You’ve heard the myths about Social Media and its influence over OccupyNigeria; now it’s time to try and make sense of what role Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms played during those protests. I’ve been on the whole project of how new media impacts the political process in Nigeria for close to six years, beginning with my research into social media use during OccupyNigeria.
Of course, there’s always a tendency to overstate the democratic credentials of social media, not the least because it’s always been considered, along with the Internet as ‘technology of freedom.’ For good reasons, compelling arguments have been pushed and continue to be made for and against.
While techno-optimists like Clay Shirky, Yochai Benkler have led the argument that the Internet and new media would help improve economies and democracies, techno-pessimists like Evgeny Morozov, Geert Lovink, have always questioned their overall contributions.
Socio-political events such as the Arab Spring, the Occupy movements, the elections of Barack Obama and Donald Trump have been hailed as victories for new media. The perceived roles played by convergent media in shaping the outcomes of those events encourages many sometimes to romanticise and overstate the impact of social media in politics.
OccupyNigeria, like the Arab Spring, was hailed as a victory for social media activists but is it? Some studies are indeed questioning the real impact of the new media on democracies, with many of the opinion that their influence on the political process is limited.
As critical studies have found with respect to the Egyptian protests, the political climate was ripe for activists to rise up against the authoritarian government of Hosni Mubarak. True, studies found that web 2.0 and social networking sites provided the space for protesters and activists to mobilise and share information. So, while the Egyptian protests were called ‘Facebook’ or ‘Twitter’ revolutions, studies confirmed that the platforms only functioned as tools, rather than being the actual causes of the ‘revolutions.’
The result of the qualitative research I conducted in 2013-2014, on the use of social media for political activism in Nigeria produced similar outcomes to those from the studies of the Egyptian protests.
As in Egypt, many within and outside Nigeria hold the belief that social media was responsible for the success of the popular OccupyNigeria protests of January 2012 even though the research outcome suggested otherwise. My interest was to answer questions like: ‘what is the role of social media in politics in new democracies like Nigeria? The other line of inquiry has to do with: ‘how do activists use social media in organising socio-political?’
In my attempt to get the answers, I tracked down the principal actors in the protests – Yinka Odumakin, Segun Bakare, Omololo Omokhalen all of the Save Nigeria Group; Yemi Adamolekun of Enough is Enough (Nigeria); Dayo Ogunlana of the Coalition of Self Determination Groups (COSEG), Biodun Komolafe (Afenifere Renewal Group); Eggheader Odewale, Japheth Omojuwa; Razaq Olokaba; Remi Omowaiye and Tolu Ogunlesi. All of them were asked the same questions mentioned earlier to try and reconstruct as much as possible, the events of those protests.
The summary of my findings are published in a separate article on the failed attempt in 2017 by the music artiste, Tuface Idibia, to organise a protest against hardship in the country, but the full report is now available here.
There’s no doubt that social media expands the space for dis and indeed one study has found citizens are becoming more involved in democracy in ways that were previously impossible.