Are you disappointed by the posts and comments you read on the Internet and social media? Do you think that some people are using the Internet to spread hate and venom? Are you concerned that the Internet is being abused? If you are, you are not the only one. I write this piece to address the topic of manners and rules of conduct online.
Recent reports have shown that there is an estimated population of 45 million Nigerians that have access to Internet, and the number is increasing. Nigerians are also one of the top users of Facebook and Twitter in the world. We have about 5 million Facebook users. Social media websites have now replaced TV, radio and newspapers as major source of news and information, especially among young people. People can now use their phones or computers to connect with friends and strangers across the globe, and access news and information. This was unimaginable just a decade ago. Internet has transformed the way we do things. It has democratized access to information and facilitates easy communication. It has become a vehicle for enhancing participation of citizens in public and democratic discourse.
The number of online newspapers is increasing and even the traditional newspapers are also using the Internet and social media to reach out to readers. People who read news online can now with a click share the news with thousands of their friends, and respond to the news by leaving comments, and most of these comments are not moderated. Unlike the traditional print media, the Internet gives us an opportunity to comment as soon as an event happens without cooling period. Research has also shown that there is connection between Internet anonymity and Internet civility. People will say all kind of things if they know it cannot be traced back to them.
Some people now hide behind their computer screen to write all sorts of unimaginable things. They underestimate the impact of what they write online. Internet community, however, just like the real life community in which we live has its rules of decorum. There is friendship, respect, humility kindness and care. In many ways the Internet reveals our true character and what we think. For example, if you don’t insult people when you meet them face to face, why should you insult the people you meet online?
A review that I conducted recently shows an alarming increase in hate speech, inflammatory comments, and incitement to religious and ethnic hatred on the Internet. If you go through what people are posting on various social media platforms, blogs and online groups, you will see and hear comments, pictures and videos that hurtful, harmful and promote hatred and incite harm. Hate speech and cyberhate messages, we must understand, breed violence. This comes in various forms like use of “False facts,” “flawed argumentation,” “divisive language,” and dehumanizing metaphors.”
Instead of using the Internet to create friendship, socialize and learn from each other, it has become a tool of propaganda and dehumanizing each other. Instead of using the Internet to engage our leaders and communicate our needs and demands, we are using the Internet to insult them. Consequently, majority of politicians in Nigeria pay little attention to what you say on the social media. If you cannot insult your leader face-to-face why should you insult him online? Instead of making us wiser and tolerant, the Internet is making some people more intolerant and bigoted.
Based on my experience as a long-term Facebook and Internet user, I propose the following as a guide for enjoying and making good use of the Internet.
Why you should be civil on Internet forums
- Internet is a real space
- Protect your Internet reputation
- Your employer or potential employer may be online monitoring what you are doing (many people lost their jobs because of abuse and misuse of social media)
- Your friends parents and your in-laws may be on Facebook—watch what you say
- The people you are insulting may be reading what you write
What you should keep in mind
- News is news and commenting on it won’t change what happened. If you want something in the news to be corrected write a letter to the editor.
- Know that the people you are dealing with are also human beings. They have feelings and can get offended by your actions.
- Before you write something bad understand that what you write will always be on record and can be used against you.
- You don’t have to comment if you don’t have anything useful to say. Silence is golden.
- Know that your sarcasm or jokes may be misunderstood, be ready to clarify and apologize if others are offended by it.
- Avoid reading comments if you don’t want to read offensive words. People say crazy things in the comment section.
- Never make comments without reading the article or post you are responding to. Say things only if they are Helpful, Necessary or Kind.
- There is only less than 5% of Nigerians on Facebook. (Facebook is not the end of the world)
- Use your name
- Treat others as you would like to be treated
- If you write a comment that people find offensive and inappropriate. Be a gentleman or lady and delete the comment. If people find your comments offensive feel free to apologize or explain.
- Don’t write on the Internet what you cannot say in person.
- Don’t give attention to anonymous Internet users. You don’t even know them.
- Don’t send insults and negative comments to politicians and celebrities. It doesn’t change anything and it may be used against you.
- Don’t share gossip and unconfirmed news.
- Don’t pick a fight with a stranger.
- Don’t go about seeking for attention or picking fights.
- Don’t share people’s private pictures without their permission.
- Don’t advertise your private life online.
- Don’t go to people’s wall and make bad comments. It is like going to people’s house to insult them.
- Never say something to someone online that you wouldn’t say to the person’s face.
- Avoid responding to what you read in comments. Many people don’t even read the post before they make comments.
Examples of bad online behaviors to avoid
- Violence and Threats
- Bullying and harassing others
- Sharing Nudity and Pornographic materials
- Violation of Intellectual Property rights
- Hate speech (example, Islamaphobia, anti-Christianity, racism, etc
- Online impersonation (posing as someone)
- Cyber stalking
What to do when you see a hate speech
- Ignore it
- Advise the person to remove or delete it
- Report the speech to Facebook, google, or youtube (They have a policy against hate speech and if many people complained about a post or picture it will be removed)
I believe that civil discourse in cyberspace will no doubt increase democratic participation. I hope you find this piece useful. Please feel free to leave comments.
You can also reach me via Twitter @aminugamawa
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