Social media madness in Ghana

Pardon me if you felt offended by the title of this piece.

Believe me ‘madness’ aptly describes the phenomenon of social media in Ghana because there’s no other choice of diction to describe what I’m about to share with you.

For once, let’s pretend to forget about the fact that there’s too much focus on politics in Ghana to the neglect of other vital areas such as sanitation and health. The fact there’s no journalist currently in prison in Ghana (I stand to be corrected) shows that the media environment is healthy, at least to some degree.

I say this to underscore the importance of a journalist carrying out his/ her duties without fear of being imprisoned or assaulted. That’s why reports of some journalists being attacked by citizens and other people must be condemned in no uncertain terms. Credits to Joseph Gakpo on his piece on the unfortunate assault of the Joy FM reporter in Fadama.

While patting traditional media on its back, it’s equally important we as a people take a look at some unhealthy practices in our socials media usage here in Ghana and abroad. so sit back, relax and cut me some slack if you disagree with yours truly. I just try.

I begin with this question and I need your honest opinion. Has there ever been a time when your pride as a Ghanaian suffered a deep plunge regarding the use of social media? Well, mine is that period when you fume over an audio or a video on your what’s app page that leaves you cringing…You hear a beep on your phone and oblivious of its content, you expectantly open it only to be bombarded with a video or an audio of someone spewing tribal bigotry targeted at someone of high status in Ghana.

A few moments later, and perhaps from the same source, another package, this time of Ghanaians (mostly outside Ghana) hurling insults at each other with such glee follows suit. The annoying part is when they discuss in detail what they might have done in private. What could be low than this? What you do next tells the world about you. You either burst out laughing and enjoy the piece of video and forward it to as many friends as possible or you quickly delete it and send a gentle reminder to the source that you do not appreciate such videos. The latter has always been my choice.

Another social media madness is when people abuse the good name of citizen journalism and post, share or re share pictures of victims of various degrees of accidents. They are repulsive to say the least.

The worst culprits in what I describe as social media madness are professionals who you would expect might rise above such basic wrongs on social media. Since charity begins at home, I start with my own colleagues in the media some of whom do not hesitate to share such sensitive and horrid photos of unfortunate events as the recent gas station disaster that took so many lives on their Facebook pages. Our gratification from being the first to post such photos must not come in the way of ethics, good sense and professionalism.

Away from the inky and keyboard fraternity, we enter straight in to the chalk region of the classroom where the innocence of our kids and future leaders are being abused in epic proportions. I’m talking about a FEW teachers who are tarnishing the reputation of the hardworking many by their actions. Have you ever seen one of those real classroom videos of school pupils either struggling with English language or just being school pupils by expressing what in their innocent minds could be their career in future? In this particular video, a teacher lines a selected number of all male school pupils in front of the whole class and begins quizzing them about their future dream jobs. Their responses, although innocent were seen by some as ludicrous (in the case of some) and might have motivated whoever uploaded the video on social media. Now may I ask that In a classroom of just the teacher and pupils, who would upload such a video when school rules do not allow for kids to come to class with their smart phones, that is if they had one? Your guess is probably better than mine.

I was glad to hear a discussion on social media on JOY FM this morning. In fact, hearing those kids on JOY FM’s Super Morning Show talk about how useful what’s app and other forms of social media have been to them on various fronts was therefore a refreshing way of ending one’s week.

Stories of positive results of social media as harnessed by other parts of the world abound in their numbers. For instance, armed with just a smart phone connected to the Internet, Tim Pool, a regular Citizen revolutionized the art of news coverage and storytelling with his unconventional means of covering the Occupy Wall Street protests. Pool gave his audience a real time advantage as they followed events that unfolded on Wall Street live from his YouTube Channel which doesn’t cost a dime to create.

In fact, Tim Pool later set the news agenda when regular TV stations later turned to his site for data for their own coverage. In the Arab world, the wind of change which later on became known as the ‘Arab Spring’ could not have been effectively organized without social media.

It’s quite a worry that while the rest of the world was making great gains from the new social media sensation, some people in our country would rather decide to put it to such low use. However, all is not lost as there are good causes via social media in Ghana these days. Motivational and inspirational groups abound on such platforms offering intellectual and social support to members. The line between old and new media is now blurred and it will take traditional media to set a positive agenda among us on the positive uses of social media. That’s why I think

JOY FM discussion of social media is timely, relevant and worthy of emulation by other stations.

The author is a Doctoral student in Media Arts at Ohio University, Athens Ohio

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