Think Before You Twit.

Abdulai Mansaray. author
Sierra Leone attained its independence in 1961, but prior to this epoch making “achievement”, the country was fondly renowned for its role as the bastion of education; courtesy of Fourah Bay College, which was founded in 1827.  It was widely regarded as the “Citadel of Education, at a time when such a process was the exclusive domain of the wealthy or people with royal ascent. To many at the time, institutions like Fourah Bay College was seen as a place for only the endangered species; where men and women were constructed in response to the needs of the times. The term “education” can be defined in various ways, and any attempt to give a single and complete definition of the term will surely fall flat in many people’s estimation.

Compared to a standing army, education can be seen as a better safeguard of liberty; because it is a progressive discovery of one’s ignorance (W. Durant). Where education is bliss, ignorance should be a novelty. Education should not be seen as the ability to commit to memory but simply as the soul of society, as it passes from one generation to another. 

If someone is going down the wrong way, he doesn’t need motivation to speed him up. What he needs is education to turn him round. Part of the function of education is to help us escape, not from our own time-for we are bound by that, but from the intellectual and emotional limitations of our time (T. S. Elliot).

The embers are still burning from what started as the “Arab Spring” in the Middle East. Whether this Tsunami of revolutions that took place and continues to do so, is beneficial to their participants is open to question; as only time will tell. Many “experts” would like it to be seen as a success to the region; but at what price? The “success” of these revolutionaries has been put down to or been attributed to many factors, not least by the role of the social media. It marked a period when the people took control of the media. It was also the period whereby the news that was generated for public consumptions was no longer left in the hands of the powerful few. News became public property, and as such served the death knell for censorship, political correctness and political gagging. Information became knowledge and knowledge begot power as the people reclaimed their voice.

Before the “Arab Spring” citizens were shackled, bound, gagged and literally reduced to some form of serfdom; whereby it was not only considered heretic to oppose their rulers, but also considered a treasonable offence. The uprisings could be attributed to many factors, but chief among them was the twin factors of the people’s readiness to let go of fear and the new found voices through the social media. The social media has become one of the greatest shifts of our generation. It has now become a human seismograph because of its ability to unconsciously connect kindred voices. It has fast become a medium to achieve goals. When the people feared the government it was tyranny, but now that the governments fear the people, it has become liberty.

There are qualities that make social media networks insane and half-baked, but it is those same qualities that ironically make them powerful. Interestingly, when people follow you say on twitter, it becomes very easy to become evangelical with your followers. The social media has given a lot of people the platform to tell the world what they are thinking. Unfortunately, some do so even before they’ve had the time to think.

The spontaneity that these communications generate and conjure means that people can lose control of the topic of discussion. Media consumption is fast becoming the staple diet of society, whereby people have a choice of menu on what to read, what to participate in and even what to agree or disagree with. With information becoming cheaper and faster on the internet, it is not surprising that the minute news hits the wires, it becomes a conversation. Unsurprisingly enough, running commentaries now run concurrently with the news as they happen.

But is this new generational shift hitting the people of Sierra Leone? There is no question that with the general elections looming, there has been a plethora of discussion forums mushrooming all over the place. You would think that with such communication market places, many subscribers from our country and in the Diaspora will ask themselves this question: “where can I add the most value to what matters to me and to the people who care about me?” With these forums sprouting up every day, there has never been a greater tendency for people to align themselves with movements they believe in; and when that happens, their reverence to such movements can easily take evangelical persuasions.

 Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and Founder of Facebook once said that “when you give everyone a voice and give people power, the system usually ends up in a really good place”. Since we are social creatures, it is plausible that the speed at which such forums are growing can be seen as innovations; all geared towards the good of the country and people taking part in such discussions. Taking part in discussions on the social media is bound to engender mistakes; but if one is sincere about helping one’s community, the authenticity of such desires will show and sometimes, such mistakes can be forgiven.

Diasporans taking part in such discussions could be seen as a breath of fresh air, whereby one can now exchange views, ideas, and opinions with others in far flung regions. The theory of the “global village” could not be more demonstrated by the impact of social forums like facebook, twitter, flickr , youtube etc. Reading through these forums, you get a picture of what others are thinking. In the case of forums populated by Sierra Leoneans, the forthcoming elections have been the main topic of discussion, and being so has served as a focal point for the citizens of the country. At face value, it is possible to gauge the political temperature of the elections. In simple terms, these forums have become the thermometer of public opinion and barometer of the society. Social media can no longer be seen as a fad, it’s a fundamental shift in the way we communicate; resulting in a new phenomenon called “socionomics”.

Unfortunately, there are some individuals who find it very difficult to put their points of view across. They feel very offended when others express a variance in opinion about topics they hold dear to themselves. When they lose the argument, some have found it very easy to resort to abuse and personality attacks. Talk is cheap, but if we are to make meaningful uses of these forums, the conversations need to be healthy, appropriate and decent in all its forms. We should all aspire to inform, entertain and educate one another. Settling differences of opinions by way of personality attacks, insults or otherwise is not the way forward. Although differences in opinions can be frustrating, it will help if such differences are regarded as creatively stimulating.

There have been various topics discussed aside from politics, but the latter seems to be the hot potato of late. This is very common among supporters of the two main political parties, SLPP and APC. While majority see the forums as a genuine venue to exchange ideas, others see it as a place to settle scores. One of the golden rules of such forums is that, “you don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t want plastered on a billboard with your face on it (Erin Bury). In other words, think before you twit. It has never been easier to be as influential as one can be today. Information has not only become cheap but has also become easier to produce. The better the quality of information, the cheaper it is to get out.

As Sierra Leoneans, we can endeavour to participate in these forums, with the ultimate belief and hope to get our messages across, irrespective of how controversial they may be. Trading insults could not and should not be seen as the best way forward. Insults are in most cases, the arguments employed by those who are in the wrong. Equally, flattery and insults do raise the same questions. It is a matter of what you want. There are a lot of arguments that take place in these forums, which can be all good for the nation, provided they are defended in a rational way. If civilisation is to be worthy of the name, we must afford other methods of settling our human differences than those of bloodletting (R. Chaplin).

As the elections draws nearer by the day, there is bound to be numerous opinions. We have seen how the issue of corruption has generated a flurry of opinions, largely discussed along political party lines. These have consequently resulted in hysteria, accusations, counter-accusations and even paranoia. Whenever the issue of corruption has surfaced, accusations of political machinations have followed in tow, so much so that “corruption is now becoming a taboo word.

The APC and SLPP parties enjoy an odd sibling rivalry, and as long as such rivalry remains in the spirit of competition, it can only spur the electorate on. Organised rivalry can be the most effective way of utilizing human energy; which through specialization and social control can lead to organised co-operation. Democracy will deteriorate if there are no oppositions and there can be no greater price of freedom than eternal vigilance. Our greatest strength as a human race is our ability to acknowledge our differences, and failure to embrace them can be our greatest weakness. Honest differences are often a healthy sign of progress (M. Gandhi).

As we go to the polls this November, let us remember that “ feelings of worth can only flourish in an atmosphere where individual differences are appreciated, mistakes are tolerated, communication is open, and rules are flexible; the kind of atmosphere that is found in a nurturing family”( V. Satir). In spite of our differences, Sierra Leone may be a small country, but ONE BIG FAMILY.

Remember to think before you twit.


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