There are different conceptions of social media. As a result, definition of social media depends on the users, ICT experts and writers. Sweetser and Lariscy gave a pragmatic definition of social media, as a “read-write Web, where the online audience moves beyond passive viewing of Web content to actually contributing to the content.” According to them, “the audience-initiated content contributions include interactivity, the ability to tailor a site’s presentation on the individual level, and opportunities for the audience to actually create or contribute content on the site.” However, amid different conceptions of social media, one thing that is sacrosanct is the idea that social media is based on user-generated participation. By this, social media enables user-to-user interaction; a trait that distinguishes social media from a traditional media. Given the diverse forms of social media, Kaplan and Haenlein have classified social media into six separate categories such as: collaborative projects (e.g. Wikipedia); blogs and micro-blogs (e.g. Twitter); content communities (e.g. YouTube); social networking sites (e.g. Facebook); virtual game worlds (e.g. World of Warcraft); and virtual social worlds (e.g. Second Life).
Use of social media in Nigeria is progressively increasing. Social media has become a driving force in political, economic, and socio-cultural issues in Nigeria, particularly among the youth and middle aged, who use social media as a tool to voice their opinions and take part in nation building. Facebook and Twitter are two primary channels that have been adopted by Nigerian government to socialize and connect with the people. For example, the current President, since 2011 has been operating a facebook page where he talks about his administration’s transformation agenda and achievements with the community of social media users within and outside Nigeria. To his credit, with the opening of a Facebook account in 2011, he became the first president to reach out to the community of internet users in Nigeria through social media. He has a designated social media public relation team, who are on government’s payroll and who orate about his achievements and defend tooth and nail his limitations.
As Nigerian online community- with an estimated 48 million internet users (6.6 million Facebook users and large number of Twitter users)- increases more and more, various government Ministries, Departments and Agencies have tapped into the opportunities provided by social media to network, share knowledge and receive feedbacks, and promote their strategic initiatives, but most importantly keep Nigerians informed. For example, the presence of the National Bureau of Statistics is conspicuous on Facebook and Twitter as the Bureau is active in its release of updates on macroeconomic indicators, and reports on the economy.
However, Nigerian government has robustly synergized the two primary channels of social media I have identified previously with the traditional media, particularly the government owned media. For example, virtually all government owned and private owned traditional media have Facebook and Twitter accounts, and they have a common thread running in their operational fabrics in terms of their use of i-reporters- individuals without professional know-how in journalism, but with the capability of using their wits in the use of social media tools to gather information (e.g. photos, videos, etc) about things happening around them and share such information through traditional media.
- Given the continual rise of social media channels, which has triggered off a rise in the network of internet users in Nigeria, social media deepens dissection of audience or recipients in terms of widening of horizon of coverage and selection of information that are in parallel with the penchant of individuals. In this sense, social media enables users to understand and discuss issues and connect with other people who share similar ideas. This creates individuals with interests on specific issues to connect, hence addressing different issues from different standpoints.
- Social media emasculates the gate-keeping role of traditional media. Given the gate-keeping role of the traditional media, substances of public discourse are determined on the altar of prerogative of the traditional media where few news media producers determine what information the public should receive. With the emergence of social media, people have the platform to communicate with their representatives at the various arms of government.
- As a corollary to the above, social media in a similar vein reduces over dependence on press releases as media for current news content or flow of information to the public. Through social media people read breaking news and follow events as they happen.
- Social media serves as a valuable tool for gathering information and disseminating such information, networking, knowledge sharing and entertainment. In this sense, given the increasing tempo of internet users in Nigeria, social media has emerged as a new stimulant in political, economic and socio-cultural landscape, hence dominating channels of public discourse.
Social media as an enabler of accountability widens the frontlines of good governance. By providing a platform where people discuss topical issues- issues as transparency and accountability have become exigent and widely discussed in Nigeria- people report abuse of office by public office holders and other issues demanding government attention, hence connecting people with one another and empowering them to hold public office holders accountable. ” - Chukwuma Julius Okonkwo – Abuja, Nigeria