It was an honour to be asked to deliver the Keynote Address at the inspiring symposium held at the Collegium Helveticum, Schmelzbergstrasse 25, Zurich University. I did not bother about translating the host’s name or address. I had always held firmly to the belief that when you speak in a language that only God understands—as in when Africans worshipped in Latin—your ability to manipulate Baba God and turn Him into your brother is much enhanced. When I learned that Collegium Helveticum meant the Institute of Advanced Studies, the name revealed itself in slow motion! However, it was fully restored by Dr. Medinat Malefakis, whom I thought was from Switzerland, not knowing she could pass for my sister from across the South Atlantic. It was a wonderful gathering, full of ideas and scholars of great minds. I am not sure I can repeat the core of my small contributions in a short piece.
As I opened the symposium, I submitted that conflict is an existential and often inexcusable factor in every society, and it has permeated human existence through the stages of empire development down to contemporary times. The truth is that human needs are insatiable, and conflicts and aggression spring out through interactions in striving to meet some of these needs. Since human interactions cannot be excused, this proves that conflict will always be a necessary evil that each society will have to deal with at certain points in time.
While conflict appears constant in all civilizations, people have never relented leveraging different tools to create an edge in every conflict situation. To a large extent, different fatal weapons have been developed and used to put people above each other in terms of their opportunities and power while also forging forward with the quest of discovering other effective tools. In this quest, the use of social media, though not literarily fatal, has been a new tool for human propagation and engagement in conflicts.
Along with its inevitability in modern society, social media seems to have become an effective tool for conflict. Creating networks and links has become unavoidable due to the increasing number of users. Social media has become one of the key forms of communication since it allows for dynamic conversations, agreements, and conflicts. As a result, it has become crucial in the creation, process, management, and resolution of conflicts worldwide.
For conflict resolution, social media creates a new dynamic in society that necessitates its inclusion. One of them is the construction of an alternative nation independent of any country, race, or religion. Apart from other famous platforms with populations in the millions, the users on Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, Instagram, and Twitter are currently about 2.91 billion, 2.562 billion, 2 billion, 1.478 billion, and 436 million, respectively. This has resulted in the formation of a global community that allows for conflict instigation, sensitization, and resolution. Aggression, provocations, and inciting of confrontations on social media have all had the potential to escalate into large and uncontrollable situations. These incidents have morphed into movements and disputes, resulting in physical protests and cross-border assaults. The EndSARS protest in Nigeria, which sparked a crisis, is an example of these incitements that began on social media and escalated into big rallies.
Furthermore, terrorists, evil individuals, and organizations have successfully planned and carried out attacks owing to the accessibility and availability of social media. This is because operations and acts might be monitored and executed without interruption through any social media platforms. Terrorist groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Boko Haram, and Al-Shabaab, among others, have used social media to connect, monitor, and broadcast their wicked operations. Kenya’s Westgate mall incident in Nairobi on September 21, 2013, in which 67 people were killed and 175 more were injured, is an example of an open operation involving social media engagement on Twitter.
Also, social media has been a key instrument in conflict resolution since it provides a channel for first-hand information, especially if the source can be tracked, and it allows additional first responders to be dispatched to an incident that requires immediate intervention. Before she died, Dr. Chinelo Megafu, one of the gunshot victims in the Nigerian railway attacks between Abuja and Kaduna, tweeted to report the occurrence and alert people that she was shot on the train. This elicited responses from various sources and, in some cases, would have assisted victims as quickly as feasible.
New decision influencers and gladiators capable of determining the course of conflicts, instigating them, or putting an end to them have also emerged as a result of social media. Due to social media, new power-movers and stakeholders have emerged and now have a say in how society is governed. Thus, the opinions of these influencers and personalities have been deemed extremely important, as a single tweet or post from them can change the course of events and people’s convictions. These behemoths are frequently targeted for political or social movements and may occasionally make mistakes.
There have been several sorts of combat, but social media has spawned a new type of non-conventional conflict in which firearms and explosives are unlikely to be shot or thrown. It has provided a platform for enhanced verbal assaults through cyberbullying, which incites violence. It has also aided in the creation and persistence of cyber-attacks and cyber-terrorism that have harmed the systems of various sectors of society. Often, assailants are not frightened of the victims or the consequences of their actions; these are the new guns and explosives of the social media warfronts. Furthermore, this non-traditional fighting might easily result in a new Cold War or something similar to it, as well as provide a platform for threats beyond borders.
Although it is easy to think of fights regarding human violence, social media has evolved into a battleground for cultural clashes. It is widely acknowledged that social media is a fundamental tool of globalization, which results in the diffusion of new cultures that may pose a danger to people’s existing cultures. It has worked as a way of promoting the African culture while simultaneously endangering current African cultures because people tend to acquire new values as portrayed in other societies. Despite colonial and Eurocentric condemnations as useless, social media has helped expose and showcase the outstanding intellect of the African continent. The use of social media has allowed African brains and crafts to be exposed to the rest of the globe, allowing more people to appreciate our traditions. As a result, while it may be a source of cultural clashes and conflict on the continent, if correctly harnessed, it can also be a source of embracing African cultures and values.
Finally, social media has taken a realistic role in conflicts, and it is the goal of every sensible civilization anywhere in the world to maintain peaceful coexistence. Therefore, society must be prepared to use the dynamics of social media to handle conflict and redirect its drawbacks toward progress. Hopefully, the ultimate takeaway of this important symposium will be how to move social media in its most positive direction.