Friday, 23 September 2016

Leaders and Social Media Activists: A piece of Advice

picture sourced from
By Dr. Ahmed Adamu

My attention is drawn to the detention and arraignment of some social media activists in Katsina state. Prosecution of social media activists is not new in this country, as numerous social media commentators were interrogated, detained or imprisoned in the past at different levels and under different administrations (including the current administration). I write this small piece to give advice to both leaders and social media activists.

To Social Media Activists:

1.       When you get any news, investigate before you share. “O you who believe if an evil person comes to you with a news, verify it first, for fear that you may harm people in ignorance, and afterwards you become regretful to what you have done” Quran 49:6.  This mandates us to always confirm an information we hear from others, and teaches us that if we share unverified information, we will harm others and we will regret our action.  For initiators of false information, know that you are evils, and you should not endanger innocents by selling them fabricated news. Any news relating to government or any person should be verified by reaching out to the individual or government media aids. Any information that is not verified shall not be worthy of publication, no matter how appealing it will be to the audience. Prophet (SAW) said “Say the truth, or remain silent”. He also warned us to guard our tongue, and try our best to use it in the right direction. Investigative journalism is highly encouraged to avoid regrets.

2.       When you want to criticise or advice leaders, first do it in private if you have the chance. Prophet (SAW) said “whoever wants to advice a leader with a matter, he should not do so in public, but let him take him (the leader) by the hand and go into privacy with him and then advise him. If he accepts it from him then that is good, and if not, then he (the advisor) has fulfilled that which was upon him (to do).” So, the manner we are taught to criticise and advice rulers is first private. Leaders can be advised privately in the first instance. If there is no single opportunity to reach the leader, an open letter can be written in case someone close to the leader may come across it and deliver the message, but this has to be in respectful manner, and based on substantiated facts and evidences.

3.       It gives good feeling to be the first person break a news, and that is why some journalists are eager to share information to take the credit, and as such they cannot wait any longer to allow time for little and easy verification. They are afraid someone will share the news before them. My advice is that it is better to share truth late than to share false first. This adds to the integrity and reliability of your media outlets.

4.       We are all human, we can make mistakes. Anytime you share a wrong message, always be humble to use the same medium to discard it, and clarify issues immediately. Try and apologise to the individual or entities affected publicly.

5.       Social Media activists should not be subjective, they should be objective to criticise, advice and praise where necessary. This will make them reliable government performance indicators. They should give more advices than criticism, or both.

6.       Activists should note that freedom of expression allows people to express their own ideas and opinion freely through speech, writing, and other forms of communication BUT without deliberately causing harm to other’s character and/or reputation by false or misleading statements.

To Leaders:

1.       According to Carey Nieuwhof “Leaders should not focus on being liked, If they do, the won’t lead. As a leader you must be kind when people are not, even if it hurts and it will hurts “. Effective leaders must be prepared to be mocked, misunderstood, and misquoted. The Prophet was abused and attacked with negative words, and he was physically attacked. Garbage, stones and dusts were thrown at him. One day, when the daughter of the Prophet became angry and crying for her father’s humiliation, the Prophet told her “My daughter, weep not, for verily the Lord will be your father’s helper”. The Prophet was called madman, magician and many other evil names. He remained patience, he rather pray good for the people that hurt him.  He was advised by Allah (SWA) to be patient and respond with good actions: “So, be patient in the face of what they say” Quran 50:39. “Do not be grieved by what they say” 10:65.  “Repel the evil  with that (deed) which is better, and thereupon the one whom between you and him is enmity will become as though he was your devoted friends” 41:34. Therefore, leaders must be willing to accept people’s weakness and be kind to them, by this the politicians will be recruiting new allies that will vote for them in the future.

2.       In the modern democracy, elections are won far before the election time, and a leader is judged by the way he reacts in difficult circumstances. Maimonides said “I will destroy my enemies by converting them to friends”, and Robert Green said “a former enemy will be more loyal than a friend, because he has more to prove. In fact, you have more to fear from friends than from enemies. If you have no enemies, find a way to make them”. So enemies are not that so harmful to have.

3.       Leaders should identify all social media activists and give them the required capacity building, so that they can be more professional. They can be empowered with money to run their pages. Social activism is a form of formal job, so it can help in curbing unemployment and poverty.

4.       Leaders should create constant and frequent press briefings, where all media practitioners can attend and know about government works and ask any kind of question for clarification.

5.       As I observed, our political leaders now have many media aids, these aids should always put their eyes and ears on emerging rumours and updates on social media, and make clarification when necessary immediately. Leaders should not let people define who they are, they should always have to craft how they would want people to view them, this cannot be achieved without constant explanations and briefings especially to journalists.

6.       Government should not scare opposition, without opposition government cannot assess its performance, if oppositions are silenced, politicians would not know when they lose ground. If government observed too many valid opposition, it means it needs to adjust and do better.

      Finally, the people in authority should let go these young men, but caution them to be careful and put them on a professional training (if they are guilty). Who knows the politicians (under the current administration) might need them (and their followers) again in 2019. What I will recommend is reconciliation without the need to go to court. Government should not stoop so low to waste resources in prosecuting these poor young men. These young men are the children of government, they can make mistakes, and they can make it up. If they are found in any form character defamation of the government, they can be forced to apologise and undertake not to repeat it, and they should use their pages to counter their earlier posts.

      Let peace and harmony reign!!

Dr. Ahmed Adamu,
Petroleum Economist and Development Expert,
Pioneer Global Chairperson of Commonwealth  Youth Council,
University Lecturer (Economics), Umaru Musa Yar’adua University Katsina.

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