In this report, Temitayo Famutimi examines the opportunities and dangers associated with the use of new media tools for information dissemination
With the level of Internet penetration in Nigeria, coupled with the availability of various new media tools, ordinary citizens other than professional journalists now actively engage in information dissemination.
Roles hitherto exclusively played by the traditional media such as TV, radio and newspapers are now being played by people in the virtual social networking community.
This has made many local and international news organisations to give opportunity to their audience to provide user
generated content and report news themselves. An example is the i-report segment of the Cable News Network.
In Syria, where there is an ongoing civil war with the attendant ban placed on foreign media from entering the country by the Assad regime, ordinary citizens have since filled the void by embracing citizen journalism.
Media-savvy Syrians are employing the use of social media and other new technologies to give eyewitness accounts of events happening in the country.
Communication experts say the use of smartphones and other devices to live-stream, video-record and share photos, audio-visuals alongside additional text content across multiple platforms, has led to faster ways of disseminating information transcending geographical boundaries.
A lecturer in the Department of Mass Communication, Bowen University, Iwo, Osun State, Dr. Bisi Olawunmi, says with the Internet as a platform, citizen journalism has become an ultimate market place of ideas but with no regulation of entry.
According to him, citizen journalism, a by-product of the new media, have helped in many circumstances to put those stories which might not have been noticed by traditional media into the public domain.
He adds, “Journalists can’t be everywhere at every time and one of the good things the new media has brought with it through citizen journalism is the democratisation of information.
“Stories breaking in every nook and cranny of the world, which might ordinarily bypass traditional and mainstream media such as the TV, radio and newspapers are given prominence on new media platforms such as blogs, discussion forums, Facebook, Twitter and others.
“A whole lot of people are now interested in what happens around them and have taken the lead to make other people aware of happenings in their local environment leading to what we can call an information explosion.”
However, experts say the goings-on on various social networks, which transcend national boundaries with no regulation, portends great dangers to people’s valued privacy.
Olawunmi laments that the absence of “gate-keepers”, as it obtains in traditional media, heightens the possibilities of misinformation on the new media highways.
He says this development could lead to “poisoning of the well of public opinion” as well as “information overload.”
He advises that people subscribing to views on such new media platforms should question the information they receive and develop their perspectives on current events.
A senior lecturer at the Department of Mass Communication, University of Lagos, Dr. Olubunmi Ajibade, believes that there should be an established code of conduct for responsible citizen journalism.
Ajibade, who welcomes the opportunities brought by the new media, explains that there has been an upsurge in complaints by members of the public over the way and manner new media tools are being deployed to disseminate information.
He says, “Nigerians are fast catching up with technological advancements and are now actively involved in the use of new media tools to gather and disseminate information.
“Though there is a constitutional provision for freedom of expression, this does not empower one to disparage the reputation of others via social platforms.
“There have been a lot of complaints bordering on privacy, defamation of character, inaccuracies and integrity of reports, contempt of courts and parliament as well as ethical issues across different social media platforms.”
Ajibade says everyone embracing the new media have a social responsibility to verify information before putting them on the social media.
He adds that there is a need for legal draughtsmen to look at the operations of the new media and draft appropriate laws.
He says, “The truth of the matter is that the world did not just envisage the benefits the Internet has brought to us today. Thus, there is a need for cooperation of nations to map out appropriate laws to guard against infringements of people’s basic rights.
“Also, our educational institutions should start laying much emphasis on teaching of ethics focusing on moral rights and wrongs.”
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