By Jibrin Baba Ndace

Technological advancement has always changed the course of history. Inventions and innovations have continuously improved human existence. By the same token, every evolution has provided new ways to do old things.

Indeed, each epoch or century witnessed one or more inventions which have significant impact on agriculture, politics, education, religion, journalism, health, culture and battles. While some of these technological developments were borne of necessity, others were as a result of curiosity and man’s desire to dominate the world.

Like others, the 21st century witnessed phenomenal technological progress. One of such advancements that has impacted positively on humanity is 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 room. And with advancement of new technology and smartphones, the world is witnessing a quantum leap into the era of global pockets. These advancements have improved human condition significantly in all spheres of human endeavour: 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 as Google, Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, Pinterest, 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. As the name indicates, internet has created interconnectivity on a massive and instantaneous 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 seven percent year-on-year. The number of social media users as at 2018 was 3.196billion, up 13 percent year-on-year. However, about 464,923,169 Internet users are reported to be in Africa as at 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 by 2023.

However, while this evolution is being celebrated, there has been increasing concern 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.
In the preface to their work, ‘VIRAL HATE: CONTAINING ITS SPREAD ON THE INTERNET’, Abraham Foxman and Christopher Wolf, note that “hatred knows no bound on the internet”. They argue 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 circulate openly on the web, with effect on individuals and society that are profound and dangerous.

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 recruitments 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 globe, these social media insurgents target various groups with any manners of information aimed at causing disaffection in the society. There is no doubt that 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 garbage in and garbage out of the internet, but are aware of opportunities that abound as well as responsibilities arising therefrom.

For us to check these abuses on the virtual space, we must be active.participants, rather than passive onlookers. We must heed to Wole Olaoye’s warning to all Nigerians, in his article, ‘Fruit of Hate’, thus: “May I warn my fellow countrymen and women whose kids have formed a lynch-mob stereotyping, insulting and generally making hateful statements about other ethnic groups 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 sure your data is for development, not for destruction!

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