By Philip Agbese
Any right thinking person that followed the unfortunate exchange between music superstar, Tiwa Savage and her estranged husband, TeeBliz, would likely balk at the glee with which some celebrated the crisis that hit their marriage. The sense one gets is to start querying if the larger population of Nigeria’s online community are sadists or undiagnosed anarchists waiting for the next disaster to roll out the drums in tempo to the depraved kick they get from all that make other people sad.
But some will argue that the couple called for it by doing their laundry in the cyberspace and that being entertainers, nothing stop people from getting entertained at their expense.
However, what perverted joy could one derive from the casualty suffered by the Army of one’s country when almost every citizen of this country is connected to or at least knows one person serving in the military?
This query is the product of the manner some section of the nation’s online population become jubilant whenever they read about the military recording injuries or casualties in the anti-terror fight. The new low for this crowd is the picture that was shared out of ignorance and passed off to look like the bodies of soldiers killed in an ambush by insurgents in Gubio, Borno state last week. As would be expected of persons that have relegated their thinking to internet servers, which they cannot even search for proper recall, they latch onto the picture with the sole intent of making it go viral.
Unfortunately, an educated search would have easily persuaded them to drop the picture and seek other ways of maligning men who daily risk their life for the safety of all citizens.
First, that gory picture was showing the corpses of troops of the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) who the AlShabab claimed to have killed in Somalia.
Secondly, that sad incident took place in 2011, about five years from when those who didn’t know better are trying to make it go viral.
Thirdly, the crowd that was aflutter about announcing the casualties suffered by Nigeria’s military does not even know what colours of uniforms their nation’s security agencies use; if they knew they would have realised that the uniforms in the picture do not belong to their country.
We must as a country however be wary of dismissing the re-surfacing of this five year old picture as the handiwork of misguided and ignorant persons. There is that teeny possibility that those behind the picture have a more sinister motive – the meta details of the picture has been cleaned out in what could have been an attempt to obfuscate its origins. It is therefore possible that the cyber wing of Boko Haram are at work to: one, boost the morale of fleeing terrorists while dampening the national morale by creating the impression that the military is being decimated by insurgents; two, cause outrage among the troops with a view to provoking mutiny and large scale desertion.
If those behind this latest picture are Boko Haram sympathisers or they belong to the internet wing of the terror group, then Nigerians should be ready for more of such pranks now that the group’s fighting forces have been disrupted while what is left of them is being mopped up on daily basis. In the past, these same people had shared an old picture of combatants killed in the Sudanese crisis and touted them as the casualty suffered by Nigeria’s military in the hands of terrorists. So, it is something they will do again in the hope that unwary Nigerians would fall for it.
The other type of people that should learn to exercise restraint on social media are those who ignorantly share pictures on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter as well as on instant messaging platforms like BlackBerry Messenger and Whatsapp. This category of people unwittingly make content go viral without malicious intent as they are often victims of their own internet and social media addiction. They will hit “Like” on a Facebook post announcing the untimely death of young person; will respond with smileys and “LOL” to a Twit reporting a fire disaster; broadcast gory pictures to their contact list without verifying the story behind them.
Thankfully, true Nigerians on the internet pointed out the foibles of posting such picture and claiming it depicted Nigeria’s war dead to Boko Haram. These are the people that recognise the true meaning of national interest and national pride. The purveyors of the sickening plot would join other discussions to discuss how the United States is great but where have they seen that country’s citizens even attempting to depict its 4,491 Iraqi war dead in ways that would impact morale?
Whether done with malicious intent, done out the force of habit or just the result of low IQ, the growing diet of horror pictures is, like its fast food equivalent, doing untold damage to all of us. How many of us still cringe at the sight of the pictures of massacre that are now freely shared around? Regular doses of sickening pictures have conditioned us to accept it as the new normal, albeit a bad normal. In fact, an unscientific gauge of the damage already done is that it is now usual for people to pose for “selfies” at accident and disaster scenes instead of cringing at the sight confronting them. One hopes that Nigerian researchers may be able to tell us one day about the relationship between the growing popularity of horror pictures and the growing incidents of violent attacks that end in the loss of life. Publicising this kind of picture is therefore a threat to us all.
The display of this kind of pictures might have become the norm for intellectual collaborators of terrorists to weigh down on the morale of troops and their families but we have the responsibility to make it stop in our collective interest. It is heinous and horrifying to lower our institutions in the eyes of the public and before the international community. I strongly believe and advocate that this should be the last and there should be a way to address anyone who lends his/her platform to such mischievous use.
*Agbese writes from the United Kingdom