Most Nigerians accept that we play too much, making a joke out of almost everything, the comical explanation being that you must do this to survive in a ‘terrible’ place like Nigeria. I get the point about the therapeutic importance of approaching serious issues lightheartedly. However, I struggle to understand what is comical when the issues involved are of grave importance and have the capacity to produce dire consequences. A case in point is the story of the young lady who became notorious for a risqué graduation video that suggested she made it through the Federal Polytechnic, Nekede, with the help of God and her private part. It matters little if there is an attempt to modify the girl’s statements to suggest she was thanking her father instead of her private part, which has an informal and offensive name that is close to ‘Popsy’ (father) in pronunciation only in the imagination of idiots. Typically, it’s difficult to determine her motives for the infamous social media post. But whatever it is, it’s another example of a piece of digital content growing out of control to produce unintended consequences.

The outcome is not a surprise, given the unique features of digital contents, notably making them persistent, replicable, searchable and scalable. What it means is that every piece of content has the potential to assume a life of its own, grow out of control and deliver consequences far beyond the intention of the creator. The girl from Nekede created the piece of content and shared it on TikTok, meaning she meant it for public consumption. I bet she had no idea it would earn her the notoriety of being known as ‘the girl who earned a degree with her private part’ and the real threat that her graduation might be delayed depending on the outcome of investigations by the school authorities.

However, as another recent example of a digital content going out of control has shown, you can still be hugely embarrassed even if what you produced wasn’t originally meant for public consumption. In doubt? Ask Empress Njamah who was left red-faced because her estranged boyfriend chose to share her nude photographs and video in revenge for love-gone-sour. Of course, the Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN) should be commended for its stance against the leaked video of one of its members. Their statement on the matter correctly identifies the action of the Nollywood actress’ estranged boyfriend to circulate the videos as blackmail calculated to smear her image and publicly ridicule her. Their statement signed by Kate Henshaw, the AGN’s  Director of Communication, called on the law enforcement agents to arrest the errant ex. The Guild should also be commended for arguing that ‘exposing nude videos of photographs of a person that injure her right to privacy’ is a serious offence that should be dealt with under the law.

The two cases differ in the intention behind the creation of the pieces of digital content but produced similar outcomes once they assumed their own life by thoroughly embarrassing their creators. It did not matter that one published her own on a platform that granted public access to her video while the other only shared hers with someone she thought loved her. This is key to trying to understand why a potentially embarrassing piece of content would be created in the first instance. People can joke all they want about the young girl from Nekede and jump to the defence of the Nollywood star but the psychology behind their actions suggests that more than anything, both women should be pitied. 

First, why do we share content on social media? There are just five broad reasons for sharing and most point to our need to ‘make a statement’ through a piece of content. First, when we share online, the intention is to define who we are through pieces of content that speak to our personal branding. Second, we share in the hope that what we bring is valuable and entertaining to the people in our circle. Third, the very thought of sharing is believed to bring joy and that in itself is the motivation for doing it. Fourth, we share because it helps to grow and maintain our online connections. Then, fifth, sharing allows us to support brands and causes we care about. Not bad, right. Well, that’s until you drill down to try and see what these motivations say of us. Take another look at the list and notice that as harmless as they seem, these motivations might point to something more troubling. Fear of missing out (FOMO), in its two processes – of thinking you are missing out and then compulsively trying to keep up by doing everything to maintain connections – is often associated with negative emotions like lack of sleep, anxiety and reduced life competency.

So, here is the deep concern I have for people like the young lady from Nekede. Even if she slept with lecturers to pass through school, why broadcast that dubious honour? Catching cruise? Hardly, if you understand that she could be showing signs of deep issues bordering on poor estimation of herself. You see more reasons to worry when you examine the psychology behind more expressive content, which is now widespread in the social media space.  Sexting, coined from two English words, ‘sex’ and ‘texting’, initially referred to text messages of sexual content but now includes the exchange of pictures, videos or personal images of sexual content that are shared through mobile phones and electronic devices. Why is sexting popular? Why would people post nude or semi-nude pictures or pieces of content with explicitly sexual language on social media?

From what we know, some people may do it as a form of self-expression or to showcase their bodies in a positive way; others as a way to gain attention or validation from others; while some post these types of pictures as a way to feel powerful or in control. Of course, another reason is peer pressure, given the highly competitive environment of social media, where people may feel pressured to keep up with the appearance and lifestyle of others.

So, sexting, posting revealing pictures and risqué videos can be seen as a way to stand out and gain attention but scratch a bit on the surface and you just might find psychological problems finely disguised by social media posts that make it look like all is well. One study that reviewed existing literature on sexting identified some interesting conclusions. For instance, researchers appear to find a correlation between sexting and insecure or anxious attachment. Anxious adults often seek the approval of their partners, which is why people with this trait are willing to do almost anything to keep their relationship going, including creating and sharing sex videos.  It is no surprise that studies have found that those suffering from depression appear to use sexting to find love and feel loved by others. So, while you are being sanctimonious over Empress Njamah’s leaked video and railing against the invasion of her privacy, note that she just might be suffering from something far worse than a damaged reputation. 

The psychological issues aside, there is always a danger that content stored digitally can fall into wrong hands and make its way into the public. Leaks can occur through malicious intent, as in when you are the target of people who intentionally leak your videos or images in order to embarrass or humiliate you. You might also quite honestly be a victim of accidental sharing, where a piece of content you shared with a trusted friend is shared with others without your permission. Then of course, you can become a victim of leaks through technical errors, in which case a piece of content you stored on your personal device falls into wrong hands. Think of what happens when your device is lost or stolen; or even if you have to drop it for repairs. Many have suffered serious embarrassment because of such unathorised access to their devices and the content in them.

So, what do I think about people like the girl from Nekede and Empress Njamah? Pity them because they show signs of deeper psychological issues that open them to ridicule on social media as well as gross ignorance of the new media environment. Which is why my counsel is for them  to stop creating potentially embarrassing digital content of any type at all.

 Will they listen? I doubt it, after all, they say old habits die hard.