Social media has its merits but it can be put to dangerous use, argues FELIX OLADEJI

The evolution of social media over the years has redefined communication and communication processes basically for the fact that it has several features advantageous to content dissemination, uncluttered entrée to handlers, speed in respect of information sharing and flexible user interface. In spite of the countless advantages social media has, a lot of concerns have been raised and tilted towards its usage and contribution to the growth of social vices such as terrorism, violent extremism and conflict across the globe. 

In Nigeria, it was observed that majority of virtual platforms handlers deviate from ideal use by spreading and propelling hate speech regardless of their diverse nature and at the detriment of peace and unity. Prior to now, numerous teenagers from Europe, U.S, Australia and Asia amalgamated terrorist association via what is popularly known as social media platforms recruitment. Due to the growing terrorist presence on social media, it is believed that regulation to limit and remove harmful content has the potential to save lives. Since the 1990s, the U.N. has recognized the threat of terrorists using the Internet. 

However, regulation raises complicated questions as to how communication can be balanced and monitored in such a way that people with negative usage intentions can be restrained. The concept of terrorism, violent extremism and conflict are most often interrelated mainly for the fact that they all affect human life and breed casualties. Society is a configuration of people with diverse culture, varied ideologies and beliefs. These attribute makes society prone to conflict. Thus, conflict is inevitable in every society as Marx puts it. Conflict is a term that encapsulates the other two concepts (terrorism and violence extremism). In other words it is the fusion of several actions and concepts.

Media over history have played a pivotal role in many aspect of the society. Because of the power it wields, it has engineered very crucial issues in the world. The controversial issue is that the vocabulary of terrorism has gradually replaced anarchy and communism which was exploited accordingly by media and politicians. The difficulty in constructing definition to the concept of terrorism is that history provides too many precedents of organizations and their leaders branded as terrorist but who eventually evolved into respected government.

Worthy of note also is the old slogan that

says “a terrorist to one state is another state’s freedom fighter”. This slogan has for a long time resulted into a lingering problem which has made the adoption of universally accepted definition of terrorism impossible. It assesses the validity of the cause when terrorism is an act. One can have a perfectly beautiful cause and yet if one commits terrorist acts, it is terrorism regardless. As at now, there is no universally accepted definition of terrorism. In fact, none of the 13 major multilateral conventions on terrorism defined terrorism. Thus, terrorism both as practiced and justified by terrorist themselves, is a tool used to achieve a specific outcome by using force or violence on one segment of society with the primary goal of causing fear in the larger society to make change in that society. 

Globally, terrorist attacks have almost exclusively been led and executed by young men. This is not a new phenomenon; Nigerian form of terrorism does not differ in any way. With a ready pool of unemployed labour, exploitative politicians, radical clerics; population prone to violence and weakened national and community cohesions, offers competitive advantage for militant and terrorist organizations, criminal networks and evil political leaders alike in Nigeria. The media has also played a crucial role in spreading the ideology of terrorist groups and coverage of their activities; this has given them a publicity that attracts the young people. Hence this article agrees  that chronic violence like Boko Haram insurrection and the Niger Delta militants were provoked and reproduced by diverse factors, many of them mutually interactive. These include new patterns of social inequality; disjunctive processes of democratisation; criminal networks and other adverse effects of globalization; and the perverse effects of the mass media. 

The wide adaption of Social media has created a virtual environment that has broken geographical boundaries by virtue of its strategy that brings likeminded people together irrespective of diversity. Social media are increasingly instrumental in the facilitation of countless activities across the globe. As terrorism keeps increasing and growing tremendously and rapidly in frequency and magnitude around the world, a lot of fingers are pointing at social media as a major instrument used by terrorist for achieving their aims and objectives. Statistics revealed by Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE) database indicated that from 2008 to 2018, names grew from 540,000 to 1.6 million and that countless thousands of deaths across the world have been attributed to terrorist activities. A closed fetched example that illustrates the brutal impact of terrorism is the ongoing insurgency in the North East region of Nigeria where thousands have been killed and displaced by Boko Haram. There is however a strong connection between terrorism and technology because technology helps in the facilitation of terrorists activities by influencing new recruits, upraising the weighbridge of destruction, and increasing the likely vulnerable targets of terrorist. Of late, numerous terrorist groups have adapted the use of social media to recruit and proselytize for its wide reach, ability to connect individuals around the world and immediate impact on users. 

A typical example of the use of social media by terrorist for spreading their message is the recent beheading of a journalist by ISIS that went viral on numerous virtual platforms. In Nigeria it was observed that Boko Haram makes use of platforms such as YouTube in spreading their ideologies. About 90 % of terrorist activities are organized on the Internet and executed via social media. Myriads of terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda have moved their online presence to YouTube, X app (Twitter), Facebook, Instagram, and other social media outlets. With the feeling and strategy that one out of four people in the world at least use social media or one of the platforms which in turn broadens their horizon and capture lots of audiences for their activities. Terrorist adoption and usage of social media are mostly in tandem with the rationales for the adoption and usage by common and normal users. 

It is “user- friendly, reliable, free and in many countries if not all unregulated. Social media platforms have channels which are by far the most popular with their intended audience, it allows terrorist groups to be part of the mainstream.”‘ When a terrorist account is shut down, the cost of establishing a new one is minimal. Furthermore, social networking allows terrorists to reach out to their target audiences and virtually ‘knock on their doors’-in contrast to older models of websites in which terrorists had to wait for visitors to come to them. An estimate by the U.S. State Department revealed that about 12,000 foreigners from fifty different countries travelled to Syria in order to partake in the ongoing Syria chaos championed by ISIS. Facebook is however used by terrorist as a gateway to extremist sites and other online radical content”. It is seen as a connecting tissue to other “media outlet for terrorist propaganda and extremist ideological messaging” and ultimately creates a technique for “sharing operational and tactical information. 

The X-app formerly known Twitter’s instantaneous functionality also sanctions terrorists to interchange exigent communications. A report by the U.S. Army explained in clear terms concerns over the sinister role X-app (Twitter) can play in the operative synchronisation of terrorists in the process planning attacks. YouTube being a video sharing forum, it facilitates the sharing and posting of propaganda videos which helps in the recruitment of new individuals. Finally, terrorists have used Instagram and Flickr to glorification of terrorist activities such as execution of hostages and other acts of brutality to mankind. However, in each of these cases, social media’s plusses are often ill- treated to support terrorist in the advancement of their proscribed ambitions.

In order to curb terrorism, fundamentalism, extremism and conflict which are inevitable, government at various levels have made serious effort to check the menace. The media has been used as an instrument to achieve the goal. To that effect several laws have been enacted. The former Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase explained that the Nigeria laws on terrorism are essentially embodied in two enactments: the Terrorism Prevention Act (TPA) of 2011 and Terrorism (Prevention) (Amendment) Act 2013. The two laws are collectively referred to as Terrorism (Prevention) Act 2011 (as amended) or simply TPA 2011 (as amended). This was enacted, essentially, to prevent and deal with the wave of terrorism erupting in Nigeria. The alarming need to create Nigerian Anti- Terrorist Organisation is a policy issue toward curtailing terrorism in Nigeria. 

Media as social institution has played a pivotal role in the discourse of conflict and terrorism ranging from coverage, moulding concepts of terrorism and extremism, name-calling and painting a picture of particular religion with colour of terrorism. Some scholars argued that the attention and coverage given to terrorism by the media had enabled the terrorist to exploit the mass media by selling their ideologies. In Nigeria the media cover terrorism and other criminal acts in a way that seems as promotion of the acts and ideologies. There are diverse media outfits in Nigeria ranging from international, national and local and each has interest and pattern of reporting issues. However, the conceptual ambiguity of terrorism is responsible for the failure of the media in fight against terrorism. Though the media cannot fight alone but it has played a role in determining terrorists, covering terror and reproduction of the meaning of terrorism.

Hence, the media have continuous role to play to ensure the realization of these ideals. The press as a major factor in this direction should take the issue of national security with utmost importance and fight to sustain Nigeria’s corporate existence. The usage of social media is indeed a phenomenon that has come to stay, but it is also imperative to note that if left totally unchecked, it could do more harm than good to the country’s peace. It has become more imperative now than ever to realize that no matter the prevalent differences in existence, our national interest should override all other considerations and interests. it is not over stressing to point out that issues highlighted in most Nigerian media are still made up of violent-robbery, ritual performances, rivalry, conflicts, sexual violence, organized crime, prostitution, murder, greed, avarice, impatience, jealousy, envy, pride, arrogance, infidelity, treachery, occultism, love and hatred. The mass media need to mobilize people to envisage the problems that impede the nation from development while promoting good governance and transparency as enshrined in the ideals of democracy hence reduce deprivation and fundamentalism.

 Oladeji writes from Lagos

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