In a world that shrinks at every moment, social media has come to play a big role in humans’ lives. It is a means of communication that allows users to communicate or publish their ideas independently to their audience (specific or general). Social media platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube have played both positive and negative roles in Nigeria, subject to the environment. The 21st century saw a massive engagement of social media in Nigeria as people liked to air their opinions, beliefs, feelings, and emotions. Nigerians conceive of it as a means of sharing news—both fake and real. A 2023 ranking by the World of Statistics rated Nigeria as the number one country that spent more time on social media, with an average of 04:20 daily. The consequences of social media do not lie only in its obstruction of human consciousness; it is responsible for the many atrocious experiences that Nigeria has witnessed and may continue to witness if the bud of social media’s negativity is not nipped. Its effects have reverberated in the political, socio-religious, and economic lives of the citizens.
Since the 21st century, Nigeria’s electioneering has been marked by turbulence and violence. This is owing largely to social media. Although propaganda, arrests, attacks, and assassinations permeated Nigeria’s electioneering in the post-colonial period, the 21st-century transition into democracy and the assuming engagement of social media have birthed a Nigeria that witnesses physical and internet assaults during and after elections. On social media, political parties and elites are downgraded and libeled; leaders are painted in an outrageous image that not only portrays the inefficacy of an administration but also denigrates Nigeria’s reputation to the outside world. This is not in contrast with freedom of speech, but Nigeria’s case is alarming. Moreover, social media has been utilized as a way of keeping records of events that would later serve political objectives. In essence, people use social media to keep records of people’s sayings or deeds to use against them in the future. This act was replicated during the ministerial screening conducted to usher in the cabinet of President Bola Tinubu in 2023. One of the nominees, who is now the current Minister of Communications, Innovations, and Digital Economy, Dr. Olabosun Tijani, was accused of having degraded and slammed the House of Assembly in a Twitter tweet posted years ago. He was made to apologize to the leaders before he could take a bow. This was social media complementing the Yoruba mantra, “Iyan ogún odún a ma a Jo ni lówó felifeli” (the fingers can still feel the heat of a 20-year-old pounded yam), which connotes that whatever goes around comes around.
Furthermore, social media has aided misinformation, which may be intentional or not. Rumors and fake news are spread all over the media for political motifs. This has led to the misconception of some innocuous policies of the government by the citizens. During the 2023 Naira Redesign, there was a lot of misinformation as people took to the media to say what they liked. There were rumors of the government allowing the old notes when the government had not approved them. Opponents and critics seize the media for propaganda, which further weakens the Nigerian government. For instance, there were rumors in the first four years of President Buhari about his death. Some even believed he had an ear problem. He was symbolized by several derogatory images, like his predecessors. All of these are aided by social media. There is no denying that social media largely inflamed the 2020 End SARS Protest and has been serving as a means of protesting government policies and actions—both good and bad.
Although the economic impacts of social media may be commendable, many fraudulent transactions are, however, performed on it. Cases of fake jobs that resulted in kidnappings and rituals are not limited. Many fraudulent transactions are conducted on social media, which leads many into the jinx of poverty, so much so that people commit suicide. The issue of “Yahoo-Yahoo” fraud that has now domiciled the nation is another aspect to deal with. Yahoo fraudsters meet their “clients” via social media: First as friends, but later transmogrified into exploiting (gbajue) the client (maga or mugu). They go to people’s social media pages and handles to get information about the person, and the deal kicks off from there. Although fraud and trickery are as old as humanity, they have taken on a new dimension since the advent of social media, which has now enabled many people to carry out obnoxious acts easily. They do not need to know or meet their clients physically; they can carry out their scams via their mobiles while in their comfort zones.
Another impact of social media on Nigerian societies is the spread of bad cultures and moral decadence. In African societies where values used to take a big place in a human’s life, western cultures have predominated (through social media) and abused the original cultures, which has led to the diminishing of values. Immoral dressing and slang are easily spread via social media. Some media influencers incite other users. They are liked and loved for their strange dress styles, hairstyles, haircuts, and vulgar speeches. Nigerians go the extra mile to create content that will earn them more subscribers and followers. They are sure, of course, that the bulk of the unemployed Nigerians will waste their time viewing and liking the “funny” content while they await the government to serve them their daily bread. A particular Nigerian “pastor” would consistently post content filled with vulgar talk. Yet, he is the same pastor who enlightens several Nigerians on the words of God, leads prayer services, and also serves as a role model to church members. Nigerians do not deem it immoral to chant some of his curses and immoral languages on the streets and at home. It’s all about the trend. However, traditional Nigerian societies do not take speech for granted; it is considered a raw egg that shatters when dropped on the floor. It appears that social media harbingers are there for recognition. Hence, they want to do anything that would “market” them to the world, whether good or bad.
Social media is largely responsible for the psychological challenges that many Nigerians are confronting today. Oppression and depression are some of the critical consequences of social media in Nigeria. The advent “of social media life” has caused a lot of catastrophes for the Nigerian population and economy. People consistently post their achievements on social media, not for their alleged purpose to motivate but to oppress fellow Nigerians and non-Nigerians alike. Hence, an average Nigerian who could not feed themselves except by having to run after buses and lorries during traffic jams would begin to realize the kind of world in which they have found themselves: how they are nothing before their younger ones who would always assume one role or the other, buy cars from time to time, post their houses, and more especially their gorgeous outfits. We wonder, therefore, why Nigerians go the extra mile in borrowing—or even loaning—materials like jewelry, cars, clothes, bags, and shoes. They have to retaliate by showing the world that they, too, are not lagging. Consequently, those who do not have the means of acquiring these precious materials resort to stealing, armed robbery, or, worse yet, killing themselves for them to breathe. This attitude has demonstrated to us that we have two lives as Nigerians: the life on social media and the life in the real sense of things.
Again, social media has inarguably aided the spread of terrorism in Nigeria. Several ideological groups now dominate the internet today; they have platforms across media to spread their ideologies and initiate people into their organizations. Here, think of the Islamic States of West Africa Province, ISWAP, Al-Qaeda, and Boko Haram. Likewise, kidnappers and armed robbers use social media to track their victims.
Moreover, a vivid examination of the rapid ill-literacy level in Nigeria reflects the immodest use of social media, as people learn wrong spellings and grammatical errors through it. Everybody is a teacher and a mentor. Wrong abbreviations by many youths today are consequential of social media trends. These abbreviations—”ain’t” instead of “aren’t” and “d” in place of “the,” “bcos or cos” representing the English word “because,” and “Nvm” depicting “never mind,” among others—do not only sound irritating; students have become addicted to them, such that they reflect in exam essays. By implication, such an essay is deprived of a full grade.
In the marital realm, the overuse of social media has resulted in divorces. As a result of the immodest use of social media, couples lose trust in one another, which oftentimes culminates in breakups. Moreover, some couples spend their time on social media while leaving their responsibilities undone. This is why, even where any bond exists, couples cheat and do not love one another as they ought to. This has sometimes led to murder. Cases of murder by couples for reasons concerning dishonesty or adultery are not uncommon in Nigeria.
These notwithstanding, however, social media has contributed immensely to job opportunities through networking, thus helping to mitigate the unemployment rate in Nigeria. Undoubtedly, Nigerians are the best content creators. Social media helps business entrepreneurs reach a wider audience within a short period, thereby contributing to the economy. It has also served as a source of revenue for the government. The National Bureau of Statistics reveals that the federal government, within fifteen months, had received a total of $1.98 trillion between January 2022 and March 2023, from taxing foreign digital firms, of which social media takes a bulk. It is also noteworthy to state social media’s significance in the educational environment. Social media has enabled an easy learning process. Conferences, webinars, and classes are conducted online; on WhatsApp, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. Quite noteworthy is the fact that social media assumed the role of a savior during the COVID-19 pandemic. It became the means through which classes, conferences, and programs were held.
As has been demonstrated, the cons of social media in Nigeria tend to outweigh its benefits. Regrettably, globalization is indomitable, and it will only be utopian to stop people from using social media. Suffice to encourage Nigerians to make moderate use of social media. The conventional media (national dailies) should continue to mitigate social media rumors by demystifying information and national issues on their media platforms. But it is a matter of prominence that the government regulates the use of social media, like other global power states, while not infringing on citizens’ right to freedom of expression. More importantly, Nigerians must change their mindset towards the misuse of rights and opportunities. Hence, no positive development would serve its intended purpose in Nigeria.
Abdulkabir Muhammed is of the Department of History and International Studies at the Lagos State University. He can be reached via email@example.com