“I once said, ‘If you want to liberate a society, all you need is the Internet.’ I was wrong. I said those words back in 2011, when a Facebook page I anonymously created helped spark the Egyptian revolution. The Arab Spring revealed social media’s greatest potential, but it also exposed its greatest shortcomings. The same tool that united us to topple dictators eventually tore us apart.” Wael Ghonim TedTalk March 2011
One of the most active battlegrounds for the liberation of Ambazonia is on social media: Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter in descending order of usage. Like with most revolutions, free speech is often the first casualty. I write today to bemoan the dictatorial tendencies that have characterized many Ambazonian WhatsApp fora. One cannot but denounce the actions on the SCNC forum where group administrators have let emotions not reason get the better side of them as they yank members off the group’s WhatsApp forum. Unfortunately, this is becoming a norm rather than the exception.
The SCNC WhatsApp group emerged in November 2016 as a fundraising tool where people made pledges to support the budding revolution at the time and served well when that lone objective reigned. It soon became a place where people settled personal vendetta. With the emergence of the SCACUF’s Governing Council, the attack dogs went wild. Today, this has gone viral.
This unfortunate reaction appears to have been fueled initially by the posting of a video message recorded and widely disseminated by Edwin Suh on social media lambasting the flawed process that birthed Sisiku AyukTabe’s leadership of the Governing Council of SCACUF. Clearly, criticism of any form against the Governing Council of SCACUF became anathema on the SCNC forum.
Let me state clearly that I do not subscribe to the “anything goes” social media school of thought. Free speech or better still freedom of expression is not license to “any” and “everything.” There is such a thing as abuse and hence the need for etiquette on social media.
The fun of it is that “WhatsApp” is a free service provided for information sharing and community building. Is it not greed that one is provided a service gratis and he turns around to purge others from enjoying the same? Each group that avails of this service is supposed to have its defining ethos; these have to be carefully and clearly delineated for all members to understand. This too cannot be done willy-nilly but must be agreed to. There is no evidence of such discussions, guidelines and rules set forth on the SCNC WhatsApp forum. While the argument could be made for unwritten guidelines, such do not resolve the problem of borderline cases. We cannot let this be dictated merely by common sense or willy-nilly at the whims and caprices of a select puritan few.
On the SCNC WhatsApp forum, there has been a vocal coterie shouting out: fie, fie, fie to members who dare challenge otherwise comfortable positions. When a house is on fire, it is not by occupants shouting that there is no fire that the flames are put out. The fire invariably consumes the house and the naysayers or deniers. Let us never forget that just as “ignorance is bliss,” so too is “knowledge power.”
When one looks for the reasons for such intolerance on social media, one cannot lose sight of the fact that dictatorship breeds dictatorship. One understands that having lived under the brunt of a brutal dictatorship, sufferers too invariably become dictators of some sorts when the opportunity presents itself. What is the difference between the action of the government of la Republique shutting down the internet for over 90 days in the North West and South West regions and administrators of WhatsApp groups throwing people off the forum who even though they agree on the restoration agenda differ on how to accomplish it.
The last time I checked the motto of the SCNC is “Force of Argument and not the argument of force!” These WhatsApp Generals have invariably turned this on its head and using the argument of the force of Group Admin to chase away those whose only force is that of argument. This is undoubtedly an instantiation of cyber bullying which we must eschew. This crass demonstration of two fallacies “Argumentum ad baculum – argument of force” and argumentum ad hominem” is pitiful. Once people cannot comprehend the issues they resort to force and personal attacks.
One finds it intriguing that the purveyors of this banality are enjoying unfettered freedom of speech in the US and yet seek to stifle that of fellow activists on a small chat group on WhatsApp. What is so funny is the fact that these WhatsApp groups are populated just by 260 people and we often mistake the loud noises we make among ourselves as activism. There is a difference between WhatsApp and the other social media like Facebook and Twitter with a better possibility of setting the flame and stoking it to levels of paroxysm. It is foolhardy to continue to deceive ourselves that we can control information flow on WhatsApp and use that to effectively sanitize the struggle.
In civilized society, free speech is a cardinal cornerstone. Freedom of expression cannot be denied those who speak truth to power or who have a different opinion. It is therefore primitive to be shutting people out of Whatsapp forum because they are not ready to sing: Hail, Hail to Sisiku AyukTabe.
Let us take a leaf from the popular American soap opera “Saturday Night Live” and its parody of even the most powerful man on earth, the President of the United States of America, Donald J Trump. Don’t the English say: “What is good for the goose is good for the gander.” We must be careful about the monster we are erecting because it will come back to bite us. We can continue pretending that the king is not naked when he is dressed in Adam’s suit and instead of manning up and dressing up the king, we hurl stones at the court jester who like Shakespeare’s fool in King Lear is speaking truth to power.
We must make ours the words of Voltaire: I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.
In fact, Thomas Jefferson put it correctly: He who fears criticism is hopeless. Only those who do things are criticized. To hesitate for fear of criticism is cowardly. If our cause is right be not afraid of criticism, advocate it, expound it and if need be, fight for it. Critics always have been and always will be, but to the strong minded they are a help rather than a hindrance. Take your part in life’s stage and play your part to the end.