Published on International Journal of Informatics, Technology & Computers
Publication Date: June 21, 2019
M.A Media Arts, University of Abuja
Journal Full Text PDF: Social Media and the Society (The Nigerian Society).
This paper argues that the Nigerian society has witnessed the power of social media and its effect on social mobilization. The social media have the potential to make people participate and transform society in a way. Adopting the secondary reviewing of qualitative data, the article posits that in order to achieve the social mobilization potentials of the social media, the user has to follow specific laid down steps that will enable him/her to achieve these goals. Furthermore, the paper also highlights some examples of social mobilization as it concerns Nigeria. Finally, the study demonstrates that social media still have some challenges that inhibit the realization of its huge potentials.
Keyword: Social media, social mobilization, Nigerian & society.
The advents of social media have widened the communication system in Nigeria for some years now. It has made communication faster, more comfortable, convenient, and elaborate. Adaja and Ayodele (2013, p.65) submitted that “one of the breakthroughs in information and communication technology in the 21st century was the discovery and emergence of the new media which have aided the creation of the different platforms for social interaction”. The social media have democratized the information spectrum. Hitherto, it was a big deal to participate in societal affairs, but the introduction of social media has made individuals in Nigeria, irrespective of class, religion or political affiliation participate in affairs that affect the country. This is why Umekachikelu (2013) asserted that with one click, information is transmitted to thousands of persons within a second.
2. Contextualizing Social Media
Okoro and Nwafor (2013) describe social media as Internet-based tools and services that allow users to engage with each other, generate content, distribute, and search for information online. Similary, Okoduwa (2013) posits that:
Social media refers to the means of interactivity among people in which they create, share, or exchange information and ideas in online platforms and network. It is mobile or web-based technology for creating highly interactive platforms through which persons and online platforms share, co-create, discuss, and modify user-generated content (p.1).
Kaplan and Haenlein (2010) defined social media as a group of Internet-enabled devices that build on the ideological and technological foundations of web 2.0 and that allow the creation and sharing of user-generated content (UGC). However, the explanation of social media may not be complete without citing one of the early scholars of social media. In 2007, Boyd and Ellison asserted that social media are:
Are web-based services that allow individuals to construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, articulate a list of other users with whom they share a shared connection, and view and transverse list of connections and those made by others within the system (p.6).
Kaplan and Haenlein (2010) believe that social media facilitate interactive discussion and dialogue among individuals, organizations, and communities. In addition to this, Burgess (2017) states that social media create a kind of a mix between commercial, public, and personal contexts. Generally, social media is shaping and reshaping the zeal and knowledge domain of communication and media studies (Burgess, Marwick & Poell, n.d).
There are various types of social media. Kaplan & Haenlein (2010) identified six types of social media. They are:
1. Collaborative Projects: e.g., Wikipedia
2. Blogs and microblogs: e.g., Twitter
3. Content communities e.g., YouTube, Daily motion,
4. Social Networking site: e.g., Facebook, Google+
5. Virtual game worlds e.g., the world of Warcraft
6. Virtual social worlds e.g., second life
According to Kwaghondo (2017), social media are participatory media, they guarantee instant feedback, it is a personal media, they are conversational, they permit user-generated content, and finally, they turn down the boundary of authorship. Specifically, this discourse will be looking at social media as a tool for social mobilization in Nigeria.
3. Social Mobilization: The Place Social Media
Social mobilization is the participation of persons in a developmental project to achieve a goal via self-reliant efforts (Dunu & Uzochukwu, 2015). Social mobilization seeks to embrace the principle of community involvement and also energizes persons and groups for action (UNICEF, 2002). Social mobilization takes into cognizance various sectors and segments of society. “It is a planned decentralized process that seeks to facilitate change for development through a range of players engaged in interrelated and complementary efforts” (Dunu & Uzochukwu, 2015, p.2). Social mobilization aims to increase society’s awareness and participation in socio-economic and political topics that affect individuals in society. It is pertinent to state that young people have domesticated the social media for social mobilization in no small extent. 3 essential features make social media highly effective for social mobilization. They are:
• Personalization – content tailored to individual needs
• Presentation – timely and relevant content accessible in multiple formats and contexts
• Participation – partners and the public who develop and contribute content in meaningful ways. (Dunu and Uzochukwu, 2015).
One clear example of the information and social mobilization power of the social media in Nigeria was in 2012 when four students of the University of Port Harcourt were mobbed and lynched to death. The incidence is popularly known as Alu 4. The incidence went viral on various social media platforms. Presently the health of the President- Mohammadu Buhari is a topical issue on social media. There have been debates and opposition views in this regard. These debates are believed to be shaping political, social, and economic happenings in the country.
4. Political Mobilization
Political participation entails the engagement of the citizenry in a diverse aspect of the political process. Okoro and Nwafor (2013) describe political participation as citizens’ participation in the acts, events, or activities that influence the selection of or the actions taken by political representatives. Abubakar (2011) view the participation of individuals (not necessarily active) in any political process before a joint decision is reached. In their study “Social Media and Political Participation in Nigeria During the 2011General Elections: Lapses and Lessons”, Okoro and Nwafor identified that 76% of all respondents from the towns studied used social media for political participation during the 2011 general elections.
Okoro and Nwafor in their wisdom describe political participation to include such activities like political discourse, political campaigns, voter registration, the voting process, writing and signing of election petitions, attending of civil protests, joining interest groups that engage in lobbying, political advocacy, monitoring and reporting of cases of violation of the electoral laws such as frauds, rigging, intimidation, violence, monetary inducements, underage voting, among others. One great feature of social media is its participatory nature. This feature has endeared social media to both the politicians and the electorates. With social media, people could do some of these forms of participation as exemplified by Okoro and Nwafor. For instance, “Occupy Nigeria” fuel subsidy removal protest of January 2012. It was through social media, especially Facebook, that individual, mostly youth, got mobilized. This protest led to the eventual reduction of the fuel pump price. More recently, precisely January 2017, the “HastagIstandWithNaija” protest went viral on WhatsApp, and on February 6, 2017 youths in various parts of the country took to the street. Constituents can now connect with their representative via social media. This has brought governance more closely to the people.
Adibe, Odoemelam, and Orji (2012) cited in Okoro and Nwafor (2013) noted the participatory nature of the social media when a 33 years old youth, Gbenga and his team developed an Application called Revoda which was used to monitor the 2011 elections. Mayfield (2008) observes that the social media capacity to engendering participation is linked to its multimedia appeal. It insinuated in some quarters that these appeals are scaring away some politician from the platform.
5. Strengths of Social Media for Social Mobilization
The Internet is one of the most critical developments in communication technology, and the advantages that it offers to citizens are innumerable. Traditional mobilization effort depends on the physical interaction of the public’s, in contrast, mobilization with the use of social media no longer depend on the direct physical interaction of the public often constrained by such factors as time, finance, space, and bureaucracy. Instead, it offers the flexibility of the virtual space, which grants anonymity to participants to freely engage in providing the ideas that will help motivate change and development. Perhaps, more importantly, social media can empower those who have the skills and ability to use new technologies by helping them, as Bryant (2006) notes to break away from traditional command and control models. The following are some of the other numerous potentials of social media for social mobilization:
• Social media breaks the monopoly of communication that was previously confined to traditional elites, such as the government, church, or political parties. It empowers an individual to become a political broadcaster and voice his or her opinions on an equal footing with any other user. It fosters pluralism because in cyberspace there are no set answers in the form of exhaustive ideas. Communication is characterized by informality, which may, in turn, encourage further freedom of expression. Moreover, social media creates an area that is difficult for the government or other entities to control – an essential advantage in states where media are centrally controlled.
• Another strength of social media lies in its flexible accessibility. The users can access the network in their own time and be in immediate contact with whoever is connected. The Internet can potentially connect the sender to an unlimited number of users. It enables the creation of new networks such as chat rooms, web forums, and mailing lists. It helps challenge not only the official ideologies but also furthers dialogue and shapes opinions. The development of democratic values can occur through processes of diffusion and through practice at the democratic discussion‟ (Gibson, 2002, p. 189).
• Given these advantages, social media is a powerful tool that can change the face of societies in Nigeria. Several scholars have emphasized that social media has increasingly resulted in a global network of interactive communication, which allows users to identify and publicize target issues at a faster pace. Social media encourages social networking, which primarily is used as a means of personal communication, social interaction, group linkages, and the promotion of ideas.
• Social media could mark a turning point in the trend by empowering ordinary citizens. It can potentially have tremendous effect on young generations. However, technology is not omnipotent in itself to provide for social activism. Political reforms undertaken in recent years have also an impact on the development of civil society.
• Social media also offers the merit of allowing individual members the possibility of documenting and possessing facts and information concerning relevant issues and development, which traditionally are reserved for those in authority. In this sense, social media and social networking can level the playing field by allowing a more significant segment of the population to access information and influence outcomes.
In using social media for social mobilization, Dunu and Uzochukwu (2015) identified steps to follow. They are:
• Determine and define the target audience
• Determine the objective
• Message development
• Identify social media tools
6. The Challenges of Using Social Media as a Tool for Social Mobilization
There are some challenges and limitations that inhibit the use of social media to its full potentials in Nigeria as a tool for social mobilization. Some of these constraints include the following:
The cost of some of these technologies and the expensive attendant service can prove prohibitive for the Nigerian citizen whose earning has been estimated to be below one dollar per day. Technologies that provide easy access to social media and networking sites can be beyond the means of the majority of Nigerian citizens. The skills required to operate social media can be overwhelming and complex, therefore limiting the number of people that will have access to social media networking sites.
Thirdly, in Nigeria, the advancement of high-speed internet connectivity is limited to major urban cities; therefore, those in rural areas have difficulties in having broadband access. As a consequence, social networking tools may be more accessible or more appropriate application in urban and literate context. It would seem that for many Nigerians, especially people in the rural area this type of computerized interaction would feel not only odd but perhaps also highly undesirable, especially when considering the highly sophisticated nature of the technology. Finally, the social media provision of easy access to the development of ideas and content by every user who has access represents its most significant drawback. There is no denying that social media represent an essential tool for civil society and government to mobilize the public and communicate their message effectively. As noted above, however, the effectiveness of the tool depends on its user, and an overreliance can become a severe detriment.
The argument in this article has been on the potentials of social media to bring about social mobilization. It has been established that social media have the potential to trigger social mobilization in diverse sectors of the economy. However, in doing so, the user has to follow specific steps to achieve this aim. However, social media still have some factors that inhibit their full usage. Factors like the high cost of data, complex nature of some of the media, illiteracy, among others. The Nigerian society has adopted the use of social media for social mobilization, and it is pertinent to state the young people are the number of users of the media.