BBNaija and Sheep on Social Media


Teniola Medupin

Without a doubt, communication in our increasingly techno-centric society is being taken over by social media, making it easier to relay and receive messages to and from thousands of people with just a few strokes. It is, of course, fantastic when the information is accurate. But what of information that is inaccurate, misleading, loaded with emotional weight or destructive in nature? Accurate information should be treasured. Inaccurate information is damaging. Examples of both categories of information abound. My interest is the wilful spread of inaccurate information on social media.

Last week, a video showing two women swapping insults on a plane went viral. The older of the two women, who wears a low cut and obviously an adept speaker of Yoruba language, was presented as Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, the former Education Minister. The other, with a foreign accent, purportedly was Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, incumbent Finance Minister. Many Facebook users shared the video in unfettered glee and in the belief that a former and current minister were having a furious verbal exchange, of course, with comments stating how unedifying their conduct was.

That the exchange took place in the economy class of the plane should have aroused suspicions that the characters were not those they thought were involved in the quarrel. That the woman purported to be Ezekwesili spoke flawless Yoruba should have served as a warning that she was not. Also, the fact that the woman advertised as the Finance minister is younger, slimmer and so casually dressed in a way we have never seen Adeosun do, at least publicly, should also have served as a warning that this was fraud in motion.
But on the social media, brains, along with eyes, tend to go on vacation. When this happens (and it is almost on per second basis), humans are no better than sheep: unthinking, unquestioning specimen of conformity.

Before the imagined Ezekwesili/Adeosun spat, precisely last Sunday, Facebook and Twitter heaved with anger over a claim purporting that Multichoice, organizers of the Big Brother Naija (BBNaija) television reality show, made N5.1billion profit from the three-month show.
The claim, shared with maniacal frenzy on the two platforms, was presented by each of those promoting it, as his or hers. Fairly understandable, given that people, in a bid to seek attention, construct attention-grabbing updates in order to reel others in. Social media make it easy for people to get attention, and one common way of doing that is to spread a sensational story – true or not. Some others just did not want to be left out of the opportunity to be viewed as profound. For a few more, it was another opportunity to express their xenophobic side by laying into Multichoice for making money off Nigeria.
Whatever the motivation, the claim, under the faintest of scrutiny, makes absolutely no sense and is frankly illiterate. How was the figure arrived at?

A total of 170million votes were recorded during the time the show lasted, with 30million coming in the last week. This, undoubtedly, is a testament to the popularity of the show, something that left many people in a funk. Voting by SMS, the organizers announced before the show, would cost N30. Once the number of recorded votes was announced by the show host, Ebuka, on Sunday night, calculators went to work and produced N5.1 billion as the answer to N30 in 170million places. This was dressed up as the profit. For the last week, which generated 30 million votes, the “financial wizards” arrived at a profit-to Multichoice-of N900million.

Curiously, the first place many people saw this was on the Twitter handle (@UNION Bank) of Union Bank Plc, which once claimed to be “big, strong and reliable”. From there, it exploded like firecrackers on a string, with each poster making out as though it was original to him or her. It was close to insane, leaving otherwise measured people proudly frothing nonsense in a marriage of ignorance and arrogance. But that is what you get on the social media, where there is a reluctance to question things we see and avoid the spread of unverifiable information.

Some others, seized by rabid patriotism, expressed their xenophobic side. A South African company cannot be allowed to be make such a huge profit from Nigeria in three months, they argued, inviting the tax authorities to move in. But did Multichoice actually make such an amount in profit and exclusively from Nigeria?

Hang on. Voting, the organisers announced before the show, would take place online on and SMS. Voting, they also announced, was open to viewers in 49 African countries, with Nigerian viewers the only ones allowed to vote by SMS. I am certain that the Federal Government has not yet issued a new mobile telecommunication licence, at least to Multichoice, which means voting by SMS took place on the platforms of existing telecommunication companies. I also strongly suspect that the quartet of MTN, 9Mobile, Globacom and Airtel, which also provide data services, and other data services providers did not make their platforms available for free. They are businesses, not charities.

So, even if we take it that the voting was done exclusively via SMS, which was not the case, how could Multichoice, which is not a network provider, trouser N5.1billion in profit? Frankly, does anybody think that a voter, who had the option of voting online without other cost apart from that data purchased, would choose to vote via SMS at N30?

Somehow, these little things eluded a financial institution, which may be big but unreliable, as it went ahead to mislead thousands of people with an illiterate tweet. Worse, the bank maintained its position when a few clear-headed posters pointed out that some of the voting was done online, replying: “So, let’s say 40 % of the votes (sic) were done online, total sum is still in billions.”

From the information I was able to get, SMS accounted for 1.7 per cent of the total votes cast during the show. Over 98 per cent of the votes, I was informed, came from online platforms-website and mobisite (website via phone). Even if the total sum realized was N5.1billion, there is no way in the world everything could have ended in the profit column.

I am not a business wizard, but it should be clear to any sentient being that costs must have been incurred by the providers of phone and data services (or MultiChoice if it owns or co-owns the platforms), making the claim of N5.1billion profit spectacularly silly.
The people duped into believing and spreading the tale assumed MultiChoice made no investments because it had sponsors, whom we do not know how much they put down. Davido and other showbiz personalities, who made appearances during the show, could not have done so as Corporate Social Responsibility. They must have been paid. The show was round-the-clock and it is no use explaining -except to quarter-wits-that broadcasting time, let alone the satellite variety, costs tonnes of money.

It often mystifies me that reasoning, even vision, is suspended once people get on social media platforms. Last year, a photograph of a man gazing longingly at the cleavage of an orange seller from whom he wanted to buy oranges surfaced on Facebook, with those sharing it claiming that the man was Mr.Ayo Fayose, governor of Ekiti State. The man has no resemblance with the governor, yet Facebook users maintained he was the one.

As valuable as social media platforms are as modern convenience that allow interactions from thousands of miles away, they allow falsehood to spread rapidly. The key to avoiding spreading false information, especially of the dangerous and destructive type, is to exercise restraint, make attempt at verifying, not share things on impulse or because others are sharing. Doing otherwise makes us no better than sheep.

–––Medupin, an administrator, writes from Okenne