Viewpoints | Aug 14,2021
Aug 29 , 2020
By Kidist Yidnekachew
People seem to be expressing discontent and reservations about the usage of social media as the initial euphoria of being able to comment and express opinions that were brought on with a change in government administration subsides.
“Maybe Ethiopians should not be allowed to use the internet in the current situation the country is in,” a friend said to me recently.
Banning the internet completely should not be a solution, but we need a crash course on how to use social media for our welfare. TikTok, the Chinese social networking service, is the only social media platform I am using at the moment. Compared to the older platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, its content seems to be lighter. It is not as politicised.
But internet trolls and extremists have penetrated their way into the platform. It is not just the politics that is hurtful. There is sexism as well. The sort of verbal abuse that female users of the platform are subjected to is appalling. Body shaming is normalised, and the vulgarity is shocking.
“Why do we say the things we'd never be able to say in person on social media?” a friend once asked. She went on to answer her own question: “The internet has a way of making us feel powerful, invisible and untouchable.”
I could not agree more. It also gives us a platform to express ourselves freely and in an uncensored manner. For too many users of social media, this means being as offensive as possible.
The state of Ethiopia’s politics is not helping either. I often pride myself on being non-confrontational, but the highly extreme views that are being propagated through such platforms make me want to shake some sense into whoever posts them. The amount of hate and hostility that is spewed on the internet against lingo-cultural groups is antithetical to the spirit of decency, solidarity and fairness that is being preached by those very same people.
Months ago, I was scrolling on Facebook when I saw a popular post by one of the minor celebrities who is highly active on social media. This is an individual who is not above opining on issues that are wildly harmful to groups. At the time, the video had over 100,000 comments. I decided to watch it.
I wish I had not been so naive. The video was 28 minutes of ethnic slurs and political incorrectness, and the comments were a long thread of tit-for-tat insults piled on one another. I felt hopeless, as if everything were beyond repair.
How can these people have nothing better to do than fan the flames of some hatred by playing to the whims of a person known for saying outrageous things and forcing a reaction? Are we this gullible?
The actors of such sexism and prejudice take part in mindless attempts to comment on current events or take actions to sow division. It is all politics, but it also sometimes is untruthful behaviour that ultimately leads to regret.
Whatever the motivations, many on social media are trigger happy. They are swayed too easily by opinions. And once an idea is out there, it is immediately picked up by the followers and echoes through the cyberspace occupied by active Ethiopian users of the internet. It is not unlike the proverbial Butterfly Effect, where the flapping of the wings of a butterfly somewhere causes significant weather anomalies elsewhere. We are at a time when a Twitter or Facebook post incapacitates a city for a day.
We have been handed a loaded gun in the form of social media. It has an inexhaustible ammunition clip and no safety catch. It is there to serve our enormous egos. Hopefully, we will learn one day to control it.
PUBLISHED ON Aug 29,2020 [ VOL 21 , NO 1061]
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