Social Media
Social Media

Social Media Regulation: A Necessity
By Shuaib S. Agaka

Social media is the most widely used new platform where voices intersect, ideas flourish, and identities are forged in the digital age.

Platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok have seamlessly integrated into the daily lives of Nigerians, shaping societal conversations, setting trends, and influencing collective perceptions.

However, upon all these advantages being offered by social media, it is worrisome that it has become the easiest and flexible space where malicious contents are disseminated by users from their comfort zones without restrictions. This is obviously due to poor regulation of its activities by the operators, government authorities and stakeholders.

In fact, these trends, if continued, have the potential to expose the national security of any country to danger among other social concerns with grievous consequences.

In 2022, the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA)
issued Code of Practice, a set of guidelines to regulate the activities of digital platforms and online services in Nigeria.

The code aims to promote a safe and secure online environment, protect users’ rights, and ensure compliance with Nigerian laws and regulations.

The Tech Digest reports that the code has the potential of addressing user rights and protection; data privacy and protection; hate speech and harmful content; disinformation and misinformation; online harassment and bullying; digital inclusion and accessibility; enforcement and compliance.

Amidst the vast array of motivations propelling social media engagement, the allure of fame and recognition shines prominently. Individuals across diverse backgrounds are drawn to these platforms as avenues to showcase talents, share ideas, and gain visibility on a scale previously unimaginable. The promise of attaining widespread recognition, building personal brands, and influencing opinions has transformed social media into a potent catalyst for self-expression and societal impact.

The system of success on social media platforms, such as follower counts, engagement rates, and virality, serve as tangible indicators of one’s digital influence and reach. These metrics often translate into real-world opportunities, ranging from brand endorsements and collaborations to career advancements in creative fields like music, fashion, art, and entertainment. The promise of turning digital popularity into tangible rewards fuels the relentless quest for social media fame among aspiring influencers and content creators.

However, beneath the surface of this digital fame lie nuanced challenges and troubling trends that have garnered increasing attention. A notable phenomenon that has gained traction in recent years is the proliferation of sensationalized, controversial, and at times, harmful content created in pursuit of instant fame and virality. This trend raises critical questions about the ethical boundaries of content creation, the societal impacts of sensationalism, and the psychological toll on both creators and consumers of such content. The quest for virality success tied to likes, shares, and followers has reshaped content creation strategies, often blurring the lines between authenticity, entertainment, and exploitation.

In the quest to be digitally famous, Nigerians actively engaged in social media platforms to create controversial or even harmful content in pursuit of attention, virality, or a misguided sense of fame. This trend cuts across various content genres, ranging from entertainment and lifestyle to news commentary and social activism. The allure of instant visibility and the desire to stand out in a crowded digital landscape have led some individuals and groups to resort to sensationalism, shock value, or provocative narratives, often at the expense of ethical considerations or societal impacts.

One prevalent category of controversial content involves stunts, challenges, or pranks designed to capture the audience’s attention through shock or outrage. Instances, where individuals engage in dangerous activities, risky behaviors, or offensive acts for online acclaim, have garnered significant notoriety.

Moreover, the realm of political and social commentary has seen a surge in polarizing content, where individuals or groups deliberately propagate inflammatory rhetoric, misinformation, or hate speech to garner support or incite reactions. The anonymity and relative lack of accountability in online spaces sometimes embolden users to cross ethical boundaries, leading to harmful consequences such as spreading false information, fueling social tensions, or inciting violence.

This shift in content dynamics extends beyond individual aspirations, influencing broader societal perceptions, cultural norms, and digital interactions. The consequences of sensationalized content consumption ripple through online communities, shaping offline behaviors and attitudes. As Nigerians navigate this digital landscape, it becomes imperative to engage in nuanced discussions about responsible digital citizenship, platform accountability, and ethical content creation practices.

An illustrative example involves a popular social media personality, the cloak-and-dagger informant on Instagram, who has gained notoriety for his alleged omniscience, involving activities such as stalking, sniffing, and spilling the secrets of individuals on his Instagram page. These behaviors violate privacy rights, as the informant exposes private details without consent. Despite being hailed as a hero by some, the reality paints a different picture, revealing actions contrary to noble intentions.

Also, a popular social media personality who gained notoriety for staging elaborate and potentially harmful pranks in public spaces. Despite the obvious risks of endangering victims’ safety, public safety, and more concerning, promoting irresponsible behavior, the individual’s online following and engagement surged, reflecting a troubling dynamic where controversy often translates to visibility and influence.

Even though, Creators are encouraged to think outside the box, leverage humor, and satire to captivate audiences. However, this creative freedom must be tempered by a consciousness of potential harms, misinformation, stereotypes, or incitement to violence that sensationalized content can perpetuate.

Ethical considerations in content creation extend beyond legal frameworks to encompass moral principles, societal values, and the duty of care toward audiences. Creators wield significant influence over their followers, shaping opinions, perceptions, and behaviors through their content. This influence comes with a responsibility to uphold truthfulness, integrity, and respect for diverse perspectives.

Regulatory bodies and policymakers need to be more active in considering measures to address issues such as misinformation, hate speech, cyberbullying, and harmful content dissemination.

There is a need to enhance the existing laws and frameworks to better address digital content challenges. This includes amendments to existing cybercrime laws, data protection regulations, and media laws to encompass online platforms and digital content creators.

Additionally, there should be discussions about the need for specialized agencies or units dedicated to monitoring and regulating online content. These agencies would work in collaboration with existing law enforcement bodies and technology companies to identify and address instances of harmful content swiftly. The establishment of reporting mechanisms and response protocols is crucial in ensuring timely action against problematic content.

Ultimately, achieving a harmonious and responsible digital ecosystem requires collective efforts, shared responsibilities, and a commitment to upholding ethical standards, human rights, and societal values in the digital realm. By navigating these challenges thoughtfully and collaboratively, Nigeria can harness the transformative potential of social media while mitigating its darker implications, fostering a digital environment that empowers, enlightens, and enriches its digital citizens.

Therefore, the time is ripe for the social media and other contents to be adequately regulated in order to operate in line with standard and approved procedures.

Shuaib S. Agaka, Tech Journalist, writes from PRNigeria Centre Kano.