sensitive matter concerning accusations on church politics of a leading church in Nigeria. I fiddled with my phone and it shared the information to virtually all my contacts. I did not know that my contacts included those negatively affected by the message. They became infuriated and deployed technology to dig me out through Truecaller application, which also brought my photograph in tow. I did not know that they had made mince meat of me, some of them raining abuses on me, for sharing a piece that was also forwarded to be from someone on my contact list. I bore the brunt of something I did not originate. I was taken to another Whatsapp group and torn in shreds as though I originated the article. I knew nothing about the origin of the material but I forwarded it to my contacts. That became my undoing. I do not even know how far they intend to go in dealing with me on the matter. That is the power of social media. It can magnify a matter by the mere touch of a button.
That is the transmission power of social media. Last week, the Inspector-General of Police became a victim of the transmission power of social media. IGP Ibrahim Idris was shown in one video that went viral stuttering and blundering so badly that he repeated the word “transmission” several times in a manner unbefitting of a man in such exalted office. The police say the video was “doctored.” I believe the police but there is something to be doctored. The video from which the video doctors did the damage certainly provides suitable raw material for the doctors. Although a newspaper has reported that the video was not doctored, the truth lies innocently somewhere between both sides. I would rather go with the police position, if only to provide a crying shoulder for a hurting force. Those who allegedly edited the speech had a raw material from the source. There is no smoke without fire. There were stories over the weekend that the suspect has gone into hiding, though the police denies and the suspect reportedly denied going into hiding in a strange irony where he has yet not shown himself to the media or made written statements. Again, the truth lies somewhere in the mix. But I do not know what charge would be made against him and how such a charge can be proved. That is a legal knot to be disentangled. The point being made here is that the social media has the power to transmit the ‘transmission’ by Idris to such wide audience that even Chinese children used is as lesson in class in another near viral video. The social media became agog with all sorts of videos, including musicals, taking root from the transmission faux pas. The social media has become a strong instrument of power.
The professor at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, who was recently entangled in a sex-for-marks scandal, has the social media to blame for making a private conversation a subject of public discussions around the world. The lady who put out the conversation in the social media space chickened out when she was to appear before a panel set up by the university. I have not heard the latest on the matter but if she does not appear before the panel, there would be no evidence to meet the legal requirement of ‘beyond re
asonable doubt.’ Senator Dino Melaye has fought his political battles on the social media through his songs and cajoling moves that provide comic relief. When the police tried to take him forcibly to face trial in Lokoja, it was to the social media he resorted to expose that matter.
The Arab Spring, which brought down sit-tight leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and other places in the Arab world, came via the force of social media mobilisation. The traditional media owes its survival to investing heavily in presence on the social media and devising ingenuous ways of making returns from such presence. Politicians now employ special advisers on social media, a clear show that that it has become impactful as a means of communication. All that is known of the publisher of Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowore, and his move to vie for the presidency are from the social media. Society blogger Linda Ikeji, one of the early birds into social media, has made a fortune of her foray into the media space, now extending to television broadcasting on the Internet. Her pregnancy, weeks after announcing an engagement to an unknown suitor, has set the social media space agog with activity. Hers is another example of the power of that medium. Everyone now has a check in the social media because it has handed media power to the people. Nigeria’s police boss, Idris, knows that and so should other public officers and, indeed, everyone.