Social Media – A Blessing or  Another Problem Child?

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    Just few years ago somewhere in Jarra Tilibo, the most effective way of calling people’s attention to an impending danger or a crisis situation was by beating a giant drum called ‘Tabulo’. Usually placed in the abode of the Imam, the sound of this ancient African drum was always greeted with a sense of deja vu even though  it was of massive significance to the locals, whose other source of raising alarm or sending a message to a nearby village came in the form of a well carved centuries-old horn trumpeted by a town crier.

    From fire outbreaks to the death of an influential community member, those were few ways in which they have been communicating.

    Fast forward to this day, communication has evolved to a scale not even Kabiro Demba Jang the gifted  seer in Kiang Jali could have predicted. Just when most of us thought that the Global System for Mobile Communication GSM had come to be the undisputed solution to the telecommunication needs of this highly complex world, something else came in. Of course, there was the internet and internet cafes dotted in every street corner or major intersection but they too seemed to be suffering from the same fate as telecentres which were once upon a time a profitable industry for the operators. The new or should I say the now much heralded sensation in town are the many social media platforms that were not only the stuff of dreams for most locals but are now useable even in the farthest of far flung settlements like my own village where I had to climb a tree top once to say hola to my uncle in Tubab Kunda.

    Social media is fast becoming an indispensable tool for the functioning of societies the world over. In fact, it is safe to state that  the gamut of social media platforms are life transforming, enabling human beings to communicate and interact in a manner that would have been unthinkable just few years ago. We have reached that stage in this country  now whereby news of an upcoming marriage ceremony  of  a childhood friend living next door  is sometimes passed  on  to us by another bloke resident in Uncle Sam.

    In a fast, effective and efficient manner, people living thousands of miles away can now exchange and share vital information in sharp contrast to the conventional media where information, particularly news, has to go through a number of channels as part of its processing and packaging before being finally consumed by the end-user i.e. viewer for television, listener in case of radio and reader for a newspaper. Linkages in the context of intercultural exchange and the fostering of  friendship/partnerships at both people to people and institution to institution levels are gaining momentum in an unprecedented fashion yielding tremendous dividends for the parties involved.

    On the flip side of the coin, social media is equally becoming a problematic invention with its many downsides. First and foremost, the fact that countless young people use social media platforms such as Facebook, Viber, WhatsApp, etc. exposes them to many ills, things and people both  within and without the countries they live. Some of the people that young people interact with online are in reality not the very persons they pretend to be. There are pedophiles and other cyber predators whose stock in trade is to lure young and innocent adolescents into undesirable conversations/chats  just to satisfy their sexual urge. As a matter of fact, teenagers by their very nature tend to be curious. That sense of inquisitiveness they manifest can eventually play into the hands of adults that are bent on perpetrating certain vices online to highly vulnerable kids.

    Social media can also serve as a dangerous tool for blackmailing or even dent a person’s image for good in instances when an undesirable/indecent photo or video of a person falls into the wrong hand. An episode of that nature  a year or two ago sent ripples in and outside The Gambia when a ‘nude video’ of a certain  school girl found its way on the internet thanks to the handiwork of  a her supposed  boyfriend living afar. The ugly incident which left the young girl at the mercy of an unforgiving public warranted unequivocal  calls for the alledged perpetrator’s deportation to The Gambia.  Although that particular act itself was a rarity, there are no guarantees that such a scenario would not befall someone else again. Who next to taste such  a bitter pill  is anybody’s guess.

    Despite its multiple benefits, social media can also  prove obsessive for many a young people like myself. Instead of the platforms to be used for learning and research purposes i.e. sharing and exchange of knowledge on almost every discipline, they have what it take to engender idleness.  A social networking site like Facebook can be addictive, thereby depriving school going kids much needed time and energy to focus on their studies. This particular point only lends credence to a popular  adage we liked to use back in primary school days; ‘an idle brain is the devil’s workshop’.

    In an age when most young people are also tempted by the so-called get-rich-quick syndrome, coupled with the irresistible desire for  ‘bittim rew’,  individuals and syndicates too are increasingly cashing in on their plight  by taking advantage of the power of social networking sites to entice desperate youths to their travelling networks.With many young people deeply immersed into belief that getting to Europe, America and  of late The United Arab Emirates is the answer to their own economic woes and those of  their dependents, conmen that are highly skilled in art of persuasion and deceit  are using every trick in the book to  milk dry our youth with insatiable  travelling hopes . The sort of ‘lavish opportunities’ they offer online can turn even the wisest of heads. Sadly, it is  usually after being duped that these innocent youths would realize that they have in fact fallen victim to some internet fraud.

    It is now commonplace to find smart phone users sharing and ridiculing audio clips, videos and images of ordinary people who are sometimes ignorant of the existence of those very material. In the light of such circumstances, the watchword today is caution as well as sensitization programmes for young people in particular.

    Given that smart phones aligned with connectivity have almost become a sensation for many youngsters most of whom see them as objects signifying glamour or a higher class.

    Social media platforms have mammoth educational potential for students both within and outside the confines of the classroom. Yet they can be the undoing of many school going children if not handled with caution. Besides,it is not uncommon now a days to pass by a group of people sitting, facing one another in deafening silence. Smart phones have also brought with them some sort of serenity in youth-dominated gatherings as opposed to the hullabaloo that was typical of most ghettos. With the rains here, the sight of some individuals plunging one foot into a pool of stagnant water while busy on their phones is too much a probability.After all, this is the high tech digital age.

    by Famara Fofana