Commentary: Social Media and the Impacts on Liberians today

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Monrovia- Technological advancements have been the epitome of globalization today, with Social Media playing a major role in that regard.

All over the world, billions of people are instantly connected by Social Media. Whether it is personal communication, business adverts or news related, various social media platforms are the fastest means of communication these days. Unlike first time where people used to wait days to get a letter from business partners, friends, relatives and loved ones from certain parts of the world, these days, and in many instances, only a mobile phone connection is required. What is even more fascinating, the use of social media cut across all ages, races, religions as well as cultures. It has created that global connection never seen in the world before. In fact, the conventional method of fax, scanning and emails are gradually being overtaken by social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Imo, Snapchat, Google+, etc. Inasmuch Social Media has created a renaissance in communication and connectivity, it is important to point out the impacts it has on people around the world. From bullying, to fake news as well as being educational and breaking social barriers, Social Media has positive and negative effects, and Liberians are no exception from those two just mentioned.

Although a significant portion of the Liberian population is deemed illiterate (70%), the learning and use of social media even by people who did not have formal education is something that is astonishing. From villages to farms and cities, Liberians have found various social media platforms, especially Facebook as a hub for not just getting connected, but expressing themselves socially, politically, religiously and culturally. Despite some “not too good composition” at times, these people feel that they can partake in issues without being looked down upon or judged based on class with the use of Facebook. In addition, Facebook use by Liberians has broken the social class barrier that once existed to a very large extent. Before the invention of Social Media and the popularity of Facebook among Liberians, social class and affiliations were determined by the school one attend, the name of the church where a person worships, the area they live or even the religion or county they belong to. For example, a strong social belief among young people those days was, people who lived in the various estates and certain areas (Barnersville, Stephen Tolbert, Cabra  and Matadi Estates; Sinkor and Central Monrovia) were considered opened or more exposed than people in lived in other areas. For us who lived in Congo (Americo_Liberians) settlements, we were considered the most closed, unexposed or in the Liberian koloqua, “gbelleh”. Another belief was, certain schools showed some class relevance as well as economic well-being of families; although some families who were not well to do used to try and send their kids to those schools based on “better education” purposes. High Schools like Cathedral, B.W. Harris, St. Teresa Convent, former St. Patricks, Haywood Mission among others were considered top class schools, while Cuttington University was seen as University for kids of elites. However, with Facebook coming into play and the establishment of various political, social and religious groups, Liberians have ignored those social barriers. Many Liberians whether knowing or not knowing each other personally, mingle and interact in groups and on most occasions, these groups make them to see each other for the first time. Various birth month groups have established social bonds among people who share the same birth months and birthdays and are able to interact and associate despite their different backgrounds. Another way Facebook groups have impacted Liberians is by uniting them. A significant example in that regard is the establishment of the Strong Gbana Pekin Show, Liberia’s largest social group on Facebook. The group was founded just after the 2017 elections, which was considered the most divisive election of all time. Within a week after the group was founded, it had 20,000 members, bringing in all major political actors from all political parties as members and having fun socially, basically eliminating all the negative rhetoric which were thrown all ways other during the elections. To date, even the President is a member of that group. Fries FM is another social group that is doing a great deal in bringing Liberians together through the discussion of social issues and fun related posts. Political Groups like the Darius Dillion Center for Intellectual Exchange, The Costa Show, etc, create a space where Liberians can express themselves politically in a free manner. In essence, social media has given Liberians a sense of belonging.

Nevertheless, the negative impacts of social media on Liberians can’t be ignored. In a survey done by The Liberian Billboard, some negative effects were pointed out by Liberians; first among them being promiscuity. According to Liberians on both sides of the gender spectrum, they said Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat use by Liberians, especially the young ones are greatly influencing the establishments of multiple relationships. They said most times people use these apps to message partners they are involved with in either extramarital affairs or many relationships. Mrs. Martha Togba told our correspondent, “Social Media is breaking relationships and marriages all around the place because it is easy to approach somebody you meet on Facebook or other social media platforms without even meeting them”.  Another negative effect cited by Liberians during the survey is the use of Facebook Live by some Liberians to insult and say derogatory things about each other. “Facebook Live is supposed to be used to share special moments but our Liberian people see it as place to say nasty things about each other”, Mr. Wesseh S. Toe told The Liberian Billboard. Some Liberians, mostly the ones in the diaspora usually take to Facebook Live to respond to rumors or negative things said about them by another person, and most times those responses are engraved in insults and very bad comments. This attitude on the part of those Liberians are seen as counterproductive to the unity we seek and place bad images about Liberians to other nationalities. In addition, with social media now known for the spread of fake news and bullying, some Liberians are very active participants in the fray. Bullying among Liberians on social media are known as fries or gees and although it hasn’t really produced real bad consequences as of yet, the practice is becoming traditional in Liberian society. For instance, if the nude picture or video of someone is leaked online, that is called the latest fries or gees. There will be unlimited posts about that issue, and inboxes will be the headquarters of that trending fries or gees. Fake news among Liberians are usually spread as rumors first, and then graduates into news. The last negative impact of social media Liberians observed and told The Liberians billboard is the effect on Liberia’s educational system. Most students hardly pay attention to their school work anymore. Students rather spend more time in Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Imo and Snapchat group chats than spending that time studying. This is evident of the fact that over sixty percent (60%) of high school students failed the just administered WASSCE exams, but most of them are seen on social media all through the day.

Whatever the impacts of Social Media on Liberians, it is a fact that it plays an important role in our society today. The negative impacts cited in this article can only be tackled through individual, parental and spousal actions where they apply. As it is an important ingredient of the communication soup today, Social Media lives on……