By Fr Gerald Nwafor
The power of information cannot be doubted, even in the centuries before technology as we know it today. Even in the scripture, the guards on Jesus’ tomb were paid to spread the wrong information and the story to date was the false information from the paid guards which is equivalent to fake news today. In Nigeria, the history classes were stopped because the powers that be do not want to share the true story of the Nigerian Civil War, not to mention the true stories of many other things bedeviling Nigeria today. Some historians were economical with the truth, and their books were rusticated earlier; and some good historians avoided the story of our union in its entirety because they did not want a glitch and friction with the government that might otherwise make them ministers, vice-chancellors, and permanent secretaries. So, the source of information is truncated and the information itself is mutilated. If you listen to the fake news you are misinformed. If you avoid the media in its entirety, you will be uninformed. So, what is the best option for news in the 21st-century sociopolitical world?
I don’t have a clear answer, but I will not claim total ignorance thereof. The freedom of information accessible through alternative media sources (Facebook, YouTube, etc.) makes it impossible for the mainstream media outlets (ABC, CNN, Fox, MSNBC, NTA) to hide truths from the public. Being fed an unchallenged string of lies is a thing of the past. You don’t need a license to open most of the social media accounts and you don’t need government approval. These are some of the merits of social media. On the other hand, we can not look the other way either. There is a problem of people publishing fake news on the walls of social media, knowing very well that many people would read the fake news and believe it. Therefore, we in the public have to publish the truth, so that the people in power should not bribe the guards (mainstream media) to give us fake information. It is disturbing not only that they pass-on fake news and conspiracy theories, but mores so that the public believes it without questioning, and acts on it. People must not allow themselves to give up, either. It is a very apprehensive time we find ourselves in. Not long from now, we will have lawyers and doctors that will show you their certificates that state that they graduated from the YouTube School of Law or Medicine.
Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, Instagram, Yahoo, Google, LinkedIn, and many more are among the social media outlets that bring the news to your doorstep. Sometimes they break into your rooms uninvited. A couple of years ago I was in the Frankfort Germany airport waiting for my flight to Lagos. I was restless. After all, I missed my flight to Lagos because my connecting flight from San Francisco arrived one hour late. I was not the only victim. Most of the passengers were on the same route as mine. People threw civility out of the window because they wanted to be home the next day. There was a commotion in the airport and the Nigerian passengers were at their best in harassing every agent of the airline. I was also calling my cousin who was supposed to pick me up in Lagos, telling him how my journey had been a mess, and how the plan of seeing me that evening had evaporated.
A family of six was also making a frantic call to Nigeria, telling the story of how they missed their flight too. Thus, I got interested when the agent told the man that their case was different, and that he would attend to them last.
Their story: The family had arrived 2 hours before their original flight, which was nice and perfect for an international flight. They checked their bags and crossed through security. They looked up to the flight screen and saw that they were on time. So, they sat down on the sofa at the gate, and everyone had their phone on their palm, chatting and reading some news on Facebook and other social media. They became so absorbed in their devices that they did not hear their name being called in the airport for over two hours, according to the agent. They were given 30 mins of grace, and still no reply. Finally, their bags were taken off the plane and there was enough of a sense of worry that the security guards were requested to look for a family of six. How can it be that this family found it so interesting to talk to people outside their family, to the point of missing their flight? This is the power of social media. It can make you; it can also mar you. While growing up in Onitsha we watched television only in the living room, aka the parlor. Today children can watch television from anywhere at all and whenever desired.
We need some control from the parents to know what their children are watching on social media. We need relief from the people who feed fake news into social media, like the revised history of Nigeria that is put forth. We need help from the owners of the social media platforms to ban people who are propagandists and have too many hates to spread. They should be banned the way the one-time American President was banned. We should take a break from social media sometimes because too much of everything is bad, according to my people. (Agata gbahara oke obulu ala). It is our choice to make in this age to harness the benefits of social media or weaponize it against one another. Read the news on social media but be careful (caveat emptor). Publish the news on social media but please be sincere. Don’t share false information forwarded by a friend who doesn’t care about your society and you. Make sure you verify the facts before you post. Let us use this magnificent tool called social media positively.
Rev. Fr. Gerald Nwafor writes from USA.