Engaging in Healthy Conversation on Social Media

If you are seeing this, there’s a possibility that you are active on social media. I have some questions I want to ask you.

First, would you agree there is a broad problem on social media engagement between people?

Second, would you agree that it is about you and us in general to be responsible and accountable for our actions on the platform?

Third, do you agree we need to be introspective and ask ourselves why, what and how we use these digital tools?

Social media has rapidly changed the nature of communication. Communication is a basic feature of human being. We are social creatures and communication is a core part of us.

Sharing opinion online has become an integral part of our everyday life. The need for us to continually remind ourselves that there would always be a difference of opinion and perspective is a foundation. Opinions are not necessarily facts, and perspectives can be different because it is based on a variety of factors.

All too often, the slightest difference of opinion can provoke an immediate and vicious reaction and this tends to divide us, rather than make us more curious about the other’s point of view.

So what now?

It is important to pause, think and be deliberate about what we post, and how we frame it with the understanding that the social media platform is design for humans with feelings and emotions.

Online conversation may be uncomfortable or even tense at times. However, the point is not to agree on every single thing or discourse. Once we start to mutually respect and accept that people can have different perspectives, we can become more open and engage in healthier form of online conversation and engagement.

Speaking to Tekenah, Economist / Finance Professional, Mr Yinka Ogunnubi shares his perspective on how young people can have healthy online conversation with others whose opinion differ.

He says, it is important for us to acknowledge that we are different, and every single one of us have a unique perspective, shaped by our life experiences and the people around us. This means, people can have differing opinions about the same things. “A man that is standing on top of a building will have a different view than a man that is standing at the base of the building, or a mountain or a valley, so your point of view is reflective of where you stand or where you have been.

“We must recognize the uniqueness of human nature that itself, feeds two different opinions.”

Ogunnubi recalled in retrospect: “I’m not old, but during our own days, debate is something that was celebrated in schools. And it was always a place for intellectual conversation. It challenged people to come to the debating table with an intellectual conversation and the team that had the best argument and can articulate their point always won”

“So if you grow up in that kind of generation, there’s a sense that you’ll like intellectual rigour, what we call “gbas gbos” now on social media. We like to come to a place of conversation ready to articulate and debate your point, and also with understanding that the other person will also present their facts, but it will be done in an atmosphere where you respect rules, and where you respect the opponent, without the need to abuse, bully or mob”

“It is done in such a colourful way that it comes out so beautiful. I always say that there are over 171,000 words in the English dictionary that you combine into various shapes to be able to very well put forward your points without resorting to insults and defamation and derogatory terms.”

He says there is need to respect, and step into the shoes of the other person, imagine ourselves in that person’s shoes and try to acknowledge their experiences and truth and see what that makes us do. We will most likely empathize, or it is going to make us most likely understand and probably influence the way that we respond. That way there is likely to be more healthy conversation and more healthy debate.

When faced with negative comments online, Ogunnubi says just like a scripture that says “a gentle answer turns away wrath.” When someone says something in a rude and aggressive way, whether it is was justified or not, if you respond in kind, it is going to escalate the conversation downhill. The tone in response, causes the other person to have a choice to either continue being obnoxious or bring about a more healthier way the conversation would go.”

Naturally, Social Media provides anonymity. Users can be virtually anonymous, and thus, unaccountable. It is not designed like debating platforms, and there’s no set of rules for how people should interact with each other, or at least a set of rules which everyone abides by.

But social media companies have an obligation to safeguard users of their platform. It is their social responsibility to ensure that it is not causing harm.

Ogunnubi acknowledges that while there are no rules on social media, it is a fantastic platform that enables us engage, interact, and make connections beyond the people we can see in person. So we must not “take advantage of the anonymity. If you abuse the opportunity, you will not just block your access to that person directly, because that person can exercise the right to block or mute you, you might also prevent a lot of other people, because the person can decide to leave the platform.

“Even if there is no rule on engagement on social media, I’m not sure there can ever be any rule. But if people can understand that we can have healthy conversation, we can actually debate, we all cannot agree on something, but we can all find convergence about what we agree on, and find a common ground despite our different opinion, then that’s a platform to which we can build on, and go forward with,” Ogunnubi said.

Publisher of The Columnist Ng, Yusuf Mohammed added, “Interaction on Twitter has become toxic in recent years. Spewing hate online is in vogue. It’s fashionable to be rude. It was called savagery before. Now it is violence. We have normalized incivility on Nigerian Twitter and it isn’t good for our image.

“Hate begets hate and it affects people’s mental health. A youth committed suicide as a result of it last year. I pray we don’t allow it become part of our culture.

“There must be a conscious effort on the part of every literate to put an end to this madness. All hands must be on deck. How do we become more tolerant? How do we end bullying of people with opposing views? It’s simply by speaking out. Every well meaning person should lend his voice to this campaign against cyber bullying.

“We should learn to agree to disagree.

“It’s unfortunate that most of the people that young people look up to on Twitter aren’t leading by example. They set the tone for what we are witnessing today.

“While we call on Intellectuals, men and women of integrity to be involved in politics. We also need to call on them to be involved in the social spaces in order to restore a semblance of sanity.

“We must all be united in calling a spade a spade. When we see someone cursing at another unprovoked, we should condemn instead of clapping.

“This problem isn’t going anytime soon but the fact that people are recognizing it as a problem is a great step to figuring out a solution.”

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