By Eunice Ikem
We cannot deny that social media has been and continues to be a very effective and lucrative tool in contemporary society. During the global lockdown, we witnessed a surge in how social media was used by creatives, civil society organisations and business owners for storytelling and public awareness.
However, social media cannot be perfectly adjudged as completely good for societal development given that some platforms are used and can be used to incite violence and perpetrate some negative behaviours, especially towards victims.
Before now, most of the blame was on the social media developers and their various features, which allow users to incite violence. Nevertheless, individuals’ role in creating and spreading false narratives has become a more significant issue. It has been proven that the mindset (which are often tainted by ideologies and false perceptions seems to be a bigger issue. Social media are powerful socialisation agents that may rely on distorted realities, dramatic symbols and stereotypes to communicate messages.
The proliferation of social media platforms in the 21st century has changed the way media content is produced and distributed. This should be a good thing, yet; many use these platforms for personal agendas that may not benefit others. The medium also encouraged users to get complete control of posting material without care of copyright laws of infringement or libel/obscenity regulations.
Realising that people’s opinions can incite violence and perpetrate some negative behaviours, sensitive cases are still being judged on social media. In fact, there’s a term called ‘Social Media Court‘ where people who may not have access to all the information regarding a case tend to have very strong opinions on the case. These comments, whether positive or negative, these comments can affect the victims if they have access to these platforms. The stigmatisation of the sexually abused victims on social media may also account for more reasons why rape incidences are silenced mainly by victims and their family members who consider the impact of such reports on their son or daughter and family reputation.
But the question now is: Can progress be made on the fight against sexual violence without victims sharing their stories on social media?
Social media has helped facilitate rape discourse in Nigeria by providing a platform where survivors can share their stories and create awareness about the problem of sexual abuse. With no one to speak to, victims of sexual violence and harassment and their supporters are now turning to social media to tell their stories experiences and call out their perpetrators, but after all of these, does it make them better, do they heal and go back to their everyday life.
As stated earlier, social media is an effective tool that has come to stay. However, the pressing question remains how beneficial it is for the mental health of survivors when in most cases, the only place they can share their stories and push for justice is through social media? These are fundamental questions that need answers in other to make social media a safe place to talk about sensitive issues without the fear of backlash, hate and violence.
On the other hand, a good impact of social may is that it connects victims and survivors with organisations that can help with coping mechanisms. Various organisations have also set out to educate the general public on reacting when people come out with their stories. This constate education, we believe, can end the victim shaming and bullying that happens online.
In conclusion, it is essential to unlearn harmful behaviours and ideologies that taints one’s mindset. Try to understand that when a victim shares their story, it takes a lot of courage to do so. No one ever plans to be a victim, and abuse can happen to anyone. So before you make that post or that comment, try to be sympathetic even in demanding clarity.
At STER, we do not condone any form of victim-blaming.