The Relevance and Misuse of the Social Media as Public Sphere

The public sphere may be considered as a hypothetical space where individuals discuss or exchange pertinent social ideas for the benefits of society. With the passage of time, this tendency has been invigorated owing to the emergence of ICTs that have brought about the compression of time and space, and what may be called the Global Village phenomenon. We can also talk about media convergence and all of its ramifications with its attendant benefits. Thus, the social media in the wake of ICTs, have greatly energized and expanded the public sphere and the deepening of our democracy.

However, most users have not in any way been putting the social media to effective and productive uses. Rather, what we are seeing are the exchanging of banalities and a whole lot of what profit us rather little or nothing.

My greatest frustration is when those who should know better, or who society considers as "opinion leaders" by virtue of their education or experience, or whatever, behave rather paradoxically in misusing the social media. A clear case in point is the manifest recklessness in which the social media are put in Sierra Leone. Rather than citizens using these media to enable them exercise their civic rights and responsibilities in a decent fashion, what seems trendy on the part of many of them is their considering these media as veritable organs of mudslinging and badmouthing of others. This is pernicious in a fragile state like ours. The disadvantaged uses of the social media are possible threats to national security. The trending aspects of misinformation and disinformation in Sierra Leone are enough to plunge this nation into yet another internicine and senseless conflict. No doubt that our society is ominously divided along political, regional and ethnic lines. No doubt that even those who society expects to know better do not seem to speak with one voice. When one reads what are traded on the social media, one starts to wonder where Sierra Leone is heading to. One starts to wonder what has become of Sierra Leoneans to see one another as enemies. One sees blatant manifestations of libel, defamation, and sedition traded on a daily basis. One sees an atavistic display of the Sierra Leonean personality in many ways. No wonder that some commentators argue that there is a need for some sort of regulations so as to bring the use of the social media to a check. Whatever people's standpoints are in relation to the social media regulation question, the fact remains that those who know better must be seen to be guided by their conscience and intellect in the use of the media. And that they are expected to be the "policy makers" for the generality of other social media users who are not privileged to gain the knowledge and skills that they can boast of.

The publishing of mundane and sensational contents on the social media must not be traced to an educated personality. Though it is not expected that all social media users must be journalistically trained, however, an educated person must always concern themselves with the canons of objectivity and accuracy in information gathering and dissemination.  Disinformation and misinformation must be thoroughly checked, and whatever that may be deemed to be inimical to the stability and peace of society must be shunned and jettisoned. I am flabbergasted whenever I see those deemed to be educated post contents on social media that are dangerous to our commonwealth. But what every responsible citizen must know is that those things that are good, noble, pure and right are what society always expect of them to do.

Alpheus Rogers teaches media and journalism courses at Limkokwing University of Creative Technology at Hill Station in Freetown.