Using the internet to address pertinent issues

internetThe ICT revolution has caught up very fast with the youth. Ghana is reputed to be experiencing a high broadband and mobile internet penetration in recent times and this has brought in its wake many alterations in our way of life and our social interactions.

Young people have been at the forefront of this new revolution as they continue to discover very ingenious ways of putting the internet to use. The forceful emergence of social media as part of internet usage has brought to the fore other ancillary challenges which if not checked, will lead to very grave social upheavals in this country.

Trending social media platforms like Facebook, Tweeter, Whatsapp, Viber, Tango and even common good old SMS messaging have become part of our way of life and young people rely on these to interact on a minute by minute basis.

These platforms come in handy because of their accessibility, user friendliness and relative cheap cost. It is not uncommon today to find eight out of ten of young people clutching on to smart phones of varied brands and various capacities. There are several positives that we can derive from the new social trends and they include but not limited to the following;

Social media has made the relay of information ultra fast and sometimes instantly giving people the opportunity to derive timely benefits from information that is required for action or reactions. Also, the trend promotes contributions to national discourse where people take the opportunity to critique emerging policies from the corridors of government and other policy makers.

Such platforms were available previously as only few writers and professional journalists do their bit in newspapers and other magazines whose reach is limited in structure and expanse.

Young people also take advantage of economic opportunities advercome to stay is the formation of groups with various backgrounds, creed and professional fields. For those in the teaching fraternity who belong to the Ghana National Association of Teachers there is the ‘Gnatyouthdesk’ Facebook platform and the GNAT YOUTH Facebook Group.

There also are sub groups for Local, District and Regional branches of the Association. Other sites like the ‘Ghana Teacher Diary’, ‘TEACHERS for CHANGE’ and several whatsapp platforms that are meant to serve as a converging point for the cross fertilization of ideas. For instance in the Ada East and West Districts there is the ‘DANGME EAST GNAT’ Facebook and whatsapp pages that are used to relay vital information to members of the Association and to collate grievances emanating from the schools and communities where our teachers work.

The use of these platforms has served their purpose to a large extent but recently some young teachers who mostly use these platforms have turned these ‘idea factories’ into a base for the propagation of insults and bigotry.

For instance, some have turned these platforms into places where they prosecute their political agenda as proxies for the major political parties that we have in Ghana especially the NDC and NPP. It is not uncommon to find teachers addressing political leaders with very unpleasant language. People go as far as using unprintable words to describe the person and actions of the President of Ghana!

A platform for ventilating our frustrations as teachers should not be turned into a place where people express themselves without decorum and respect for authority. The political culture where people insult and abuse others when they want their grievances addressed cannot be a progressive way of using social media to achieve desired results.

We have witnessed very vile and vitriolic language used against the Minister of Education and her Deputies, District and Regional Directors of Education and even the Director General, a position that all teachers aspire to occupy one day in the Public Service. As for personal attacks on union l

eaders, the least said about it the better.

The object of this write up is not to gag people from expressing their feelings but to promote the need for decent and healthy debates where people’s actions are criticized without harming their personal reputations.

Another negative use that the social media platforms are being subjected to is the leveling of unsubstantiated allegations against people whom such people may not have even met personally.

The unfortunate thing is that most people who sufer these abuses are not on such platforms to offer rejoinders or respond to such allegations. What makes the situation worse is that even when rejoinders are issued and allegations clarified some people who see themselves as unreachable because of the anonymity that the internet provides will continue in the same line of argument until they cause as much damage to people’s reputation as possible.

Furthermore, some colleague teachers also use these avenues to broadcast hate speeches against people they perceive as not belonging to their creed or those who do not share their ideologies. Such sentiments can be ethnic, political, social and even religious.

Such behavior does not promote national unity and can engender conflict. People condemn their friends simply because they express different and divergent opinions on a topic under discussion. Some people go as far as bringing private matters to the open just to get at a friend who may not have expressed a personal different opinion about an issue.

What is most disgusting also is the posting of sexually explicit and graphic images on such platforms by some people. Under the guise of a pseudonym and a faceless picture some people deliberately use the platform to disturb the sensibilities of their friends and member of such social groups and there is hardly any way of proving that the identity of those on the platforms is really those they claim to be.

Such people also use these platforms to blackmail colleagues, especially female teachers. There was a situation in the recent past when a female teacher was blackmailed by a scammer on one of the social media platforms created and operated by teachers. When she refused to yield to the demands, the blackmailer/scammer posted a ‘photoshoped’ nude picture on the site. The scammer used her head in her profile picture and imposed it on the torso of a naked model giving the female teacher the image of posing in the nude.

As if the above are not enough some members who contribute to these sites use very unpolished language and bad grammatical constructions. These come about because they are either in a hurry to post articles and comments or are not patient enough to read through what they had typed before posting.

This paints a sordid picture about the professional competence of such contributors.

Even though few in number such people end up soiling the image of the profession that most of us hold dear. What such people need to know is that these sites are accessible to the outside world and that any post or comment goes a long way to tell a story about who they are.

People in general and young teachers in particular who engage in discourse on social media.

Just one unwholesome post on a site may cost you your dream job or stall your promotion. People’s posts and comments in social media can tell about their temperament and capacity to tolerate situations. It tells about your likes, dislikes and biases. As a matter of fact people’s previous posts and comments can be used to predict their future actions or inactions to a high degree of accuracy. It is, therefore, important for young people especially to be decorous in putting the type of things they post and the manner in which they comment on debates they engage in.

Secondly, we should not be deceived to think that using a pseudo name and fake pictures will make one go scot-free forever when they offend people’s sensibilities at such sites. Indeed there are softwares that can be employed to track people to their devices even to where they may be hiding. Every post and comment can be traced to exact locations and devices. This should be at the back of our mind anytime we think of publishing offensive content on the internet in general and social media in particular.

We should also be aware that internet service providers and administrators of social media platforms have the capacity to ban people who post offensive content on social media. People are therefore advised to make use of these facilities to ward of people who repeatedly display uncouth behavior on the sites. Conversations, pictures and videos posted can be reported to administrators of such pages and can be taken down after assessment.

The social media has no doubt expanded the frontiers of free speech which is commendable but it is imperative for well meaning people to help in the curbing of the excesses that have come to characterize the use of such an important resource. Administrators must demand accountability and subject posts to careful assessment before allowing them space on these platforms. For instance there is a feature on Facebook that enables a post to be suspended until approved for viewing by the public. This approval is usually done by the administrator(s). Professional social platforms designed to serve teachers must have an editorial committee that assesses how and what contents are put on them. In this way the assessment will not be left to the whims of just one person.

Some people join the platforms with funny names and pictures. Those who hide their identity behind such names are the most likely to abuse the platforms. At best people who use such names and unidentifiable pictures must not be allowed to join the platforms. The unfortunate thing is that some of these faceless persons have other means of bypassing the administrator to join the platforms though a process called hacking.

This is typical of scammers who will want to cause mischief or dupe unsuspecting people. The administrators must therefore build capacity to be able to weed such imposters before they prey on innocent people or use the platforms for other nefarious activities.

Teachers who register their presence on social media must portray good attitude and exemplary conduct. Regulating individuals will be an exercise in futility but for platforms that serve organized groups like teachers and allied professional it is always paramount to promote decency and professionalism.

Young teachers must be aware that whatever they put on social media mirrors their image to the outside world. People will judge their personality and conduct according to the things they post or remarks they make about posts on social media. We must never encourage censorship as is being practiced in some jurisdictions but each individual on social media must try to have a self regulatory instinct. We can make our grievances heard without calling people in authority stupid or idiots. We can pour out our frustrations without injuring the reputations of others and we can sow seeds of moderation by not responding in equal or higher measure to unpleasant posts and comments about us. A CV is a story of our lives which tells people who we are when we are not present to defend ourselves. We must, therefore, endeavor to make sure that the stories we write about ourselves can and will endure timeless scrutiny.

The Writer is the District GNAT Secretary for Dangme East, Ada Foah(nafenyo@yahoo.com)

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