Monday, March 11, 2013

The Tragic Passing of Goldie Harvey and the Online recklessness that Followed

While still reeling from the Oscar Pistorius shooting on Valentine’s night, I heard rumors that Nigerian performer, Goldie Harvey (May her soul rest in peace) had died that same day. Of course my first instinct was to shrug it off. You see, I have trained my instincts to ignore any rumors of death coming from the Nigerian social media atmosphere from the numerous times we have "killed" Nelson Mandela. Thank God Madiba's life is not in the hands of a “tweeting happy Nigerian".

But then the rumours would not go away and then I saw a post on the blog of a popular blogger. The saddest part of the post was while she was validating  Goldie's death by claiming that Goldie's best friend, who was also her mutual,  friend had informed her,  she didn't see it fit to post a proper post. A fitting way to announce the death of a friend was a quick “I posted it first” post!

And then the so called Twitter overloads took over the next day postulating all sorts of reasons of her death and googling Wikipedia to explain pulmonary embolism. They even knew it was caused by her 24 hour flight from California. These overnight pathologists forgot that even if it was a 24 hour flight and she was seated in the same spot, the high-fliers from Kennis Music she was flying with would have schooled her on whatever she needed to do. And did she need schooling? Hasn't she been around the world from Lagos to London, to Johannesburg to Kuala Lumpur? If only the bloggers needed to shine less they would have accurately informed their followers that a typical British airways flight from California to Lagos, for example,  involved three stops: first to Dallas, then to London and finally to Lagos. Or didn't they know this?  Even the new 787 Dreamliners can't do a 24 hour flight.

Mainstream media also started to push the pulmonary embolism rumor. Forgetting they are bound by editorial discipline and should not be carrying unfounded rumours that was been expressed by the man on the street or the woman on Twitter. It was almost as if they couldn't sit back and allow new media to enjoy the entire spotlight!

The next chapter was even sadder. Sudden reports that someone was calling Goldie names and saying she was happy she was dead.  This is the chapter that had a little ray of light because yes: a particular blogger who recently had a face-off with President Obasanjo refused to mention the twitter account while raining insults on the person. You see, your intuition probably served you right.  When I saw this particular angle, I was suspicious. So I ran some analytics on the Twitter account and found out it was created 2 days after her death. So someone had actually created a Twitter account to get followers from the tragic passing of Goldie. And the funniest thing: She was getting the followers!

And then the tribute song and in less than 3 days after her passing. I can't help but ask: Were the artistes waiting for her to die? Or were they waiting for any artiste to die? Or they wrote it for someone else and quickly modified it for her? Do they understand the ethical implications of cashing in on someone else’s tragedy? How many tribute songs were written for Whitney Houston within 2 days of her death? I rest my case.

Finally, when we thought it couldn't get any worse, copies of the autopsy when it was finally done were now flying around the internet. Apparently someone took a picture with his or her phone and shared it online or with a media house. I do hope her family did not stumble upon the report online before it was handed to them by the hospital.

You see, Social Media and the internet have so much potential in this part of the world because it now means we can verify facts, engage with people, question our so-called normal and effect change. But this democratic empowerment promised will all be flushed down the loo if we all do not rein in ourselves. The "I tweeted it first" mentally or "I blogged it" first should be thrown into the trashcan.  Of course there is room to be first but information should be properly researched.

Some bloggers should realize that people now ask them questions they should be googling themselves. While I won't advice this, I guess it speaks of trust and respect towards the bloggers. Or does it speak of laziness on the part of their followers? You see, to whom much is given much is expected. Or if I can borrow from Hollywood, with much power comes great responsibility. So if people now see bloggers as source of credible information, they should be careful what they say or share. 

As for the rest of us, we need to know that the internet and Social media is not a wild wild west where there are no rules and everything or anything goes.  Let's all not forget that in the abundance of tweets”, sin is not lacking. Let's formulate the simple habit to google out supposed claims before sharing. Or refuse to share if you are too busy to properly research. A simple no comment does not kill, but the wrong words online may never be wiped off.

I can't help but ask:  Is social media exposing how reckless we have become? Or are we like this because we don't really understand how we should behave on it? Is the Nigerian more interested in the bad news, gossip, the rumours and the falsehoods first? Have we thrown all caution to the winds? Is this why when a plane crashed in Lagos people who got to the scene first, started out by taking pictures before anything else? Is that why people are creating accounts on Twitter where they tweet pictures of their body parts or write racy stuff that doesn’t do anyone any good?

The future of the impact of social media and the internet in Nigeria will depend a lot on the foundations we lay. A lot of good is already happening on social media and the internet in Nigeria, so we cannot afford for it to become a looked down upon media form the way tabloids are regarded or as a form of negativity. I do hope though that time will be a differentiator and will sort out the wheat from the chaff or else, the unlimited potential of the internet and social media in Nigeria may never be fully realized.