FEBRUARY 4TH - 8TH 2019
STORIES: With Great Influence Comes Great Responsibility

Truth Don Die: Is Social Media The Problem With Public Discourse?

Truth Don Die: Is Social Media The Problem With Public Discourse?
February 28, 2017 Oluwatosin
Photo: Studio 24 Nigeria

Truth don die? The panel hosted by The Nigerian Working Group is a thorough inquiry into social media and its effects on traditional news and current patterns in public opinions. Hosted by Stanley Azuakola of The Scoop NG, the important questions are asked and new solutions are put forward by other panelists; Anthony Osaze-Brown, Tolu Ogunlesi, Chidinma and Simi Bolorunfemi

The consensus from the participants of the panel is that there exists a downward spiral in the quality of the public discourse. The democratization of information poses new problems and takes away the quality of the conversations from the regular route of the editors and the fact checkers to the emotional intelligence of the new sources of the news. There are now credible and under-informed people peddling information that is false or of limited truths. Sometimes these things are not done with malice or ill intent but they are getting information out to the new mainstream media; information that has not been verified. This downward spiral is also because of people employing wrong tactics for post engagement.

Social media is a mirror of who we are and honestly, we might not be as great as we realized. The main difference from the era of traditional media and this new era of social media is in the states it helps put into perspective. In the era of traditional media, the state of the society was paramount with the only well informed and well researched elites lending their voices to the dialogue; or the monologue as it was. There was hardly any room for op-eds and for back talk as the newspapers and broadcast stations owned the power. In this era of social media, the state of the self is on display. Personal sentiments are put out instead of real news and #AlternativeFacts are the new norm. The era of the elite is gone! Social media and its constantly changing algorithm through Artificial Intelligence might be encouraging this new faulty culture. The highest post wins the game and bad news presented dramatically is almost certain to win.

In this state of self, there is a new age of narcissism; the desire to be loved and to be accepted and everybody can carve out a niche for themselves. A carefully curated bubble of yes men will shield individuals from the truth. We are remembering that the elites are already dead. We have killed them as their influence is now unnecessary. The new public commentator is a person with a persona that attracts people with being able to articulate his ideas no matter how faulty his ideas and views might be. This poses a new problem; helplessness. Beyond the government and happenings in the environment, real life human beings can be slandered. Reputations will be destroyed further ruining potential and future opportunities for personal and professional development. There is a new need beyond education being academic but now for people to be educated in the news. It seems today that WhatsApp tends to pull down the collective intelligence of society with so many wrong pieces of information usually flying around and absorbed by readers’ hook, line and sinker. There is a need for personal policing and verification of information.

Government legislation has been put forward in the past as a way of changing the status-quo but this hasn’t gotten anywhere – because the government doesn’t know when it goes too far. Laws need to be adapted to the age of social media and previous standards in the media as regards libel and hate speech need to be revamped in this new age. Agencies like Facebook have gone the route of 3rd party verification. That might minimalize the spread of fake news, but as a long as people remain popularity whores with the desire to be ‘liked’ the age of social media might mean that Truth actually don die.

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