By Dr. Bertrand BEGOUMENIE (Download pdf version)
Education to the Reasonable Use of Social Networks: Preventive Strategy Against The Trivialization of Violence
The Arab Spring had been propagated by social networks, especially Facebook, from 2010, as Mounir Bensalah points out: “They undeniably accompanied what are called the Arab revolutions, since they served to mobilize, to inform and to get informed. Even to stir up anger” (2013) Most of the actors and demonstrators of these movements in all the countries concerned were young people. The latter seemed to find in this social platform an excellent forum for debate and mobilization with a view to the desired social changes. Unfortunately, the solution envisaged there was the use of violence. According to studies by the Global System for Mobile Communication Association (GSMA), “By 2025, half of the population of sub-Saharan Africa will have subscribed to the services of mobile operators”. The same source estimated at 44% the penetration rate of mobile services in sub-Saharan Africa with 23% of regular internet users. In urban areas, young people are referred to as generations with heads down to reflect addiction of young urbanites to social networks in which violence appears as an effective instrument for accelerating social change or defending individual or collective interests. In Cameroon, since the food riots in February 2008, there has been an upsurge in acts of violence of all kinds (sexual assaults, murders between students, murders of teachers by students, and suicides, amongst others) By way of illustration, there have been growing cases such as the murder of a student stabbed by his classmate at Deido High School in March 2019, the murder of a young mathematics teacher at Nkol Bisson High School in January 2020, that of a student killed with scissors by his comrade at the PK 21 High School in March 2021, or the suicide of a student from the Mabanda High School, in Bonabéri, in June 2021. These and many others show that there is more and more trivialization of violence within the society. This jeopardizes social peace and requires strong political measures. It is in this order of things that a policy of education to the reasonable use of social networks would constitute a preventive strategy against the trivialization of violence with a view to lasting social peace.
Context and Importance of The Problem
Sonia Omboudou (2021) reports that Cameroon has: “…an internet penetration rate estimated at 34%, Cameroon totals, according to the 2021 reports “We are Digital” and “Hootsuite”, 9.15 million Internet users. (That is 4 million subscribers on Facebook, 720,000 on LinkedIn, 600,000 on Instagram and 122,000 on Twitter.” Obviously, the Internet and social networks in particular are tremendous assets for diverse and beneficial social interactions in terms of education, training, job search or maintaining social ties of all kinds. In a recent study, Joseph Marie Zambo Belinga and Emmanuel Béché (2021) recognize that: “While being subject to addiction, deviance and diversion, (their) uses also extend to the exercise of trades as tools for building professional identity, community of experience and continuing education”. Unfortunately, social networks also glorify violence through more or less explicit violent content. It can be violent films, stories of violence, images of violence, calls for various forms of violence (various marches, insurrections, observance of the slogans of ghost towns, just to name but these). We also find praise for violence: the case of separatist fighters who welcome the acts of horror they perpetrate in the North West and South West regions. This marketing of violence leads to a trivialization of the latter which, in the collective unconscious of young people, becomes a form of normality. Among the consequences of this addiction to these networks, is the phenomenon of extreme violence which is intensifying and trying to impose itself. In particular the cases of microbes (bands of dozens of young people who attack in packs) in the cities of Douala and Yaounde, cybercrime, attacks in public places (markets, streets, etc.), in intra-urban public transport (taxis, etc.), the ease of enlisting young people in violent projects (Boko Haram, separatist fighters in the Anglophone regions. School bullying and hate speech against a backdrop of identity withdrawal are not equally growing systematically. The most recent example of the trivialization of violence via social networks is that of the reaction of Cameroonian youth to about the Ivorians concerning the organization and the conduct of the 2021 AFCON. Posts of unexpected verbal violence shook the web, one would have thought that a diplomatic incident had occurred between Cameroon and Ivory Coast. Indeed, in the opinion of Sylvain Steer: “People who master the operation of these tools, their algorithms as well as the methods of intellectual manipulation, take advantage of social networks to disseminate widely (or on the contrary to very targeted populations) false information for the purpose of political or economic manipulation (…)” (2017) Speaking more specifically of the case of Cameroon Marie-Claire Nnana indicates that: “Social networks have (…) become the place of identity withdrawal, where politicians, so-called whistleblowers, pseudo-intellectuals and completely anonymous people do not hesitate to sow the seed of tribalism”. (2020) Social peace is threatened and the risks of political and even institutional instability increase.
For the moment: “(…) the government response is based on three perspectives: community awareness and involvement, the technical response and the criminal response”. (Nana, 2020). This solution seems unproductive over time. Awareness-raising is generally intended to be ad hoc, following an incident and is very quickly forgotten by the populations. The penal response or the repressive approach also only bears fruit in the short term most often. The political solution to this trivialization of violence is to resort to an ideological approach. In this sense, the effective strategy lies in a systematization of education in the reasonable use of social networks. It is a question of including the preparation for such use in the programs of Basic Education and Secondary Education to inculcate over the years a culture of responsibility in the enjoyment of social networks. This requires not only the involvement of government actors (Ministry of Telecommunications, Ministry of Communication, Ministry of Territorial Administration, Ministry of Basic Education, Ministry of Secondary Education, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Health, etc.) but also and above all civil society. All young people not being educated: “It is useful to provide trainers from civil society with elements to understand these tools and practices, their interests and their dangers (…) based on their backgrounds and experiences, to help them to sensitize the youngest to good uses”. (Steer, 2017.)
The technological evolution of humanity is irreversible. But the progress it is making can jeopardize the well-being of societies. This is the case of smartphone technologies and their corollaries, social networks. The latter, beneficial in many respects, unfortunately also lead to a trivialization of violence, especially in urban areas where young people are increasingly dependent on social networks. Cameroon is not spared, on the contrary, the war in the Anglophone regions for example also takes place in social networks, as much as political battles. In his message on February 10, 2018, President Paul Biya invited young people to make reasonable use of these tools: “Social networks offer you (…) a preferred field of expression. Each time that in one click, you take the highways of communication which give you planetary visibility, you must remember that you are not exempt from civic and moral obligations, such as respect for others and institutions in your country. Be patriotic Internet users who work for the development and influence of Cameroon, and not passive followers or naive relays of the slayers of the Republic” (2018). Education, an essential and always beneficial tool in any process of socialization of human beings, is the excellent way to produce a reasonable youth in the use of social networks, it does not exclude awareness and repression which are only adjuvants. Lasting social peace is at this price. Hence the following recommendations:
- Design educational programs that incorporate the principles of reasonable use of social networks
- Apply these programs rigorously in the first two levels of citizen training, namely basic education and secondary education
- Reward schools, high schools and colleges with a very low annual rate of school violence
- Write a charter for the reasonable use of social networks with a view to social peace.
- Publish said charter in social networks.
- Involve civil society in the supervision of young people in the reasonable use of social networks.
Mounir Bensalah, Interview granted to France24 on February 4, 2013. Author of Social networks and Arab revolutions?, Paris, Michalon, 2012.
- GSMA, Sub-Saharan Africa Mobile Economy 2019, GSM Association London, 2019, p.2.
- S. Omboudou, “Addiction: at the heart of our daily lives”, Cameroon Tribune, October 27, 2021.
- J. M. Zambo Belinga and E. Béché (s.d.), Young people and social networks in Cameroon, Other Studies, 2021, 4th cover.
- M-C. Nnana, “Will we survive social networks? », Cameroon Tribune, August 24, 2020.
- Ibid., 2020.
- S. Steer, Young people and social networks. Spaces of freedom under multiple surveillance, League of Human Rights, Paris, 2017, p. 15.
- P. Biya, Speech to the Youth, February 10, 2018.
- Mounir Bensalah (2012), Interview granted to France24 on February 4, 2013. Author of Social networks and Arab revolutions?, Paris, Michalon.
- GSMA (2019), Sub-Saharan Africa Mobile Economy 2019, GSM Association London.
- S. Omboudou (2021), “Addiction: at the heart of our daily lives”, Cameroon Tribune, October 27.
- J. M. Zambo Belinga and E. Béché (s.d.), (2021), Young people and social networks in Cameroon, Other Studies.
- M-C. Nnana, (2020), “Will we survive social networks? », Cameroon Tribune, August 24.
- S. Steer, (2017), Young people and social networks. Spaces of freedom under multiple surveillance, League of Human Rights, Paris.
- P. Biya, (2018), Speech to the Youth, February 10th.
Dr. Bertrand BEGOUMENIE
Senior lecturer at the Protestant University of Central Africa (PUCA)
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