Saturday, 25 August 2012

Social Media: Education is Always Better than Sanction


I originally wrote this for my Akin Consults Blog, however, whilst I was catching up on reading material that I usually share on Twitter by taking the headline, the URL and adding a short opinion of mine, I happened on this article 26 Internet safety talking points, it to me is one of the best articulated views on Internet usage and policing, some of which will apply to the topic covered further on in this blog.
I have because of this update changed the title of the blog to reflect these ideas and I think anyone who uses the Internet or anyone who is involved in formulating Internet policy will find these talking points quite useful.
Social media – the fall guy
Over the last couple of months, social media and by that I mean the use of Facebook, Twitter and Blogs has taken a bad rap in Nigeria.
From politicians uncomfortable the ease of access, freedom of expression, unrelenting scrutiny with the attendant abuse that would put Mosaic curses in the shade through its use by swindlers, kidnappers and murderers for incomprehensible ends.
The same social media has been exploited for political advantage too, for engaging the youth in the political process, for aspects of good and sometimes bad propaganda, for crowd-funding, crowd-sourcing and the dissemination of ideas.
The problem is use
However, it is the tragic case of Cynthia Osokogu that brings to the fore elements of usage that we need to very aware of. The young lady apparently met two men while interacting on Facebook, began a business transaction with them that involved her travelling to Lagos where she was picked up, drugged, raped, beaten up, murdered and then dumped in a mortuary where her family finally discovered her.
Fundamentally, the problem here is not social media, or Facebook in particular, Facebook just served as a medium of communication that could have been achieved by other means though maybe not with the same ease.
The problem with the use and I emphasise the word use of Facebook is people have by reason of the ease of interaction lowered the thresholds of trust they have such that they probably do not go through more stringent steps of ascertaining and verification of activities they get involved in.
Before social media they existed
Before any of the social media we have today, swindlers, confidence tricksters, kidnappers and murderers existed just as there were people to be taken advantage of through foolishness, ignorance, naivety or vulnerability.
We so easily let our guard down hoping that the social media vehicle we are using will take up the slack and do the vetting for us but there is no substitute for doing the basic things of not meeting strangers outside your comfort zone, informing people of what you are up to, documenting whatever you are involved in and taking a friend with you if need be for your safety.
When I am going to meet strangers, I always leave a sheet of paper on my table with all the contact details along with a backup element that can be found if there is a need for that.
Some basic analogies
The analogies to use are simple – you do not because you have bought a new knife use it recklessly, you are probably going to be more careful with its use lest you cut yourself. Likewise, the ease of communication offered by social media should have your suspicious and alert mechanisms at their most primed to ensure you are not sucked into a vulnerable situation from which you cannot extract yourself.
In the same vein, you do not because you have a fast car put your foot down on the accelerator and go over a cliff with glee, with a fast car comes better brakes and better control – if those controls are used wisely, you are in a safer vehicle for it protections rather than for its speed. Likewise, the ease with which you can share information should inform the carefulness involved in keeping some of that information back
Common-sense with social media
I have always worked on a simple principle – If in DOUBT, keep it OUT – there is just no need to dump all that information out there just as you do not have your home as thoroughfare for the public to walk through at will without restraint.
We are naturally careful about our private information, it should not be different from our adoption of social media and like our mothers used to say when were kids – Don’t take sweets from strangers – the same principle should apply to anywhere we interact with strangers – we do not know them well enough to trust them and God only knows what they have in mind for us.
Conversely, we should try to believe the best of everyone whilst retaining a modicum of suspicion, it does not have to border on paranoia, but a healthy dose of paranoia is not bad or the principle of personal safety and the possible elimination of dangerous situations.
The real problem
Without making little of the tragedy that befell Cynthia Osokogu, social media is not the problem, it has never been the problem, it the use of or the lack of knowledge of the common-sense uses of social media that is the problem and that is where people need the most education that it should not lower the needs to ascertain, determine, verify and be careful about the people we interact with and it cannot carry the burdens of trust and trustworthiness that come from being streetwise, smart and discerning of character, aims and intentions.
We once had letters, then telephones, then telegrams, then telex, then facsimile machines, then mobile phones and now the smorgasbord of easy communication untethered and free – we are however still human and have not metamorphosed into cyborgs – it means those very basic human characteristics still matter and years from now newer modes of communication will be created and hopefully human-beings will know not to abandon their gut instincts for the thrill of technology.
To Cynthia Osokogu – Rest in peace – no know can begin to think of the harrowing experiences you went through as those men took your life and to your family my heartfelt condolences.

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