Background of the Study

Humans have an innate desire for communication, over the years the communication channels have been in constant evolution. However there has been a dominance of what is referred to as mainstream media, which include broadcast media (Television and Radio) as well as print media (newspapers, reviews, magazines etc.). Main stream media are in most cases very structured and owned by the elite in Africa. Skeptics have accused main stream media of manipulating and relaying information that represent the interest of their owners and those in power, and they can be loosely be referred to as instruments of power in most emerging democracies. The same individuals also enjoy media and political economy, the ownership of the media houses is split between political actors which have given the Nigerian media a long continued support.

More recently there has been the emergence of the new media which has also referred to as social media. It has complemented main stream media in relaying information to the masses. The mostly used social media platforms include; Facebook, Twitter, Whatsup, Google chat, Skype, Yahoo chat and Blogs. In March 2010 there were a little over two million Facebook accounts according to the NCC. This accounts for about 5 percent of the entire population. These numbers are much large now with more and more Nigerians joining Facebook. A great majority of those on social media are the youth.

The reason for their popularity has been attributed to the easy access from cell phones. There is a Short Message Service SMS to Facebook for instance, that sends a text to the users on every time something happens on Facebook. More importantly there is an application called Facebook zero, a text only free version of Facebook launched in 2010 in collaboration with mobile providers. This has brought Facebook to a larger number of people who prior did not have access.

In addition to those who access social media websites on their phone there are those who are computer literate. According to a 2008 Consumer Insight Limited study, 74 percent of the population in Nairobi had used a computer at least once in their lives. (CIL 2008). Synovate on other hand has estimated that in 2009, 30 percent of the Nigerian urban population used the

internet weekly (ITU 2010). As a rule, all who use the internet regularly also have a Facebook account or have accounts on other social media platforms.

Twitter is a social network site much like Facebook. Tweets, which are twitter messages, are text based with a maximum of 140 characters long. Unlike Facebook messages which can contain photos or videos. These messages are posted on the user’s profile page and read by followers, not friends as on Facebook. While Facebook has a limit of 5000 friends for every member, there are no such limits on followers on Twitter.

The potential role of social media on political movements to ignite violent conflict has become a topical issue. In Nigeria for instance the discourse surrounding it has been characterized as a dual of anecdotes between cyber utopian and cyber skeptics. Those of the view that the growing popularity of social media will inevitably lead to more transparency in governance and democracy, and those who simply view it as an elitist phenomenon, they only see the danger that uncontrolled communication might pose. The Arab spring in the Middle East and North Africa in early 2011 has prompted calls for need of rigorous study into the potential role the new media can play in conflict prevention and peace building. Protestors in these countries across the region relied to varying degrees on social media to organize protests against incumbent regimes and leveraged on international news organizations to solicit for international support. Recognizing the power of social media, those in power made asserting controls over social media platforms a top priority. Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak shut down all access to Twitter, Facebook, You tube and Google in the first few days of the protest, before essentially shutting down internet on 2011 January 28th. Gaddafi ‘s security officers blocked all internet traffic in and out of the country , in response the international community redirected funds towards programs that aimed at strengthening media in the region. This was to provide conduit between governing bodies and potential voters, information sources for those in need of humanitarian aid and platform for discussion and debate on how to structure and implement reforms.

Even though social media is critically important and encompasses great potential for democratic dialogue, conflict prevention and peace building, a number of risks can be identified. In Nigeria there has been increasing access to internet which is the main gateway to social media, most users have now the biggest tool for expression and sharing information. However not everyone is

ethically guided while using it, and thus the social media can be abused by such people. Information sharing can and has been used in the past as a platform of extreme right wing groups, even though international and regional instruments such as article 20; sub- article of 2 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Article 4 of the International Convention of Eliminating all form of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) prohibits the use of any means of media to promote hate speech or incite to violence. Likewise the African Charter on Human and People Rights article 28n prohibits hate speech.

The other significant concern is the difficulty of ensuring reliability and accountability of facts and information disseminated through internet, unverified facts are usually circulated with proposed actions. The social media users often do not give attention to the accuracy of the information, contextualization or verification of information. Inaccurate or misleading information can have serious consequences on conflicts arising and even basic issues concerning the quality of information can make people feel that sharing information will entail a risk for their own credibility and security. As a new platform for communication, the social media acts in new unpredictable ways and without regulations ethical standards or professionalism any individual posting materials can fabricate events and re-write them.

Another concern arises from the unrestricted nature of the internet which is very difficult to regulate, in fact regulating the internet is more difficult than the traditional media. Besides internet and other social media networks are not civil rights platforms. They have a business angle and thus they are collectively a part of a business dominated platform. The inventors of the platforms have priority on commercial interests and profits. They may therefore not be  interested in regulating content, but rather just offer what the market demands. However some actors have set up measures for reporting offensive communication. Google and Facebook have been removed from certain domain websites following an Indian court decision on the basis or religious sensibilities.

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