This past month, I joined a Facebook group ostensibly created for people to share their experiences, discuss issues and make friends. But right from the first few days I spent there, I began to block off nasty individuals.
I’ve always thought of myself as a naturally calm guy who is open to interacting with diverse people.
That wasn’t my first time joining a group or discussing with folks on foras. I have made many friends from such spaces. But this new group seem to be bringing out an aspect of my personality that I didn’t like.
After observing the quality and nature of conversations that daily occur on that forum, I realized the place can only be likened to a cyber jungle where you have a pack of wild animals preying and seizing on one another at the jugular.
I discovered that in the group a full-scale, old-fashioned “feeding frenzy” is a regular tradition. This is my term for when virtually everyone in a given online group decides to focus upon attacking and savaging one person with a dissenting view.
At that point, I began to ruminate on the possible influence of social media in generating negative energy among the youth population, especially in Nigeria.
From several interactions I have had, I have come to the conclusion that the moment some folks are online, they become completely unshackled from their morals and ethics.
Once they hold their phones in their hands, they become “savages” – mean souls who use the social media as spitbowls for deadly poisons in their sick souls to be spurted out.
The cyberspace provides users with a degree of anonymity, and this has resulted in the collective butchering of basic civility, decency and maturity. These trends function as the bedrock from which emotional and mental problems spring among youths.
According to a 2017 survey conducted in the UK among 1479 young people (aged 14 to 24), Instagram was found to be more detrimental to young people’s mental health when compared to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
Seeing friends constantly on holiday or enjoying nights out can make young people feel like they are missing out while others enjoy life. These feelings can promote a ‘compare and despair’ attitude in young people.
Young people who spend more than two hours per day connecting on social networking sites are more likely to suffer from increased levels of psychological distress, depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation, according to the report.
In addition to this, the tenor of most online discussions, particularly on Facebook Nigeria, are often laced with crude, rhetorically violent, unnervingly venomous and zoophilous languages that can only be classified as hate speech.
Hate speech is a part of hate crime. This is an offence motivated by hostility towards a person based on any aspect of their identity, whether it is their gender, disability, race, ethnicity, religion or lifestyle.
In Germany, researchers studied more than 3,000 hate crimes and the factors present in each circumstance.
The team from the University of Warwick in the UK found that towns and cities with a higher-than-average Facebook use corresponded with more attacks on refugees. Social media, they discovered, could facilitate the transformation of online hate speech into real life incidents.
Indeed, the human capacity for hate is a primal one, but in this Information Age, the vintage bottle of hatred has found a disturbingly effective new outlet: social media.
Platforms such as Facebook and Twitter provide highly effective mechanisms for fanning the flames of hatred and spreading toxic ideas. Nigeria, with its preening religious exhibitionism is not immune to this malaise; in fact, people have learned to perfect hate into an art and cement it with religious idioms.
Again, let me dig briefly into a vital springboard that is often ignored or seldom acknowledged: Facebook etiquette.
I believe our online interactions will improve if these etiquettes are observed even on other social plaforms. Let me bring up a few of them:
1. Respecting people’s privacy
Some people just don’t like their offspring’s cute mugs posted on social media for the whole world to see and judge, and it’s important to respect that. The privacy of children should be jealously protected.
I don’t find it acceptable under any circumstances for people to use pictures of innocent children to beg for alms online. Parents should be careful in which state they capture their children on camera.
Filming your child nude or in an abject state may be amusing until that violation of privacy goes viral; and that child is not going to remain a child for very long.
2. Broadcasting your friends’ problems
Learn to also respect the privacy of friends and family. It’s wrong to use the social media to announce delicate and personal family issues or problems.
If someone has confided in you or discussed a matter with you in private messaging, and you proceed to share screenshots of that conversation – either for public attention or personal gratification – you are part of the problem.
The inability of many folks to keep private things private online is why there is so much mistrust and negativity.
Rather than mending social bridges as the inventors of these plaforms intended, it has further broken bridges and divided people.
3. Begging for attention
This is the most scandalous of all online behaviours. It’s sad but true that some folks are online attention whores, and they will do, write, say or reveal just about anything to keep their heads in the spotlight. I now call this “the Smollett phenomenon.”
No story is too sacred for their crude jokes and no claim is too outlandish for their amoral minds. This is the bane behind fake news and video leaks.
People beg for attention in various ways: making up a false story, showing off wads of Naira notes and luxury items; unfounded accusations against public figures, and the most disturbing: filming a person who desperately needs medical attention.
Believe me, the social media has eroded one of the last vestiges of human compassion and respect.
Some folks will even post pictures of a dead person in a graphic, disturbing state, append a lame prayer line to it and post it on their pages, demanding folks type “Amen” in response, to boost their traffic. And you will find folks mindlessly typing “Amen” to avert the way of all flesh.
One of my distant relatives died in July 2016, and someone photographed his lifeless body lying on the ground, and posted it on his timeline without any care for how this might affect the emotions of his family and friends.
That’s why when a popular DJ committed suicide in January and a certain ex-girlfriend came on Facebook to expose his sordid past, I strongly disapproved of it. Respect people in their grief by not posting unflattering stuff about their deceased family; this is a basic cultural and social norm.
4. Ranting about politics
Some readers might be surprised to learn that it’s an online bad habit to always rant about politics on social media. Some folks have no other thing they talk about beside politics. This is an obsession and it can affect one’s mental well being.
Politics, like religion, is a highly emotionally charged and polarising area, and the quickest way to generate negative energy with friends and family is to be obsessed with political topics.
Sometimes, we need to find common grounds with people rather than frequently combating them because of politics. Even politicians don’t always discuss politics!
Furthermore, for years, much of what has been passed off as political communication in Nigeria consist entirely of demonizing the opposition, bullying, grandstanding, belittling detractors, manipulation of ethnic and religious sentiments and mind-numbing propaganda.
During election seasons, lots of wingnuts never fail to come out of the woodwork. But we can steel ourselves from their ignoble tools by diversifying our knowlege and interactions.
Negative energy on social media is real. But we don’t have to step low into it; we have to transcend it to deal with it. Fumigate your online atmosphere: make use of the censorship tools the social media has provided us with.
Surround yourself with good people with positive ideas. Respect others and ask for their respect as well. Learn to respect people’s personal spaces. You may even need to go on a cyber starve. It could last for two weeks or more. Believe me, it works.