The highlight of Pope Francis’ 2016 message for Social Communications Day, which is entitled “Communication and Mercy: A Fruitful Encounter,” is that “communication should help build peace, not foment differences and hatred.” The points raised in the message have numerous benefits for African social media users.
In most African states, prior to, during, and after the general elections, Africans use social media to lambast and abuse one another with deep rooted words of hate. Citizens can often be seen judging national issues along lines of political, ethnic, or religious affiliation.
In Nigeria, for example, most of those from the South seem not to see anything good in the current administration from a man (Muhammadu Buhari) from the North as was the case of many from the North who saw nothing good about the immediate past administration under a man (Goodluck Jonathan) from the South.
Constructive criticism in communication has lost its value among most African social media users. As a result of these abuses, I almost gave my support to the call by the Nigerian senate, as well as other African countries, for a law to censor social media, but on second thought, I declined, doubting the intention behind the law.
Communication is generally understood to be the transmitting and reception of meaningful message between the sender and the receiver. Social media, such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter, IMO, etc. are good in themselves, and “…can also be fully human forms of communication.”
And while they cannot determine “whether or not communication is authentic, the human heart and our capacity to use [it] wisely, [is] at our disposal.” Rather they offer you and I, the users, endless opportunities of deepening our intimacy with each other, not to widen it further as most social media users in Nigeria are doing.
The Pope explains it better when he wrote that “communication has the power to build bridges, to enable encounter and inclusion, and thus to enrich society. How beautiful it is when people select their words and actions with care, in the effort to avoid misunderstandings, to heal wounded memories and to build peace and harmony. Words can build bridges between individuals and within families, social groups and peoples. This is possible both in the material world and the digital world. Our words and actions should be such as to help us all escape the vicious circles of condemnation and vengeance, which continue to ensnare individuals and nations, encouraging expressions of hatred.”
The vice president of Nigeria, Yemi Osinbajo, was reported to have given his assessment on why Nigerians have remained divided along the lines of politics, ethnicity, and religion. According to him, it is because these are the two tools the elites in the country use to distract the ordinary citizens from knowing the evil they want to or are perpetuating.
Osinbajo added that since Nigeria came into being, there is no region that has become more developed simply because the president comes from that particular region. And I agree 100 percent with him, having traveled to at least one state in either of the geo-political zones of this country.
Nigerians need to know that the “social networks can facilitate relationships and promote the good of society, but they can also lead to further polarization and division between individuals and groups.”
I am not saying that people should not talk bad of bad, but I have a problem with how critical we are on the social media. We can be the judge of ourselves about whether we “…either encourage or demean one another, engage in a meaningful discussion or unfair attacks.”
Like the Pope said, “It is our task to admonish those who err and to denounce the evil and injustice of certain ways of acting, for the sake of setting victims free and raising up those who have fallen.”
It looks like most Africans use the social media to express their cybernetic lordship over another. Most of the issues we Africans raise are quite justified for discourse, but the way we go about it — throwing abusive words at one another — makes the issues of discourse seem barbaric.
Do we not know that “only words spoken with love and accompanied by meekness and mercy can touch our sinful hearts. Harsh and moralistic words and actions risk further alienating those whom we wish to lead to conversion and freedom, reinforcing their sense of rejection and defensiveness.”
For goodness sake, social media is not “…a forum where strangers compete and try to come out on top,” it should instead be “…a home or a family, where the door is always open and where everyone feels welcome.”
The message of Francis is calling on African social media users to develop an attitude of listening effectively, which “is much more than simply hearing. Hearing is about receiving information, while listening is about communication, and calls for closeness. Listening allows us to get things right, and not simply to be passive onlookers, users or consumers. Listening also means being able to share questions and doubts, to journey side by side, to banish all claims to absolute power and to put our abilities and gifts at the service of the common good. Listening is never easy. Many times it is easier to play deaf. Listening means paying attention, wanting to understand, to value, to respect and to ponder what the other person says.”
Let us read in between the lines on any national issue, so as to not let our judgement of those fall along sides of political, ethnic and religious affiliations, which always “…lead to further polarization and division between individuals and groups.” Instead, let our judgment of national issues and about ourselves be guided by a sense of objectivity which “…can facilitate relationships and promote the good of society.”
I congratulate the few among us who are using social media as a channel to extend hands of friendship to other Africans and non-Africans. Those social media users have not allowed themselves to be biased for sake of political, ethnic, and religious affiliations. You, in your little way, is helping Africa and Africans “…to be better citizens.” This kind of attitude on the social media proves “…a responsibility for our neighbour whom we do not see but who is nonetheless real and has a dignity which must be respected.”