Published on International Journal of Informatics, Technology & Computers
Publication Date: June 26, 2019
Edmund Chukwuma Onwuliri
Faculty of Arts, University of Abuja
Journal Full Text PDF: Social Media and Society (Nigerian Society).
The paper discusses the ways through which and by which Social media has impacted the Nigerian Society. The various facets of public life from the practice of mass communication to the delivery of health services as well as modern-day agricultural practices have had their fair share of either the positive or negative sides of Social Media. The moral fabric of society appears to be the worst hit by the social media phenomenon with its misuses, which seem to promote criminal activities and other anti-social conducts. However, the adoption of Social Media has provided the platform for a quantum leap in the economic, political and other spheres of life in Nigeria.
Keywords: Social Media, Nigeria & Impact.
It is vital to understand the meaning of the term or concept, social media before we can attempt a discussion concerning it. There are various definitions of social media. However, a few will be considered here to establish understanding. Many people believe that social media is a very recent phenomenon. They attribute this to the emergence of the internet and the attendant implications, especially on globalisation through the mass media.
Similarly, some consider social media an age long phenomenon. Equally, some other scholars opine that it is too early to try to subject the social media to a particular definition because the concept is only defined according to the various genres of applications operating therein at a given time and may require a re-definition when some new ones emerge. Miller, Costa, Haynes, McDonald, Nicolescu, Sinanan, Spyer, Venkatraman, & Wang (2016) state that,
Clearly, to define what social media is based only on those that presently exists is limiting. For our definition and approach to be sustainable, we also have to bear in mind the new social media platforms that are continually being developed, and the likelihood that some will become very successful in the future. It helps that we are starting to see a pattern in the way new forms of social media emerge.
According to Nations (2017), Social media are web-based communication tools that enable people to interact with each other by sharing and consuming information. Zeng, Chen, Lusch, and Li (2010, p.13) define social media as a ‘’conversational, distributed mode of content generation, dissemination, and communication among communities’’. The concept of social media appears different from the traditional media in the sense that it seems to be built around everyday people in the quest to establish communication. Kaplan and Haenlien (2010) corroborate this as they argue that social media help to turn communication into interesting dialogue among communities and individuals stressing that social media are a group of Internet-based applications that make for the creation and exchange of user-generated contents.
Scholars agree that social media is a people-centred communication platform that thrives on user-generated or created media content which is distributed among the same ‘’community” of users. It is massively internet driven and covers everywhere there is internet access using digital devices. Rogers (2009) affirms this in describing social media as information content created by people using highly accessible technologies as their ingredients. Merriam Webster Dictionary reinforces the connection emerging technologies and human social groups have in creating content for the benefit of users by defining social media as “forms of electronic communication (such as websites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (such as videos)”.
2. Social Media: A Brief Historical Overview
Communication is as old as man and indeed one of the fundamental attributes of any human society. No society would function without communication. It is through communication that cultures are transferred, sustained, and communities perpetuated. The practice of communication over time has evolved and advanced through the assistance of technology from the crudest methods of passing information to the cutting edge 21st-century technologies. Carton, (2009) in supporting this assertion opined that all through known human history, humanity has developed various techniques that make it easy for communication to thrive among persons. As stated earlier, many believe social media is a very recent phenomenon. However, scholars argue that social media, as a form of mass communication, has been in existence for more than two centuries.
In 1792, the introduction of the telegraph to send and receive messages over long distances probably marked the emergence of social media. Edosomwan, Prakasan, Kouame, & Watson (2011). To further, underscore this, Miller, Costa, Haynes, McDonald, Nicolescu, Sinanan &, Spyer et al. (2016) assert that,
Before all these technologies, people communicated through two main ways of using media. The first way was public broadcast media such as television, radio and newspapers. With such media anyone at all, providing that they can gain access to it, can be the audience. The broadcaster has no direct control over who makes up their audiences, though they may try and persuade people to join them. Also available over time were media that facilitated private communication between two people as one- to- one conversation, for example, a telephone conversation. This concept is also called ‘dyadic’ communication. People could be connected in groups face to face, but it was uncommon to create a group- based inter-actions within media such as the telephone.
Social Media watchers believe that social networking which is interwoven with social media had debuted by the late 1800s and was pioneered by two Europeans, Emile Durkheim, known as the father of sociology and another German sociologist, Ferdinand Tonnies. Tonnies believed that social groups do exist because members shared values and beliefs or because of shared conflict. His theory dealt with the social contract concepts of society while Durkheim, on the other hand, combined empirical research with sociological theory. The radio and telephone were the main drivers of social interaction at that stage of the evolution of social media. Edosomwan, Prakasan, Kouame, & Watson (2011).
Phone phreaking or “Phreaks” which refers to the unauthorised access to the phone system for free calls, though a rouge activity, it is still deemed to be a form of social interaction and media watchers insist that social media drive the conduct. This trend characterised the development of social media in the 1950s. Most social media scholars appear to agree with the rapid growth of social media in the 1960s. In their work, The History of Social Media and its Impact on Business (2011) Edosomwan, Prakasan, Kouame, & Watson attributed this to research efforts of the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) in America which led to the introduction of e-mail and the CompuServe system which was a time-sharing service.
Dao, V. (2015), in tracing the development trajectory of social media tied the commencement of social media with the emergence of CompuServe in 1969 leading to what he describes as the ‘first e-mail’ in 1971 and the world wide web (www) in 1989. According to him, the first blog was created by a student in 1994 with the first modern social network launched in 1997, which allowed users to create their profiles and become friends with other users. By the beginning of the century, the social media had experienced a quantum leap from its systematic course of development witnessing the setting up of many social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook YouTube, Twitter and many others.
3. Social Media in Nigeria
The Nigerian society has adopted the use and application of social media in almost every aspect of her daily activities. With the proliferation of digital devices which make access to the internet and participation in social media, relatively more straightforward, a significant percentage of the literate populace are engaged with one form of social media activity or the other. A look at social media and the Nigerian society is apt to the extent that one can put into proper perspective, the way and manner the social media has come to impact the Nigerian society.
Before the advent of social media in Nigeria, the traditional media, i.e. Radio, Television, Newspapers and Magazines, were the primary sources and conveyors of news and information. Media based social interaction was limited to what the traditional media could offer. However, following the adoption of the Global System of Mobile Telecommunication in Nigeria, in 2001, a great impetus was provided for the emergence of social media. Even the traditional media currently support its operations with social media platforms. It is therefore appropriate for this discussion to take a look at some of the ways the social media and the Nigerian society have interacted so far.
4. The practice of Mass Communication
The social media has had a significant impact on the practice of mass communication in Nigeria being a form of the mass media itself. Onah, & Nche, (2014), agree that the social media has had a tremendous impact on the types and patterns of communication in Nigeria especially with the introduction of interactive platforms which were not provided by the traditional media before now. Citing Lenhart et al. (2010), they assert that;
Almost two-thirds (63%) of all adolescents use the internet to go online at least once a day. For those youth who go online, social media use is high-nearly three-quarters (73%) use a social networking site such as Facebook or MySpace, 38% share content online such as photos, videos or artwork, and 14% blog. Additionally, three-quarters (75%) of all teens have a cell phone, with 88% using them to text message, 64% to exchange pictures, and 23% to access social networking sites.
Apart from the liberalisation of the broadcasting industry in Nigeria, no other phenomenon has had a profound impact on the way people communicate than social media. The social media seem to have widened the communication space, which was hitherto restricted. Previously, one needed to have access to either newspapers and magazines, radio and television sets to access news, and the feedback was very slow or almost non-existent. The inclusive and participatory attributes of social media make them more widely accepted and smart as well as convenient choice.
Social media are proving to be more convenient and faster news and information sources, especially for the youth. Omojuwa (2012) agrees with this assertion when he says that 80% of the youth get their news on the go from mainly social media platforms. He further states that the internet and social media constitute a robust tool for social mobilisation and cohesion towards national development. He cited the fast mobilisation of Nigerians in January 2012 for the ‘’occupy Nigeria” protest (in Lagos and Abuja) against the removal of petrol subsidy by the Jonathan administration as a credible example of the uses and potency of the social media. A research conducted in 2014, in Maiduguri, Borno State, which surveyed the application of internet and social media within the operations of selected broadcast stations suggests that a majority of the media houses and their operational personnel rely heavily on the internet and social media for their daily activities in news gathering, processing and eventual dissemination. The rapid diffusion of social media and their advanced technologies has redefined the way mass communication is carried out in Nigeria today. Governments at all levels have adopted the use of social media for the ease and effectiveness of keeping their various publics informed about their programmes, activities and achievements. The office of the President has many social media platforms through which it reaches out to the public and also can be reached. This development has the potentials for improving the relationship between the government and the governed.
5. Social Interactions
More than ever before, the common man has been armed with potent tools for enriching social interactions through social media. Societies thrive on the continuous interactions of its members, which breed development and perpetuate the society. Social interactions among Nigerians and other citizens of the world have increased significantly in recent years. According to internetworldstats.com, Nigeria has 16 million Facebook subscribers/users representing about 8% of the entire population as of March 2017. Within the same period, Nigeria stands as the 7th highest internet user worldwide ahead of many developed countries of Europe and the Americas. With a 2017 population estimate of 191,835,936 and 93,591,174 internet users figure, from only 200,000 in year 2000, the country has recorded a 48% internet penetration rate. Information Communication Technology (ICT) watchers attribute this quantum leap to the rapid diffusion of Social Media and Nigeria.
6. Business, Commerce and Advertising
Apart from building social relationships and creating virtual communities, social media has also provided a formidable platform for the promotion of e-commerce and advertising. Corporate bodies both in the private and public sectors seem to have embraced the social media for their advert needs due to its broader reach and long-term cost-effectiveness over the traditional media. Social networks attract fans, promote images of products and services as well as creating viral campaigns expected to influence consumer/buyer decisions. With Facebook commanding a 16 million followership in Nigeria, it presents an attractive platform for advertisers, marketers and businesses. This figure is outside the followership and patronage of other social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter etc.
According to Abiola Fabio, Kaymu’s (an online store) Head of Social media and Community Africa, “social shopping is a breakthrough in how businesses market and sell to consumers. Among the social networks, Facebook dominated as a source of social traffic and sales and accounted for over 36,000 orders on Kaymu in the first quarter of this year”.
Jumia, Nigeria’s largest online retailer on electronics, fashion, home appliances, kid’s items and many more began operations in 2012. In a 2014 report, during that year’s Social media Week in Lagos, Jumia declared through Olamide Amosu, its offline marketing and public relations manager, that the social media played a significant role in the success of the company within a short period. Apart from these examples, most businesses in Nigeria today leverage on the reach and acceptance of the social media to advertise, market and even sell their services and products.
The potentials and efficacy of the social media in the political domain is firmly captured by Kaplan (2014),
Indeed, many have explored the social media landscape successfully, showing the potential of these platforms to provide impressive results. In politics, for instance, social media communications were a crucial element in Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, which led to his election as president in 2008. Many states and public administrations deploy Facebook, Twitter and similar platforms, including the European Union, which aims to establish a feeling of European identity among its citizens via social media.
The 2015 elections in Nigeria which saw Muhammadu Buhari, defeat the incumbent president Goodluck Jonathan, is mostly believed by social commentators and political pundits to have been assisted significantly by the extensive, persuasive and creative use of the social media. It is thought that Social media was used to mobilise and convince the voting populace to cast their votes for the APC candidate in an unprecedented manner in the political history of the country.
Education, just like other spheres of life, has been impacted by social media in Nigeria as much as it has done in different societies. Kaplan, (2015), posits that tertiary education may be disrupted due to the implementation of digital elements like massive open online courses (MOOCs) and small private online courses (SPOCs) and the general increase in the application of social media to facilitate teaching and learning among university students worldwide. Omojuwa (2012) observed that in Nigeria, between 1999 and 2009, about 10.5 million Nigerians could not be admitted to any Nigerian University. However, the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) may have provided some respite to this national challenge through its partial online learning programme. However, recent research findings prove that uncontrolled exposure to social media has been implicated in the low academic performance of students in some Nigerian Universities, Ewa, (2015).
Another negative impact social media appear to be exerting on education in Nigeria is the emerging trend of the use of words and symbols that are unknown to the English language, which is the official language in Nigeria. To be fast and comply with the ‘’fashion” consistent with online chats, SMS and other social media communication demands, users mainly students employ abbreviations to denote or represent regular words, expressions and phrases. According to Okafor (2015)
There have been complaining by teachers in Lagos that most students find it difficult to express themselves correctly in examinations because they have to think of the right forms of writing. Most of them seem not even to know the uses of punctuations any more. All these are because whatever a person uses often would become part of the individual which is the case with these students; this situation is apparent even in the universities, the notes taken by students are mostly made in the shorthand form of the internet.