How the trending use of social media to inform endangers people’s dignity

What you need to know:

  • It is not a positive contribution to society to perpetuate gossip online and share people’s pictures and videos whose truth is hardly ascertainable about people whose consent was not sought in the first place.

There is no doubt that social media has made communication very handy across the globe. In Tanzania, we are doing well, with people having both the freedom and the means to maximise the social media platforms as they would want to.

However, like any new thing, new guidelines and standards are needed, in order to make the use of the available social media safer and more profitable for everyone.

One risk that social media has come with is the temptation to “record,” to “share,” to “post,” to “forward”, etc. There is, purportedly, not so much thinking involved. I can pass the latter judgment because I observe it in the social media I use myself.

Some people share things that do not match who they are or what would be expected of them. Social media has a kind of sway that eventually makes us normalize sharing with fellow users what we access.

Today most people would assent that they tend to be more careful in public because they can end up becoming popular jokes and memes in a split second. Why? Because there are many people whose first reaction towards something that puzzles them or makes them happy is to record or take pictures.

These pictures and videos are likely to be taken out of context and eventually put the victims in awkward situations.

Think of people recorded secretly while eating, drinking, dancing, swimming, etc. The dignity of these people is at stake because whoever records tends to emphasise what he or she wants to represent as awkward.

Dignity is risked just to get views, likes, and followers on social media.

The evolved version of this intrusive use of social media is when it is done as a job, as some kind of journalism. There are countless videos and pictures online, produced locally in Tanzania, which defame people from mere hearsay.

As such, a simple disagreement with a friend can end up on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and YouTube, where it is then misinterpreted or taken out of context by people who lack both sympathy and wisdom.

There are so many published videos of people accused of witchcraft, infidelity in marriage (cheating), images and videos of violence (or results of violence), etc. which have all the details of those involved as well as their actual faces which endangers their safety and diminishes their dignity.

There are also many recordings which involve minors who are represented or spoken about inappropriately. We are gradually normalising viral stories as news for the public.

There should be limitations regarding what people can share about other people. There should also be implications for violations.

Think of a person who assumes the right to storm someone else’s house while recording everything, without informing them, simply because he owns a YouTube channel. Sharing information for a living does not give one bigger freedom which infringes on the freedom of another.

There is also a trend now where every recorded opinion from anywhere about anything is put on social media, and sometimes, sadly, by reputable media houses. For example, when some local brothels in Dar es Salaam were being ransacked recently, one media house published opinions of those prostitutes’ customers.

One of them said he was sad that the prostitutes were chased away. But, he said: “People should not complain when we begin raping or going after children.” This should have not been in the public media. It is such a weirdly inappropriate opinion. Yet it was published.

The positive use of such a piece of recording was for getting behind bars the person who made that hinting indication of being capable of contemplating raping and going after children. But there was nothing like that.

This goes to show us that the new trend in social media journalism focuses on gathering stories from all around and publishing them without considering the potential harm that such stories can cause, both in social media and in real life.

Think also of situations where popular media publish as news, someone’s photos, names, and residential locations (street), simply because one has a case to answer in court. It is time media houses stop engaging in that because most of those cases are not of public interest.

This is almost like criminalising a person before the court establishes them as guilty or not. It seems some journalists only wait at the courtrooms to take pictures of those on trial, which does not add any value.

There are so many things happening in the country which young people who seek to invest in social media journalism as a career can engage in.

It is not a positive contribution to society to perpetuate gossip online and share people’s pictures and videos whose truth is hardly ascertainable about people whose consent was not sought in the first place.

This is a trend to grow out of because it does not help build our society.