Again, it boils down to some of our contentions that many, many Ghanaians love to copy (and that is an integral part of human condition) from other cultures, but it is unnerving to notice that Ghanaians either tend to copy wrongly or over copy. Particularly, there is no doubt Ghana today is at the brink of social, cultural, political and moral decay as a result of the out-of-control misapplication of the social media.
Surely, one may point out that the (mis)use of social media is a universal way of life in this 21st first century; so, it is an exercise based on hyperbolic overkill to single out Ghana as if it is the only place on earth where social media is abused. Clearly, the preceding argument can't stand on its own merits, in that the premise relies heavily on bandwagon logic: the fact that everyone or many countries may be abusing the use of social media does not excuse Ghanaians' misuse or unlawful exposure of one's private activities.
Some of us have lived in the United States—one of the pioneers, if not the birthplace of the Internet/social media—for pretty long time to know that on average, Americans do not abuse this 21st century digital communication technology as it is insanely unfolding in Ghana nowadays. This is not to say every now and then some people in the United States do not troll others online/social media or engage in some various forms of cyberbullying for whatever reasons or motives. In fact, considerable bunch of Americans carry out some unpleasant activities on the social media platforms.
Unlike many Ghanaians, Americans gave the world social media, but they tend to be relatively discreet and 'savvy' in their use of social media because if they don't, the communication decency laws in their country will ensure that people conduct themselves decently online. For example, in 1996 under President Clinton, the US legislature passed Communication Decency Act. Among others, the law seeks to control obscene or pornomaterials online.
Although some parts of the law may have been amended, nonetheless in the US, several indecent behaviou rs on cyberspace or on social media are monitored. Americans have been taught to understand that constitutional republicanism or representative democracy as also practice in Ghana today comes with responsibilities and other societal obligations. In fact, the concept of freedom of expression/press is never absolute since the era of the Treaty of Magna Carta in 1215 to date.
What is puzzling here, to say the least, is why many of us in this country seem to think civil rights/liberties are somehow absolutely guaranteed. If that were the case, then laws pertaining to libel, slander, censorship/prior restraint, sedition, and other concepts that seek to challenge the limits of citizens' rights under democratic governance would not have existed. That is to say, because of the availability of the social media platforms in many parts of the world, including Ghana, and to some extent, backed by the principle of net neutrality, should not allow one the free rein to engage in vulgar activities for the so-called 'trending' or shaming game purposes online.
Regarding the latter point above, it is an open secret that in the United States where almost every household owns one or two firearms, the seemingly common practice in Ghana where some people expose others' nude pictures or try to shame someone by recording him/her and put it on social media is relatively uncommonin America. As we say here in America, “we know what time it is.” The last thing any smart person want to do is to mess with American in a wrong way (say) by shaming him on the social media.
But in Ghana today, people can get away with this crap; that is why millions of people are holding cell phones and all that they appear to use them for is to record any little thing they encounter and expose them on social media to 'trend' and thus become instant 'celebrities'.
Unfortunately, that is the way it is in Ghana as of now. If my lovely late mother were to be alive today, she definitely would have described some of these social media abusers/recorders as “people who have never eaten or bought juicy steak before and out of nowhere they have gotten the chance to buy liver portion of the cow” so they want the whole world to see them feasting on their new found “meat.” In some of these Ghanaians' wildest imagination, the dream of experiencing technological phenomena such as the social media that can take them to any part of the world without going there physically is unthinkable. Does anyone blame them? They see some videos in United States or Britain and based on some puny understanding, they conclude that this is how things are actually done in those countries, leading them to over copy what they see.
So, back to the earlier point of the origin of Facebook/social media, Americans have 24/7 access to all kinds of social media; they don't need to frequent the corner store to buy some 'little phone data' to get access to the Internet or social media. Yet, with all this easy accessibility, most Americans or the British are not really interested in video recording people or friends with the wicked intention of destroying one's reputation. Indeed, a good number of Americans consider police officers as fair game; so, for the purpose of exposing some of their excesses or brutalities, they would record cops now and then caught 'manhandling' suspects in the streets or elsewhere.
But overall, most people in the Western nations don't hide cell phones under their panties or clothes 24/7 just to record people to blackmail and tarnish their public personas as it is uncontrollably going on in Ghana. Social media has come to transform how societies/people relate to each other socially, politically, economically, and the like. At the same time, these non-traditional classes of media have brought in their wake mass madness, propelling upstart celebrities in some cases, and hip-life subculture manias of all types in Ghana.
Unquestionably, social media are useful tools, but they're like sharp, double-edged sword; it cuts both ways, deeply. It is too bad that in the country we all love irrespective of where many of us reside, some egocentric people are misusing/abusing social media for their self-serving ends. The result is, they have destroyed or they're steadfastly undermining—especially—the socio-cultural fabrics of Ghanaian society because many people don't trust one another any longer premised on the legitimate fears that one may be secretly recording the other for potential blackmail or extortion. This ignorant use of social media isn't cute for any cultured society!
Bernard Asubonteng is a US-based writer and political science lecturer
BY Bernard Asubonteng