1.1 BACKGROUND TO THE STUDY
The rising of the Information Communication Technology particularly social media have made the public domain to grow while information that used to be in the expert domain is becoming publicly available and new mechanisms for public involvement are being explored.
According to Oknokwo, (2019) in a political chat on Channels Television prior to the 2019 General Election in Nigeria established that members of the mass media are no longer the only body setting agenda on socio-political and economic matters in this era of citizen journalism as citizens are now part of the agenda setters who set it through their social media timeline, group, blog and many other online platforms, which prevented media monopoly and hegemony.
Today, people can discuss government policies, programmes, activities and pass their judgment through social media which translates to their participation in governance. These activities when carried out among the citizens is called citizens journalism or civic journalism.
For instance, kidnapping of the over 200 Chibok school girls some six years ago was known within few days and went viral on social media with different opinions. Also, the release of 21 Chibok girls became an issue of debate among Nigerians on social media, blogs, Webpages and so on within few seconds of the incidence with different headings and picture picked from different angles. The same occurred when the government announced the removal of fuel subsidy, down to the recent announcement of sales of government asset.
However, advancement in Information and Communication Technology otherwise known as new media in this 21st century has revolutionized all facets of human activities including communication, interaction and politics.
Kur (2004, p. 32) in Awake Magazine (2002) posits that the dynamic nature of the 2lst century and more centuries to come rest on technological revolution. No wonder, Marshall McLuhan, a Canadian English Professor in 1964 propounded the concept of “Global Village” regarding the entire globe as having the potentials of becoming a “global community” where information and news about anything and anywhere in the world would be readily available for anyone’s consumption in any part of the world (Christopher, 2012).
Vangie, (2015, p. 1) says as of August 07, 2015 there was an estimated three billion, one hundred seventy nine million, thirty five thousand two hundred (3,179,035,200) Internet users worldwide. The number of Internet users represents nearly 40 percent of the world’s population. According to world meters.info, world population is below 7.4 billion with projection that more than 5 billion people will be online by 2020 (Cicso, 2015).
The country with the largest number of Internet users is China, followed by the United States and India, according to statistics in September 2014. On the African continent, Nigeria is top among the users of internet with 86,219,965, as at March 30, 2016.
According to Adedeji (2015) in Suomen Toivo – “Think Tank” (2012) writes that “social media are new information network and information technology using a form of interactive communication skills, where users produce the content of information and interpersonal relationships are established and maintained in the process. A typical social media services could be content sharing, web communities, or an Internet forum.
On the social media, the users are not passive like in the case of television, radio, and newspaper; rather they are now active in the formation and exchange of information (Adedeji, 2015).
Information that emanated from a member of the forum might become topical and even spread beyond where it was first discussed. For instance, the issue of three ladies who went to make purchase in a popular market in Lagos state, who eventually stole pepper and were given jungle justice. It didn’t take much time as soon as it was uploaded on the social media the U.N and other human rights activist began calling the president of Nigeria for explanation about the happenings in the state. Immediately calls were made, and then governor Fashola took a spontaneous action to resolve the issue. Typical examples of social media include: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google+.
Today, social media is deeply involved in shaping public opinion, perceptions and an awareness of events as they unfold. Information that used to be private domain is now in the public domain as citizens are now part of information gathering and dissemination (Robert and Godwin, 2012, p. 117).
More recently, citizen journalism (also known as public journalism) has become the media equivalent of grassroots democracy. This is because, as each participatory democracy encourages its citizens to participate and contribute to the administration of the state, so citizen journalism allows for public engagement in the media practice.
A tremendous change in the Nigerian political process has been the rise of social media. How social media has influenced politics in Nigeria is prominently shown in the way that political parties were unable to change election results as they were coming out of the various polling stations. The use of platforms such as Facebook, Blackberry Messenger, Whatsapps, Twitter, Blog, MySpace, YouTube and Instagram have emerged as an important means of electioneering and the policing of election results (Audu, 2015).
The same social media that was used for election could also be used for other activities such as checkmating government in the form of cyber activism, cyber mobilization on issues of public interest.
It is against this background that the research examines social media as an effective tool to checkmate activities of governance especially to check government excesses, expressing their opinions, views about government activities; programmes etc. that ordinary might not be possible through traditional mass media.
1.2 STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEMS
It is quite obvious that we are in the information age where social media has come to stay. The need to checkmate activities of governance in the contemporary society cannot be overemphasized.
Over the years, the media have served as a veritable medium where the trend of governance: political decisions, policies, agenda and issues are explored. For this reason, political leaders have been able to perform some actions unopposed because the masses are not informed or do not know the implications. Knowledge they say, is power and the bankruptcy of knowledge makes the abuse of power inevitable. Social media users in Nigeria know little or nothing about the rule or law guiding posting, comments, sharing of information and so on and how to better use it to mobilize against government politics and programmes.
It is not certain therefore, if the social media as the fourth estate of the realm has been an effective tool to checkmate the activities of governance however, social media has the capacity to help the masses in engaging and becoming a full participant of democracy. It is against this backdrop that the research seek to explore social media as an effective tool to checkmate government activities.
1.3 Objectives of the Study
- To examine the influence of social media as a tool to checkmate government activities.
- To examine the extent at which people explore social media to checkmate government activities.
- To examine challenges hindering effective use of social media as a tool for checkmating government excesses among Nigerians.
- To examine whether comments and reactions on social media towards public issues influence government decision making on such matter.
- To study the future of social media as tool in checkmating and holding government accountable.
- Research Questions
- How much influence do social media wield as tool for checkmating governmental activities?
- To what extent are people exploring the social media to checkmate government activities?
- What challenges hindering effective use of social media as a tool for check mating government excesses among Nigerians?
- Do comments and reactions on social media towards public issues influence government decision making on such matter?
- What is the future of social media as tool in checkmating and holding government accountable?
1.5 SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STUDY
This research which is relatively new to the field of mass communication, although some scholars have written on press freedom and mass media, freedom of press and investigative journalism, yet only few of them have ever written on social media and press freedom because it is an emerging area.
Therefore, being a new aspect, the work will benefit bloggers, students and media professionals on the need to use social media appropriately rather than encouraging abuse, name calling and hate speeches on their platforms.
Individuals will benefit from this study because they will know how beneficial the Freedom of Information has empowered them while some of the limitations to their freedom of information will be revealed to them.
Corporate bodies such as Nigerian Union of Journalists, Nigerian Institute of Public Relations, Universal Development Human Relations (U.D.H.R) and other related organizations will through the research know how best to utilize social media and other information technology in mobilizing and checkmating government excesses or calling government to order.
Government alongside its agencies is expected to know why social media is one of the targeted media of dissemination of information, and design policies and regulations that will help to prevent its abuse. That is, government through its agencies such as National Assembly should be conscious of what will be the clauses in the proposed bill if it will be accepted by the society who believes that democracy is about freedom.
Future researchers who many want to carryout researches in this area or related aspect will find these materials as reference point.
The core significance of the study is to add to the body of knowledge in mass communication and fill the gap in the area of press freedom, freedom of speech and expression, social media/online media law in Nigeria among others.
1.6 SCOPE OF THE STUDY
The study which examines social media as an effective tool to checkmate activities of governance has been limited in scope to respondents in Lagos metropolis particularly those in Oshodi, Ojota, Ikeja, Mushin/Ladipo and Yaba/Akoka, respectively for proximity and due to time, fund, geographical structure of Nigeria and other logistics since it is very difficult if not impossible to study all respondents in Nigeria.
The demographic variables of the respondents such as sex, age, income level, educational qualification, religion etc. were considered before the structuring and distribution of the research instrument.
1.8 DEFINITION OF TERMS
Social media: Social media is seen as a forum, a small village where understandable information, communication, feelings and ideas are channeled via internet medium and the message passed reaches across the inhabitants within the shortest time frame.
Checkmate: This refers to a situation when people pass judgment, criticize, express their feelings and opinion on government programmes, efforts, activities etc.
Governance Activities: This refers to the programmes and policies of government such as removal of subsidy, anti-corruption crusade of the present government, recession, Chibok girls, Boko-Haram etc.
Public Participation: It means making people to take part or the process of mobilizing people towards a particular issue or activities.
Governance: The traditions and institutions by which authority in a country is exercised which could be at the local, state and national level.
Freedom of Information Act: Freedom of Information is the act to make public records and information more freely available.
Internet: It refers to global computer network providing a variety of information and communication facilities, consisting of interconnected networks using standardized communication protocols.
Citizen Journalism: This entails citizens using the new media to post comment, articles and other informative messages online.