Social Media or Tortoise Journalism
In African mythology as represented in folklores, the tortoise is ever present in any authentic story with his famed wisdom and cunny ways. That the tortoise is capable of doing many things but often ends up foolish in the eyes of the other animals. A story is told of how the tortoise packaged all shades of wisdom in calabash and to prevent other animals from drinking from the springs of wisdom decided to put the calabash on top of a palm tree. Afraid that putting the calabash on his back, another animal might take it, decided to put it on his stomach thereby making it difficult for him to climb the palm tree. A foolish goat advised the tortoise to put the calabash on his back to ease his movement. In anger, the tortoise smashed the calabash. The message is that nobody has monopoly of wisdom.
The relevance of this folklore is the advent of fake news and the menace of the social media via Facebook, twitter, u-tube and other online platforms. Anybody with access to the internet becomes an instant journalist or what some people are calling citizenship journalism. This genre of journalism is doing a lot of havoc to mainstream journalism and dissemination of authentic information. It is not only any African trait; it is exposing its fangs in other parts of the world. These latter day journalism converts do not care about credibility and source attribution and the effects of news on the public. They are only interested in pushing out false information and the gullible publics believe them. It is a danger that the mainstream journalists must fight by making effective presence in the social media. What you are reading is part of that effort.
Within the week, the news that gained currency was the `marriage` between President Muhammadu Buhari and his Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Umar Farouq as his second wife. The internet was on overdrive as some Nigerians besieged the Central Mosque, Abuja last Friday for that event. Some people even put up a supposed wedding invitation card. This is surely a sacrilege, defamation and breaking the bounds of information dissemination. It is nothing short of tortoise journalism which is a variant of fiction. Those who are interested in writing fictions should do so and should not confuse the gullible. There must be a distinction between fiction and non-fiction.
The dangers of fake news is that real people can get hurt and that was the case during Ebola crisis when some citizen journalists advised people to not only drink salt but also have a bath of salt water. A lot of people died. In the case of the fable marriage of Buhari, the presidential media advisers should be blamed. The fundamental of journalism practice is that push out the information early so that mischief makers and rumour merchants do not exploit the information gap. True that for a long time, the spouse of Buhari has not been seen in public and the presidency is keeping sealed lips. Tell the nation the truth of the whereabouts of Aisha Buhari and those tortoise journalists will be out of circulation. Hoarding of official information especially about those in government and their relatives is a breeding ground for fake news.
Information management is about timely and strategic release of information so that the fake news peddlers would not occupy the media space. Even more frustrating and ironical is that some well-respected newspapers, radio, television stations even quote fake news. Trained journalists must guide against that. The ethical obligations should be the corner stone of sound journalism practice devoid of rumours or staging of stories. The tortoise story is meant to make you laugh and it ends there with some moral lessons. But it will be the height of naivety to believe the tortoise story. Unfortunately a lot of Nigerians that patronize social media sites believe their tissues of lies. It is a toxic combination, if not well handled can set the country ablaze. The dangers of fake news are very real and not in the realm of fiction like the tortoise story. Believe social media stories; believe that your name is not your name.
Julius Oweh, a journalist, Asaba, Delta State. 08037768392