When Olamide shocked live and watching audiences with his rant at the 2015 Headies Award by boasting, ‘street ti take over,’ he very well may have been speaking to the emerging trend of digital hate mobs. Some recent events and the hyper-reactions surrounding them suggest that as was the case with Olamide’s protest, people are missing something here. For, leading up to that award ceremony, Nigerian music had been sliding downward if you take good music to mean lyrics that make sense. Where the legends of Nigerian music used to make music with those kinds of lyrics, nowadays, blowing – the street lingo for making it – means singing meaningless, sometimes offensive lyrics to great beats. The more trivial the music is, it seems, the better the artiste’s chance of blowing.
At the time of that award, Olamide had crowned himself the king of street music, connecting in uncommon ways with a generation that I like to call for want of a beter name, the ‘Dapada Generation.’ It’s a generation that’s carefree, in a hurry for the good life and refuses to learn the fine language that is required for reasonably good conversation. With this generation, a reasonable conversation is impossibly difficult. Tell them the truth, they respond with brash bravado. With the number of times I hear the word, ‘Dapada,’ meaning ‘I reject that’ in simple English translation, It has to be their standard response. And I find a correlation between Olamide’s ‘street ti take over,’ moment and what is happing on social media.
If there was any doubt that the reaction to those appointments by the President of the Senate lacked any logical reasoning behind it, the Tweet from a shadowy account named @primebuharist suggests we are right to think this way. Tweeting on Thursday, June 20, @primenuharist had this to say in reaction to the appointment of a Special Adviser on Media to the President of the Senate:
‘On behalf of BMC worldwide from Whatsapp group 16, we demand a raise from 30k to 60k!!! If the Senate president does not #SackFestusAdedayo now, then we deserve a raise or we go on strike by taking back our brains back temporarily!’
Looking through the thread, you do have another obviously miffed individual, @jackobinyan tweeting on Wednesday, June 19:
‘So you leave people who take bullets for you off & online every day of their lives defending you & what the party stands for to employ your enemies? Same thing we complained about during d #change era @gloria_adagbonis SPOT ON we won’t keep quiet this time around, arant NONSENSE!’
Now, it doesn’t even matter who the folks behind these accounts are, suffice it to say that the activities of this type are symptomatic of a global trend that is gradually making its way into Nigeria. The phenomena, called trolling, is the practice of deliberately disturbing communication or going all out to ruin someone else’s mood or experience while online. Social media management experts are convinced that ‘all a troll wants is to inflict pain, ridicule, and humiliate a targeted person.’ Imagine, if you will, an area boy on social media and it’s easy to understand the mindset of the troll.
They have no intention of engaging in meaningful discourse, so sometimes when you force the issue, they resort to cyber-bullying. The experience of Fredrick Nwabufo, a Facebook user who recently raised alarm about threats to his life, is just one example of the attempt by trolls to take over discourse by silencing those they don’t agree with. Notice the similarities in the tactics of those who are threatening Nwabufo to those of the mob that rose in opposition to the appointments by the President of the Senate: refusal to engage in rigorous discourse or offer any logical reason; make lots of noise, and where it is required, harass and threaten.
When it first started, trolling used to be for fun. People would just try to bait victims into wasting time in off-topic or annoying discussions but not anymore. In an era when many are already alerting the world to the fact that social media represents an existential threat to democracy, trolls are becoming willing tools in the hands of roguish politicians. Troll farms, employing people for the sole purpose of creating conflict and disruption in an online community by posting deliberately inflammatory or provocative comments, has thrived in Macedonia and Russia. Given the attempt by Cambridge Analytica to influence the 2015 Presidential Elections and the recent revelations that Facebook had closed some accounts targeting Atiku Abubakar, the Peoples Democratic Party’s candidate in the 2019 Presidential Election, we may not be far behind Macedonia and Russia.
The danger here is that in the absence of fact-checking projects by mainstream media, there is a real risk that our political process will remain corrupt, unable to allow Nigerians elect the best candidates to lead them. That would be an unfortunate outcome. The reason is simple; the trolls are not committed to anything, at best they do what they do for the money. They may pose as activists, but they are slacktivists who are unlikely to march in support of their principals. Remove the money, their only motivation, and they’re gone. If in doubt, check the threat in the tweet by @primebuharist.
While collecting data for my research on social media use during OccupyNigeria, I was privileged to have met and interviewed the key organisers, and so I know the difference between activists and slacktivists. I can’t imagine Yemi Adamolekun of Enough is Enough (EIE); Yinka Odumakin of Afenifere Renewal Group, Rasak Olokooba, Biodun Sowumi, Mallam Moyo Jaji, Eggheader Odewale, Biodun Komolafe, Japheth Omojuwa, Biodun Sowumi, and the others who were prime movers during the OccupyNigeria protests, condescending to troll those they don’t agree with. Visit the chat room, NaijaPolitics online if in doubt and you would understand the hollowness in the trolls prowling social media these days
It wouldn’t be such a problem if we understand the potential danger, but we don’t need to wait. Some victims of trolling have been driven to commit suicide, forcing government action to control the activities of digital hate mobs, and there might be a need to consider such measures here as well. However, and knowing that an organised response won’t happen anytime soon, it might be useful to know a few ways of dealing with trolls. First, you’ll know you are dealing with a troll if you’re convinced his primary purpose is to try to make you angry, take your points personal, exaggerate when they respond and make unrelated, emotional arguments.
Among other recommendations, by the experts, you could ignore them. If you refuse to be baited into getting into an unnecessary argument, you win. You could also respond facts, which they don’t like but if you persist, they might just leave you alone, knowing you know your game. Additionally, you could diffuse with wicked humour, aimed at ridiculing their ignorance and emptiness. A relevant quote or meme is powerful in this regard. Lastly, you could report them to platform owners especially if there have been personal threats to life as in the case if Frederick Nwabufo, and at the risk of enhancing social media’s dubious credential of being nothing more than an echo chamber, you could block or ban them.
If you asked me which is my preferred option, I’d say once you are convinced you are dealing with a troll, then the last one it has to be. As Don Jazzy did when he said in response to Olamide’s rant, ‘Egbon Olamide, if you want the car, come and collect it,’ at least you would feel good in the knowledge that you are vacating the space for trolls to continue to make a fool of themselves.