I was at the BAZE University, Abuja on Tuesday, where I spoke to an enthusiastic collection of faculties and students on the topic: “Leadership and responsibility in the age of social media”. The lecture provided an opportunity for me to dissect the intricacies of social media uses and abuses, in a world of continuing revolution in technologies of communication. And I had an exciting time with the students some of who argued that I dwelt too much on the negatives rather than the positives of social media.
The lecture, according to the Master of Ceremony and long-term friend, Dr. Abiodun Adeniyi, was pursuant to the university’s culture of regularly providing the space for the expansion of understanding on topical subject matters. As it would turn out, the session did not just provide a space for the examination of an interesting subject matter, it became another unique opportunity to interact with a crop of competent hands assembled by the University founder and Pro-Chancellor, Senator Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed.
As I wrote in two years ago on this page, I admire Baba-Ahmed’s determination to make a difference in the educational sector of our country by building a world-class university that boasts of modern classrooms and auditoriums with smart boards, audio visuals, intercom, and biometric attendance. For a university that started with just 17 students and three faculties, it is a testimony to the vision of Baba-Ahmed that Baze is now one of the most sought-after institutions running 26 fully-accredited programmes under four faculties: Management and Social Sciences; Law; Computing and Applied Sciences; and Engineering. I was delighted to be on the campus on Tuesday to share my thoughts.
Aside Baba-Ahmed, others in the parked audience were the University’s Vice Chancellor, Prof. Tahir Mamman; the registrar and former Commandant of the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA), Major-General Inuwa Idris (rtd); Deputy Vice Chancellors, Professors Peter Umoh and Charles Ogbonna; and Dr. Dele Babalola of the International Relations Department. Senior Lecturer and Coordinator of the University’s MBBS programme, Dr Fatima Kyari was also in attendance and so was my aburo, Dr Aminu Gamawa who, like Dr Sam Amadi, former Chair of the Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) now teaching law at BAZE, is a product of the Harvard Law School. There were of course others with whom I am not familiar.
As I explained to the students, immense benefits abound with social media and the breadth of content is as vast and limitless as the boundaries of outer space while the potential connections, possibilities and opportunities are endless. Unfortunately, several people are still yet to terms with the fact that we are living in a different world; a world where the concept of privacy is quickly losing its relevance and becoming more of an illusion. And that is why they get their fingers burnt.
I have decided with readers my thoughts on social media, so that we can collectively contextualize and appreciate a phenomenon that is fast changing our life, through the way we relate or/and interact with one another:
A tragedy occurred last month in Lokogoma. For those of you who may not know, Lokogoma is a densely populated district of Abuja which lacks basic infrastructure and is actually not too far from your campus.
There was an overnight rainfall and typical of the area, everywhere was flooded while the rickety access bridge connecting many of the estates gave way. In the course of the downpour, a resident in one of those estates decided to go out with two of his children who were on holiday. He took the steering of his vehicle, a Jeep, wound up his window glass and dared the storm.
However, a few minutes into his journey, the car lost balance, fell and succumbed to the tide. As the vehicle was being tossed left and right with the current, the trapped family was helpless. Meanwhile, the unfortunate incident quickly attracted some onlookers who did nothing but held out their smartphones to record the tragedy. As it would happen, the family perished right before the crowd of social media enthusiasts.
While I am not suggesting that people who cannot swim should risk their lives by jumping into waters to rescue those drowning, I strongly feel that calling agencies with mandate for emergency services would be much more productive than making videos.
The foregoing story is important, essentially because taking responsibility in the age of social media as young people and leaders is what I am here to talk about today.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I am quite aware that even as I am speaking here, the attention of many of you is already divided, depending on the amount of data and battery life you have left on your phones at the moment. But within the few minutes that I have with you this morning, I will implore you to pay attention. It will profit you.
The social media age defined by ubiquitous mobile communication devices powered by internet access has empowered the previously unseen and unheard inhabitants of this world by giving a voice to the voiceless and a face to the faceless. Now with a social media profile and account, everyone can easily be found, seen and heard. Social media has therefore provided each and every one of us an outlet for validation. You can post what you are thinking or what you are feeling or what is happening around you to millions of people all over the world.
Immense benefits abound with social media and the breadth of content is as vast and limitless as the boundaries of outer space. The potential connections, possibilities and opportunities are also endless. And it’s so much fun. However, several people are still yet to terms with the fact that we are living in a different world; a world where the concept of privacy is quickly losing its relevance and becoming more of an illusion. And those are some of the things I want to share with you this morning.
I am aware that sending nude pictures (otherwise known as sexting or naked selfies) to partners through electronic means is fast becoming a norm among young people. A study on Internet and Technology by Pew Research Center reveals that so many people (whether couples or not) are making use of technology to share the most intimate part of their relationships.
According to the research, age is the strongest demographic predictor of sexting. Mobile phone owners within the age bracket 18-24 are the most likely to send, receive and forward sexts, while those in their mid-twenties through mid-thirties are more likely than older adults to say they send sexts. What this means is that your age group thrives actively where sexting is concerned. Unfortunately, you do not always give thoughts to how dangerous this can be, especially when shared with the wrong person. The moment you send a message, you are no longer in control of what happens afterward. Yet, the internet, as someone aptly put it, does not forget.
Many users feel a sense of online security that is false. A report in the United States by Consumer Reports, states that “there are more than 13 million Facebook users who have made no effort to manage their privacy settings, making it possible for their shared exchanges to be viewed by almost anyone.” Because of the perceived sense of security, many freely share information they would rather keep private or cautious to share in everyday encounters. But please always remember, when you share personal information carelessly online, you are likely to cause damage to your reputation and livelihood and impact negatively on your future prospects and those of others who may be hurt unwittingly.
There are several examples of celebrities and politicians who have been badly hurt but perhaps no story illustrates the peril of social media as vicidly as that of Anthony Weiner, an American Congressman whose photographs in underpants were circulated online. After series of denials, Mr Weiner eventually admitted exchanging “messages and photos of an explicit nature with about six women” over a period of about three years. A reporter, commenting on the incident wrote: “Weiner forgot the Number One Rule of the Internet age: On the Web, everything lasts forever.”
After pleading guilty to sexting with a 15-year-old girl, Weiner, 53, was yesterday (Monday) sentenced to 21 months in prison. He also faces spending the rest of his life as a registered sex offender for his lurid social media contacts with the teenage girl. On Monday, Weiner cried as he read from a written statement in Manhattan federal court, saying he has hit “rock bottom”. But it is too late for regret.
As young people and leaders that this country looks forward to having, I encourage you to step out into the real world from the virtual world in which most of you currently reside. Despite the allure of the social media, you cannot pretend that the real world does not exist. And you cannot afford to destroy your real world only to seek asylum in the virtual world. The point I am making is this: if you misbehave in the virtual world, it will catch up with you in the real world.
Let me make a confession here: It took me time to join the social media. I kept myself restricted to the use of emails. I was not on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. However, last year, I decided to take a plunge into the virtual world of Twitter and I have found out how beneficial it has been to my career. I am therefore not standing here to condemn social media. It has immense benefits, holds amazing potentials and is indeed very valuable. And, as already admitted, I also use it.
However, when you are unable to distinguish between the two worlds and naively tend towards one at the expense of the other, you may come out with regrets. The sad incident of Cynthia Osokogu should still be fresh in your memories. Without restating the graphic details of her gruesome death, it will be instructive to recall a few lines. Cynthia, then 24 and a post-graduate student of the Nassarawa State University was the only daughter of a retired Major-General in the Nigerian Army. She met two young men on the Blackberry Chat Group and they became friends. As it would happen, these friends eventually succeeded in luring her to Lagos where they gave her a juice drink laced with Rohiypnol, a prescription drug not sold over the counter, before killing her.
Let me repeat here that the new media of communication and their component cyber platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. have made invaluable contributions to our world. No one can deny the revolution that social media has wrought in practically all aspects of our lives Friendships are struck, business contacts are established while the availability of communication gadgets like Blackberry, i-Phones, i-Pads and similar smart phones, contribute to making social communication a lot easier, irrespective of distance, place or time. Our world has become better with the result that what happens thousands of miles away can instantly be accessed live on our palms, using new media gadgets.
Unfortunately, social media platforms have also become veritable avenues through which criminals seek to exploit unsuspecting innocent persons. The danger here is that through persistent “chatting” with some strange persons, the unwary could easily become psychologically “won over” by a predator. Thus, with increased confidence, the victim starts revealing and releasing confidential and sensitive information, including personal data. In such situations, the lucky ones may lose just personal effects, like money, phones and documents. Others, like Cynthia, lose their lives. Therefore, it is important that young persons, especially girls, be circumspect when chatting with people whose identity and true motive they do not know.
Now, you may ask, how does all this affect leadership?
I do not want you to think of leaders within the narrow prism of those who hold public offices. Once you make an effort to influence a person or a group, and people increasingly recognize you for that capacity, that is when you begin to demonstrate leadership. And to the extent that what everybody seeks to do on social media platforms is to have followers, then you are attempting to lead. To seek followers implies that you are going somewhere. Even outside the cyberspace, we are all leaders within our different spaces: at home with our siblings, in the classroom, at restaurants etc. But to succeed as a leader in the cyberspace, you must also be able to see the unexploited opportunities as well as the lurking dangers.
The choice of this topic was not by accident. It came in the course a discussion with the Registrar of this great institution, a respected retired Major General for whom I have tremendous respect. The discussion was in his office a few days after a senator was caught on a video that went viral, a scandalous video that showed him dressing up in the presence of two women, in a dingy hotel room. That ugly episode posed a lot of questions and formed the basis of the interaction at the Registrar’s office in which Dr Fatima Kyari was also involved.
Against the background that certain expectations are tied to leadership, we wondered about the implications of such video to the political career of the Senator and to members of his family. In most civilized societies, the trust in a leader is eroded the moment they engage in morally reprehensible behaviour. But I recall that in the discussion at the Registrar’s office that day, we were worried by the defiant disposition of the Senator from Yobe who said he owed no one any explanation. He saw what happened as no big deal. For him, it was a personal matter.
In interrogating the scandal, we came to the conclusion that the Yobe Senator could afford to damn everybody because he was already a three-term governor and then a sitting senator, so in a way his political career is more or less behind him. The question therefore is: Can anyone in this room today get away with such scandal? I doubt. That is because your own political/professional careers are yet to begin.
Many of you here are potential presidents, governors and senators. The sort of indiscretions that the Yobe Senator and many other public officials are allowed to get away with today would not be carried over to your generation. In fact, I am almost certain that if anybody in this room were to be the character in that sordid video clip, the future of such a person is already in jeopardy.
While many of our political leaders grossly underestimate the influence of social media and cannot comprehend how its dynamics amplifies their duties and responsibilities to their followers, it is not the same with your generation. Every indiscretion is being recorded and could become a weapon against you tomorrow. You must therefore note that among those following you on social media are friends, enemies, fans and well-wishers as well as potential employers, admission officers, potential investors/business partners, and competitors. Your relationships or potential relationships with these different individuals and organizations will be made or broken by their perception of your personality and character.
Let me explain that briefly. In this age, it is a normal thing to vet new people that you are proposing to have dealings or relationships with, either personally or professionally. And the quickest and simplest way to vet someone is to check out their online profiles. It’s quite like when you meet a girl or a guy at a party. The person seems nice looking, intelligent and with good manners. You had drinks and a nice conversation at the party but you are still not sure if he or she is the right person to invest your affection in. The next thing is to check out the person’s Facebook or Instagram page to learn a little more about them. What the person portrays through their social media profiles influences your impression, estimation and ultimately your attraction to that person.
It is the same for schools and businesses. They want to be more assured of the sort of persons they are admitting into their communities which is why these organizations are increasingly turning to social media platforms to vet applicants. Studies and surveys have revealed that it’s conventional for at least between 30- 40% of employers and colleges in the United States and United Kingdom to dig into the social media and online presence of applicants. To show how important they take this, some college applicants have had their admissions rescinded based on social media posts.
In June this year, no fewer than 10 students who had been admitted into Harvard University had their admissions rescinded after posting obscene jokes in a Facebook chat group. The memes included jokes about pedophilia, child abuse, sexual assault, and the Holocaust. Meanwhile, the official Facebook page for students admitted to join the Harvard Class of 2021 (those entering this session) clearly warns students that “Harvard College reserves the right to withdraw an offer of admission under various conditions including if an admitted student engages in behavior that brings into question his or her honesty, maturity, or moral character”.
If you think that can only happen in America then you are not paying attention to what is going on in your country. According to Young People’s Consumer Confidence (YPCC) Index, close to 10% of Nigerians between the age of 16 and 24 and 5% of those between age 25 and 34 have already been rejected from Jobs because of their comments and pictures posted online.
You are now at the stage in your lives where you will be exploring your identity to find your place and purpose in society. But the decisions you take today could affect the trajectory of the rest of your life. You must therefore be mindful that social media has both serious and frivolous sides but the line between the two can be thin and blurry. Your intention to make light of certain issues could have more serious consequences than you intended. Also, as with all forms of communication, context could be lost which ultimately affects the message you are trying to send or image you are trying to portray.
Before I conclude, I will like to offer some concrete tips on acceptable conducts on social media platforms and forums. Now, I am not saying you should not express your opinions or individuality. Indeed, the essence of social media is defeated if you can’t express yourself freely. But you must also remember that freedom comes with responsibility.
There are some indulgences that are part of college life. This is when the party animal in you is let loose and you are most susceptible to peer-pressure to experiment. At some stage in everyone’s life, we are all prone to errors of poor judgment but when you decide to broadcast your indiscretions to the world on social media, be sure you know what you are doing. Such displays could project a character of questionable judgment to an admission officer or employer. Therefore, if you must post anything on drinking/party related activities you need to ensure that the image depicts good and clean fun. There is a difference between a picture where you are well dressed with a glass of beer and another where you are grinding bodies beside a table littered with bottles. And recording sex scenes in which you are involved cheapens you. Besides, should that video get into wrong hands, as they most often do, you have a lifetime of regret in your hands.
Social media can be a provocative place especially for those that don’t suffer fools gladly. You just can’t help yourself and you feel pushed to put the knucklehead in his/her rightful place. But it’s generally a bad idea to post when you are angry. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people in this country with anger issues. Perhaps as a result of the economic situation, many Nigerians seem wired to explode at the slightest provocation. Yet you should know by now that the things you say and do in that moment of anger can do a lifetime of damage to you and to others. My advice is: Never ever post when you are angry.
Let me share with you this morning a story that I will be sharing for the first time. As spokesman to the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, one of the most difficult decisions he made was appointing the Nigerian Ambassador to the United States. Ordinarily, that should be a simple matter but it was not. It’s actually a long story but I will abridge it. The ambassador at the time was retired Brigadier General Oluwole Rotimi, a former Military Governor of Lagos State, a respectable senior citizen. At a point, Ambassador Rotimi had some disagreements with his supervisory Minister, the late Chief Ojo Maduekwe. In the process, they also exchanged some angry memos.
In one of the memos, Rotimi described his minister as a tribalist before he added: “I have dealt with people like you in the past. I was the Adjutant General of the Nigerian army that thoroughly defeated your ragtag Biafran army.” The late Maduekwe attached the memo, underlined the offending paragraph and sent it to the late president with a covering note that Rotimi lacked the temperament for the office. That line, probably written in anger, marked the end of the ambassadorial career of Rotimi. But the story did not end there.
After the next nominee had to be withdrawn on account of a problem involving his step son, my late boss called a former governor from the South-west now of blessed memory and requested for a respectable nominee without blemish. The former governor came to the Villa and personally brought the CV of his nominee who turned out to be a respected former naval officer who had also been a military governor in the sixties. You will wonder why all these nominees had to be Yoruba. It is because the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had, at that point, zoned the position to the South-west. With that nominee, President Yar’Adua felt the problem had been resolved until a copy of Nigerian Tribune edition of 1994 surfaced.
In the paper, there was an interview in which this new nominee, apparently due to his frustrations about the political situation in the country vis-à-vis the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, made some disparaging comments about people from a section of the country. The moment the newspaper interview was brought to the attention of my late boss, that nomination was also withdrawn. The message here is simple: there are consequences for everything you say in the public arena and in the age that you are in, there is no bigger arena today than the social media.
If it is a bad idea to post when you are angry it is even worse when you take it to the extent of violent threats to a person or group of people. When you move beyond insults and abuse to enter the realm of hate speech or threatening bodily harm to others, there are serious implications for that. But beyond the threat of violence, you should be careful not to even project an image or predisposition to violent conduct in any way.
In this age when everybody is acting as the star of their own shows, it is common for people to record themselves on videos, saying all manner of things. I have seen videos of people asking others to go and commit mass murder by poisoning the waters in certain sections of the country. There are calls to arms against people that some consider different from them. There are incitements against Nigerians residing in certain locations to leave and go back to where their ancestors were buried. The internet is full of postings by crazy people. I hope all those involved know that they are on record and that they have children. They may be enjoying themselves today but tomorrow, some of those video clips will speak.
It is almost always a bad idea to use social media to drag your teachers, school or place of work. It is worse when you are still associated with such organizations. Just last year, a student of the University of Lagos, Adeyeye Olorunfemi of the Faculty of Environmental Sciences was rusticated for a Facebook post criticizing the management of the University. Even if you don’t mind burning bridges with the organization in question, it leaves potential schools and employers thinking that if you can do this to others what is to stop you from doing this to them when you feel offended or mistreated. That could actually cost you admission or a job opportunity.
Sometimes you may think you are having fun but if you offend the sensibilities of others in the process, there may be consequences, serious consequences. For instance, there is an on-going row concerning British Airways with a campaign by many Nigerians that the airline be boycotted. It started last Friday evening when one of their crew members on the London-Abuja flight got her one-minute of fame on Snapchat. In a moment of youthful exuberance, the lady was filmed inside a vehicle talking down on Nigerian passengers. The video was reported to the Daily Mail of London and following the publication, BA is already investigating the story that may lead to the termination of her appointment. So before you post that photograph or video clip, make sure you take a deep breath, put the phone down, and think. One moment of madness can lead you into a lifetime of agony and regret.
Permit me to stress that this presentation is not only about how to be responsible in using social media but also on how to be an effective leader in the midst of social media space. And the conversation of effective leadership in this present time is as important as it would be ten or twenty years from now. We now have in our hands the time and opportunity to turn things around and with speed. But with social media, we cannot delegate accountability and because of that, you must be more responsible. Be well aware that you cannot disown a statement or actions already expressed. So, even while making things go viral is easy, lack of control could result in terrible consequences.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, the essence of my presentation this morning is not to scare you away from social media. You need it. Technology is changing the way we live, communicate and go about our daily businesses. It will continue to be so in this age of innovation and creativity. In fact, let me conclude with a recent statement credited to our Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed that he is not on social media.
As expected, the reactions were swift and harsh, with many referring to him as a Stone Age minister. I will not join the online mob to lynch the minister who is obviously on social sideline, as I was for a long time until recently. I will only recommend for his reading pleasure “The 4 Billion Dollar Tweet: A Guide for Getting Leaders Off the Social Sidelines”, by Ryan Holmes.
This book was inspired by the tweet of then president-elect (now President) Donald Trump which caused a $4 billion single day fall of Lockheed Martin stock, after the management of the company failed to comment. The book outlines six pillars designed to get wary leaders off the sidelines into the social media buzz. Although the intended target is business, political leaders will also find the book very useful.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, as I take my seat, let me share a joke that I have used several times because it depicts the reality of the present generation that should appeal to you. It is about raising a family in cyberspace based on a conversation between a girl and her daddy:
Girl: “Dad, I’m in love with a boy who is far away from me. I am in UK and he lives in Nigeria. We met on a dating website, became friends on Facebook, had long chats on WhatsApp, he proposed to me on Skype, and now we’ve had two months of relationship through Viber. I need your blessings and good wishes daddy.”
Dad: “Wow! You have my blessing to get married on Twitter, and I believe you can have fun on Tango. You can even buy your kids on E-bay and send them to school through Gmail. And if you are fed up with your children and husband, you have the option of selling them on Amazon!”
Now, you can all go back to your phone to check your latest updates. Thank you very much for listening and good morning.
- Text of the lecture by Olusegun Adeniyi, Chairman of THISDAY Editorial Board, at BAZE University, Abuja, on 26th September, 2017